Democracy-affirming technologies vs digital authoritarianism


Russia’s cyber-activities focus on sowing political and economic turmoil in the West, undercutting Westerners’ faith in democratic government, and weakening the influence of Western countries in Russia’s neighborhood, notes Dmitri Alperovitch, Co-Founder and Chair of Silverado Policy Accelerator and Co-Founder and former Chief Technology Officer of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.

​​“Although cybertechnology presents unique challenges, international norms to govern its use appear to be developing in the usual way: slowly but steadily, over the course of decades,” he writes for Foreign Affairs, insisting that “cyberspace is not an isolated realm of its own . . . but an extension of the broader geopolitical battlefield.”

A new multi-stakeholder collaboration is a perfect example of democratic societies’ unique capacity to come together and innovate in the face of emerging technologies’ three major risks for democracies, says Manuel Muñiz, Provost of IE University and Dean of IE’s School of Global and Public Affairs:

  • The first concerns how they structure public debate. Social networks balkanize public discourse by segmenting users into ever smaller like-minded communities. Algorithmically-driven information echo chambers make it difficult to build social consensus. Worse, social networks are not liable for the content they distribute, which means they can allow misinformation to spread on their platforms with impunity….
  • The second major risk posed by new technologies is to privacy. ..Systematic violations of privacy could usher in at least two different scenarios in which personal freedom would be severely restricted. The first is surveillance capitalism: corporations using their knowledge of consumers to manipulate them into serving their own bottom lines. The second scenario is the surveillance state: public authorities using their knowledge of citizens’ most private, intimate behavior to stifle dissent…..
  • The third major risk is to political agency. … Today’s surveillance and data-mining technologies have created the conditions for an alternative political system in which understanding citizens’ freely expressed preferences is no longer necessary, because preferences can be inferred from monitored behavior. In such a scenario, individual agency and freedom cease to be the cornerstones of the political system, because they would be supplanted by data and public control. …

The Digital Directions bulletin offers insights on the evolving relationships among digital technologies, information integrity, and democracy from the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

At the Summit for Democracy, attendees agreed to launch a major initiative to identify and support the development of technologies that advance democratic principles and values, Muñiz writes for Project Syndicate. Summit partners will be holding a series of start-up and scale-up competitions to identify entrepreneurs  working on promising new “democracy-affirming technologies.” The project will focus on five main areas: verification technologies designed to combat disinformation and strengthen public debate; data-analytics tools that respect privacy; digital identity systems and trust frameworks for managing individual and public data; transparency technologies to improve public services; and unbiased AI systems. RTWT

As the illiberal use of technologies threatens human rights worldwide, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) is organizing a discussion on how Canada, the U.S., and like-minded democratic countries can confront digital authoritarianism.


  • Introduction: U.S. Consul General Ana Escrogima, U.S. Consulate General Montreal
  • David Kaye, clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and former UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Chris Walker, vice-president for Studies and Analysis, National Endowment for Democracy
  • Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America
  • Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School, University of Toronto
  • Inga Kristina Trauthig, research manager and senior research fellow, Center for Media Engagement (University of Texas). REGISTER

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