Rescuing Our Democracy by Rethinking New York Times Co. v. Sullivan


Paper by David Andrew Logan: “New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) is an iconic decision, foundational to modern First Amendment theory, and in a string of follow-on decisions the Court firmly grounded free speech theory and practice in the need to protect democratic discourse. To do this the Court provided broad and deep protections to the publishers of falsehoods. This article recognizes that New York Times and its progeny made sense in the “public square” of an earlier era, but the justices could never have foreseen the dramatic changes in technology and the media environment in the years since, nor predict that by making defamation cases virtually impossible to win they were harming, rather than helping self-government. In part because of New York Times, the First Amendment has been weaponized, frustrating a basic requirement of a healthy democracy: the development of a set of broadly agreed-upon facts. Instead, we are subject to waves of falsehoods that swamp the ability of citizens to effectively self-govern. As a result, and despite its iconic status, New York Times needs to be reexamined and retooled to better serve our democracy….(More)”

Big Data and Democracy


Book edited by Kevin Macnish and Jai Galliott: “Considers the morality of using big data in the political sphere, covering cases from the Snowden leaks to the Brexit referendum

  • Investigates theories and recommendations for how to align the modern political process with the exponential rise in the availability of digital information
  • Opens new avenues for thinking about the philosophy and morality of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, in the context of political decision-making
  • Sets out and objectively assesses the ‘opacity’ framework as an appropriate means of dealing with the challenges associated with big data and democracy

What’s wrong with targeted advertising in political campaigns? Should we be worried about echo chambers? How does data collection impact on trust in society? As decision-making becomes increasingly automated, how can decision-makers be held to account? This collection consider potential solutions to these challenges. It brings together original research on the philosophy of big data and democracy from leading international authors, with recent examples – including the 2016 Brexit Referendum, the Leveson Inquiry and the Edward Snowden leaks. And it asks whether an ethical compass is available or even feasible in an ever more digitised and monitored world….(More)”.

Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation


Book by Petros Iosifidis and Nicholas Nicoli: “Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation discusses some of the political, regulatory and technological issues which arise from the increased power of internet intermediaries (such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) and the impact of the spread of digital disinformation, especially in the midst of a health pandemic.

The volume provides a detailed account of the main areas surrounding digital democracy, disinformation and fake news, freedom of expression and post-truth politics. It addresses the major theoretical and regulatory concepts of digital democracy and the ‘network society’ before offering potential socio-political and technological solutions to the fight against disinformation and fake news. These solutions include self-regulation, rebuttals and myth-busting, news literacy, policy recommendations, awareness and communication strategies and the potential of recent technologies such as the blockchain and public interest algorithms to counter disinformation.

After addressing what has currently been done to combat disinformation and fake news, the volume argues that digital disinformation needs to be identified as a multifaceted problem, one that requires multiple approaches to resolve. Governments, regulators, think tanks, the academy and technology providers need to take more steps to better shape the next internet with as little digital disinformation as possible by means of a regional analysis. In this context, two cases concerning Russia and Ukraine are presented regarding disinformation and the ways it was handled….(More)”

The Politics of Social Media Manipulation


(Open Access) Book edited by Richard Rogers and Sabine Niederer: “Disinformation and so-called fake news are contemporary phenomena with rich histories. Disinformation, or the willful introduction of false information for the purposes of causing harm, recalls infamous foreign interference operations in national media systems. Outcries over fake news, or dubious stories with the trappings of news, have coincided with the introduction of new media technologies that disrupt the publication, distribution and consumption of news — from the so-called rumour-mongering broadsheets centuries ago to the blogosphere recently. Designating a news organization as fake, or <i>der Lügenpresse</i>, has a darker history, associated with authoritarian regimes or populist bombast diminishing the reputation of ‘elite media’ and the value of inconvenient truths. In a series of empirical studies, using digital methods and data journalism, the authors inquire into the extent to which social media have enabled the penetration of foreign disinformation operations, the widespread publication and spread of dubious content as well as extreme commentators with considerable followings attacking mainstream media as fake….(More)”

Cyber Republic


Book by George Zarkadakis: “Around the world, liberal democracies are in crisis. Citizens have lost faith in their government; right-wing nationalist movements frame the political debate. At the same time, economic inequality is increasing dramatically; digital technologies have created a new class of super-rich entrepreneurs. Automation threatens to transform the free economy into a zero-sum game in which capital wins and labor loses. But is this digital dystopia inevitable? In Cyber Republic, George Zarkadakis presents an alternative, outlining a plan for using technology to make liberal democracies more inclusive and the digital economy more equitable. Cyber Republic is no less than a guide for the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution and the post-pandemic world.

Zarkadakis, an expert on technology and management, explains how artificial intelligence, together with intelligent robotics, sophisticated sensors, communication networks, and big data, will fundamentally reshape the global economy; a new “intelligent machine age” will force us to adopt new forms of economic and political organization. He envisions a future liberal democracy in which intelligent machines facilitate citizen assemblies, helping to extend citizen rights, and blockchains and cryptoeconomics enable new forms of democratic governance and business collaboration. Moreover, the same technologies can be applied to scientific research and technological innovation. We need not fear automation, Zarkadakis argues; in a post-work future, intelligent machines can collaborate with humans to achieve the human goals of inclusivity and equality….(More)”.

The State of Digital Democracy Isn’t As Dire As It Seems


Richard Gibson at the Hedgehog Review: “American society is prone, political theorist Langdon Winner wrote in 2005, to “technological euphoria,” each bout of which is inevitably followed by a period of letdown and reassessment. Perhaps in part for this reason, reviewing the history of digital democracy feels like watching the same movie over and over again. Even Winner’s point has that quality: He first made it in the mid-eighties and has repeated it in every decade since. In the same vein, Warren Yoder, longtime director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, responded to the Pew survey by arguing that we have reached the inevitable “low point” with digital technology—as “has happened many times in the past with pamphleteers, muckraking newspapers, radio, deregulated television.” (“Things will get better,” Yoder cheekily adds, “just in time for a new generational crisis beginning soon after 2030.”)

So one threat the present techlash poses is to obscure the ways that digital technology in fact serves many of the functions the visionaries imagined. We now take for granted the vast array of “Gov Tech”—meaning internal government digital upgrades—that makes our democracy go. We have become accustomed to the numerous government services that citizens can avail themselves of with a few clicks, a process spearheaded by the Clinton-Gore administration. We forget how revolutionary the “Internet campaign” of Howard Dean was at the 2004 Democratic primaries, establishing the Internet-based model of campaigning that all presidential candidates use to coordinate volunteer efforts and conduct fundraising, in both cases pulling new participants into the democratic process.

An honest assessment of the current state of digital democracy would acknowledge that the good jostles with the bad and the ugly. Social media has become the new hotspot for Rheingold’s “disinformocracy.” The president’s toxic tweeting continues, though Twitter has attempted recently to provide more oversight. At the same time, digital media have played a conspicuous role in the protests following George Floyd’s death, from the phone used to record his murder to the apps and Google docs used by the organizers of protests. The protests, too, have sparked fresh debate about facial recognition software (rightly one of the major concerns in the Pew report), leading Amazon to announce in June that it was “pausing” police use of its facial recognition software for one year. The city of Boston has made a similar move. Senator Sherrod Brown’s Data Accountability and Transparency Act of 2020, now circulating in draft form, would also limit the federal government’s use of “facial surveillance technology.”

We thus need to avoid summary judgments at this still-early date in the ongoing history of digital democracy. In a superb research paper on “The Internet and Engaged Citizenship” commissioned by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences last year, the political scientist David Karpf wisely concludes that the incredible velocity of “Internet Time” befuddles our attempts to state flatly what has or hasn’t happened to democratic practices and participation in our times. The 2016 election has rightly put many observers on guard. Yet there is a danger in living headline-by-headline. We must not forget how volatile the tech scene remains. That fact leads to Karpf’s hopeful conclusion: “The Internet of 2019 is not a finished product. The choices made by technologists, investors, policy-makers, lawyers, and engaged citizens will all shape what the medium becomes next.” The same can be said about digital technology in 2020: The landscape is still evolving….(More)“.

Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis


Paper by Marcella Alsan, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, Minjeong Joyce Kim, Stefanie Stantcheva, and David Y. Yang: “The respect for and protection of civil liberties are one of the fundamental roles of the state, and many consider civil liberties as sacred and “nontradable.” Using cross-country representative surveys that cover 15 countries and over 370,000 respondents, we study whether and the extent to which citizens are willing to trade off civil liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the largest crises in recent history. We find four main results. First, many around the world reveal a clear willingness to trade off civil liberties for improved public health conditions. Second, consistent across countries, exposure to health risks is associated with citizens’ greater willingness to trade off civil liberties, though individuals who are more economically disadvantaged are less willing to do so. Third, attitudes concerning such trade-offs are elastic to information. Fourth, we document a gradual decline and then plateau in citizens’ overall willingness to sacrifice rights and freedom as the pandemic progresses, though the underlying correlation between individuals’ worry about health and their attitudes over the trade-offs has been remarkably constant. Our results suggest that citizens do not view civil liberties as sacred values; rather, they are willing to trade off civil liberties more or less readily, at least in the short-run, depending on their own circumstances and information….(More)”.

The Pandemic’s Digital Shadow


Freedom House: “The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating a dramatic decline in global internet freedom. For the 10th consecutive year, users have experienced an overall deterioration in their rights, and the phenomenon is contributing to a broader crisis for democracy worldwide.

In the COVID-19 era, connectivity is not a convenience, but a necessity. Virtually all human activities—commerce, education, health care, politics, socializing—seem to have moved online. But the digital world presents distinct challenges for human rights and democratic governance. State and nonstate actors in many countries are now exploiting opportunities created by the pandemic to shape online narratives, censor critical speech, and build new technological systems of social control.

Three notable trends punctuated an especially dismal year for internet freedom. First, political leaders used the pandemic as a pretext to limit access to information. Authorities often blocked independent news sites and arrested individuals on spurious charges of spreading false news. In many places, it was state officials and their zealous supporters who actually disseminated false and misleading information with the aim of drowning out accurate content, distracting the public from ineffective policy responses, and scapegoating certain ethnic and religious communities. Some states shut off connectivity for marginalized groups, extending and deepening existing digital divides. In short, governments around the world failed in their obligation to promote a vibrant and reliable online public sphere.

Second, authorities cited COVID-19 to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive. The public health crisis has created an opening for the digitization, collection, and analysis of people’s most intimate data without adequate protections against abuses. Governments and private entities are ramping up their use of artificial intelligence (AI), biometric surveillance, and big-data tools to make decisions that affect individuals’ economic, social, and political rights. Crucially, the processes involved have often lacked transparency, independent oversight, and avenues for redress. These practices raise the prospect of a dystopian future in which private companies, security agencies, and cybercriminals enjoy easy access not only to sensitive information about the places we visit and the items we purchase, but also to our medical histories, facial and voice patterns, and even our genetic codes.

The third trend has been the transformation of a slow-motion “splintering” of the internet into an all-out race toward “cyber sovereignty,” with each government imposing its own internet regulations in a manner that restricts the flow of information across national borders. For most of the period since the internet’s inception, business, civil society, and government stakeholders have participated in a consensus-driven process to harmonize technical protocols, security standards, and commercial regulation around the world. This approach allowed for the connection of billions of people to a global network of information and services, with immeasurable benefits for human development, including new ways to hold powerful actors to account….(More)

Evaluating the fake news problem at the scale of the information ecosystem


Paper by Jennifer Allen, Baird Howland, Markus Mobius, David Rothschild and Duncan J. Watts: “Fake news,” broadly defined as false or misleading information masquerading as legitimate news, is frequently asserted to be pervasive online with serious consequences for democracy. Using a unique multimode dataset that comprises a nationally representative sample of mobile, desktop, and television consumption, we refute this conventional wisdom on three levels. First, news consumption of any sort is heavily outweighed by other forms of media consumption, comprising at most 14.2% of Americans’ daily media diets. Second, to the extent that Americans do consume news, it is overwhelmingly from television, which accounts for roughly five times as much as news consumption as online. Third, fake news comprises only 0.15% of Americans’ daily media diet. Our results suggest that the origins of public misinformedness and polarization are more likely to lie in the content of ordinary news or the avoidance of news altogether as they are in overt fakery….(More)”.

Transparency and Secrecy in European Democracies: Contested Trade-offs


Book edited by Dorota Mokrosinska: This edited volume offers a critical discussion of the trade-offs between transparency and secrecy in the actual political practice of democratic states in Europe. As such, it answers to a growing need to systematically analyse the problem of secrecy in governance in this political and geographical context.

Focusing on topical cases and controversies in particular areas, the contributors reflect on the justification and limits of the use of secrecy in democratic governance, register the social, cultural, and historical factors that inform this process and explore the criteria used by European legislators and policy-makers, both at the national and supranational level, when balancing interests on the sides of transparency and secrecy, respectively.

This book will be of key interest to scholars and students of security studies, political science, European politics/studies, law, history, political philosophy, public administration, intelligence studies, media and communication studies, and information technology sciences….(More)”.