Technology and the Global Struggle for Democracy

Essay by Manuel Muniz: “The commemoration of the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump showed that the extreme political polarization that fueled the riot also frames Americans’ interpretations of it. It would, however, be gravely mistaken to view what happened as a uniquely American phenomenon with uniquely American causes. The disruption of the peaceful transfer of power that day was part of something much bigger.

As part of the commemoration, President Joe Biden said that a battle is being fought over “the soul of America.” What is becoming increasingly clear is that this is also true of the international order: its very soul is at stake. China is rising and asserting itself. Populism is widespread in the West and major emerging economies. And chauvinistic nationalism has re-emerged in parts of Europe. All signs point to increasing illiberalism and anti-democratic sentiment around the world.

Against this backdrop, the US hosted in December a (virtual) “Summit for Democracy” that was attended by hundreds of national and civil-society leaders. The message of the gathering was clear: democracies must assert themselves firmly and proactively. To that end, the summit devoted numerous sessions to studying the digital revolution and its potentially harmful implications for our political systems.

Emerging technologies pose at least three major risks for democracies. 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…(More)”.