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The Internet’s Challenge to Democracy: Framing the Problem and Assessing Reforms

The Internet’s Challenge to Democracy: Framing the Problem and Assessing Reforms

Nathaniel Persily, James B. McClatchy Professor of Law, Stanford Law School 

The Project on Democracy and the Internet run’s the work of the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age which will produce guidelines to support democracies, particularly those of the global south. 

In the span of just two years, the widely shared utopian vision of the internet’s impact on governance has turned decidedly pessimistic.  The original promise of digital technologies was unapologetically democratic: empowering the voiceless, breaking down borders to build cross-national communities, and eliminating elite referees who restricted political discourse. 

That promise has been undercut by concern that the most democratic features of the internet are, in fact, endangering democracy itself.  Democracies pay a price for internet freedom, under this view, in the form of disinformation, hate speech, incitement, and foreign interference in elections.  They also become captive to the economic power of certain platforms, with all the accompanying challenges to privacy and speech regulation that these new, powerful information monopolies have posed.

As it forges ahead in its mandate, the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age must consider these many challenges, as well as the opportunities they present. Professor Nathaniel Persily, a member of the Kofi Annan Commission, he has produced a framing paper for its work, available for download below. 

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