Disinformation poses ‘existential threat’ to democracy



Online disinformation poses an “existential threat” to democracy, according to a cross-party group of peers from the UK’s House of Lords. The government is failing to “get a grip” on the spread of fake news, says the Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, which urges ministers to act “without delay” to toughen up electoral laws and establish a new regulatory body to monitor social media firms in a bid to tackle the problem, John Johnston reports for Public Technology:

The study comes amid growing fears over the spread of fake news and disinformation, which the group warned was having an “absolutely corrosive” impact on democracy. Hitting out at the “unchecked power” of digital firms such as Google and Facebook, the report called for communications regulator, Ofcom, to receive new powers to fine companies up to 4% of their global turnover if they fail to tackle fake news on their platforms, with the worst offenders blocked from operating in the UK. 

The Obama administration had no understanding of the damaging effect of digital disinformation on our democracy, adds Timothy Naftali, the director of N.Y.U.’s undergraduate public policy major and the co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.”

“It was kind of a shock to me personally how disconnected I was from flyover America,” Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said. But it has never been the job of American intelligence to assess the effect of foreign disinformation on our society. That’s the job of elected leaders. The Obama team worried less about what Putin had done than what he could do, and, as a result, they missed the fact that Russia’s interference represented the greatest degree of Kremlin risk-taking aimed at the United States since the Cuban missile crisis, he writes in a Times review of Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference by David Shimer:

Obama “was always worried about escalation,” the former assistant secretary of state {and NED board member} Victoria Nuland added. In the Cold War, the most successful foreign policy presidents were those who didn’t overestimate the Kremlin’s capabilities. To give just two examples: Harry Truman defied Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin and Dwight Eisenhower ignored Khrushchev’s threats toward that same city. But in 2016, as Shimer reveals, President Obama concluded the United States would lose in a game of tit-for-tat risk-taking with Putin.

“Intervening in other countries and covertly supporting allies was in the Bolsheviks’ DNA in 1917. It would take another generation and a second world war for Americans to start playing the same game,” Naftali observes. “The pot the ideologically blinkered Soviets couldn’t figure out how to stir is now being roiled by their pragmatic successors.” 

Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative (above) works across disciplines to develop new approaches to security challenges that are “global in scale, borderless by nature, interdependent and often have no clear solutions,” it reports.

“We would like to identify ways where we can both make the population more resilient to disinformation and create tools and technologies that allow detection, and essentially mitigation of the spread of disinformation,” said Nadya Bliss, executive director of ASU’s Global Security Initiative.

Research scientist Scott Ruston leads the institute’s Narrative, Disinformation and Strategic Influence research pillar.

The Design 4 Democracy Coalition unites groups of democracy and human rights organizations around the world that are committed to ensuring that technology platforms and products should help build a more just and democratic world. The D4D Download is the best way to stay up to date with news & events at the intersection of tech, disinformation, cybersecurity, and democracy.

What can the West do about the threat of online warfare and attacks from malign actors?

Nina Jankowicz, the Disinformation Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, lays out the path forward in How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict (above), the Wilson Center adds:

The book reports from the front lines of the information war in Central and Eastern Europe on five governments’ responses to disinformation campaigns. It journeys into the campaigns the Russian and domestic operatives run, and shows how we can better understand the motivations behind these attacks and how to beat them. Above all, this book shows what is at stake: the future of civil discourse and democracy and the value of truth itself. 

CLICK HERE to view the webcast discussion of the book on Thursday, July 9, 2020. 1:00pm-2:00pm ET

Over 50 civil society and media freedom groups are calling on Brazilian legislators to immediately reject the latest version of a disinformation bill following a process marked by little multi-stakeholder participation and poorly drafted provisions that may amount to serious harm to freedom of expression and privacy, Freedom House reports.

Credit: Twitter

The undersigned organizations – including partners of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – called on Brazilian legislators to postpone the voting on the so-called “Fake News Bill” (PL 2630/2020) and remove it from the fast-tracking mode, and open a multistakeholder task force to enable participatory discussion on how to respond to the challenges of disinformation while respecting Brazil’s international human rights commitments and existing human rights standards, it adds.


  1. Access Now, Global
  2. Amnesty International Brazil
  3. ARTICLE 19, Global
  4. Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC), Latin America and the Caribbean
  5. Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (ANP), Bolivia
  6. Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), Argentina
  7. Asociación TEDIC, Paraguay
  8. Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI), Brazil
  9. Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Global
  10. Autres Brésils, France
  11. Center for Democracy & Technology, US/EU
  12. Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública (CAinfo), Uruguay
  13. Centro Nacional de Comunicacion Social AC, Mexico
  14. Chaos Computer Club, Germany
  15. Ciberfeministas GT, Guatemala
  16. Damian Loreti, Argentina
  17. Derechos Digitales, Latin America
  18. Digitale Gesellschaft, Germany
  19. Digital Empowerment Foundation, India
  20. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Global
  21. Espacio Público, Venezuela
  22. Freedom House, United States
  23. Fundación Datos Protegidos, Chile
  24. Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes (EsLaRed), Venezuela
  25. Fundación Karisma, Colombia
  26. Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), Colombia
  27. Fundamedios, Latin America
  28. Future of Privacy Forum, Global
  29. Hiperderecho, Peru
  30. Human Rights Watch, Global
  31. IFEX – América Latina y el Caribe (IFEX-ALC), Latin America and the Caribbean
  32. Index on Censorship, Global
  33. Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (IPLEX), Costa Rica
  34. Instituto de Tecnologia e Sociedade do Rio (ITS Rio), Brasil
  35. Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Peru
  36. Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Venezuela
  37. Internet Without Borders, Global
  38. IPANDETEC, Central America
  39. ISOC Brazil (Brazil Chapter of Internet Society)
  40. Martín Becerra, Argentina
  41. OBSERVACOM, Latin America
  42. Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión (OLA), Latin America
  43. Open Knowledge Brasil
  44. Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Africa
  45. PEN America, United States
  46. R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, Mexico
  47. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Global
  48. Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), India
  49. Sulá Batsú, Costa Rica
  50. Sursiendo, Comunicación y Cultura Digital, Mexico
  51. Tor Project, Global
  52. Usuarios Digitales, Ecuador
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