Authoritarian digital influence: Grappling with the new normal


Many authoritarian regimes have a common interest in not merely burnishing their own images internationally, but in sowing distrust in democracy and the rule of law generally, argues Shanthi Kalathil, the Senior Director of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies.

Discrediting democracy as a governance model is a goal that all authoritarian regimes share, and the cost of doing so through the tactics described here has grown radically cheaper in recent years. Moreover, for many authoritarian regimes, control of information and narrative is seen as key to regime security, and inextricably bound up in their foreign policies, she writes in The Evolution of Authoritarian Digital Influence: Grappling with the New Normal, an article for PRISM. 

The heightened chaos and swirl of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis has presented wider opportunities for authoritarian regimes to exacerbate divisions as well as amplify each other when strategically advantageous. For instance, there are indications that digital influence operations surrounding the virus have served to further heighten tensions, and provide opportunities for attacks, among Gulf adversaries, Kalathil adds: 

At the same time, the efforts of Beijing, the Kremlin, Tehran, and others can complement each other even when specific narratives diverge, as many have an interest in weakening democratic cohesion…..According to analysis by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, since November 2019 three of the top five outlets most retweeted by Beijing-linked accounts were funded by the Russian or Iranian governments, while individuals associated with Russian government-funded outlets or pro-Kremlin websites were among the 100 most retweeted accounts by Chinese accounts in their proprietary dataset.

It is imperative that democratic governments and civil society together lead a robust and multi-layered counter-strategy, preferably one firmly premised upon democratic values, Kalathil contends. In the meantime, authoritarian regimes will continue to press their advantage, whether democracies muster an effective response or not. RTWT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email