Democracy Essay

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Our theories have mostly assumed that democracies are better off when there is less control over information.

The central assumption, which owes much to John Stuart Mill and Louis Brandeis, is that the answer to bad speech is more and better speech.

This is Democracy’s Dilemma: the open forms of input and exchange that it relies on can be weaponized to inject falsehood and misinformation that erode democratic debate. Authoritarians are using these same technologies to bolster their rule.

The Internet would undermine authoritarian rulers by reducing the government’s stranglehold on debate, helping oppressed people realize how much they all hated their government, and simply making it easier and cheaper to organize protests.

policy makers, pundits, and scholars believed in the 2000s.

Even worse, the Internet seems to be undermining democracy by allowing targeted disinformation, turning public debate into a petri dish for bots and propagandists, and spreading general despair.We can begin to understand what the fundamental threats are, and how best to respond to them.On the other hand, freely available information can also undermine an autocracy.Political science questions about what citizens need to know (or believe they know) for democracy to be stable must be translated into information security questions about the attack surface and threat models of democracy, and vice versa.Over the past few decades, political scientists such as Adam Przeworski and Barry Weingast have explained democratic stability as a kind of institutional equilibrium: it depends on rules that citizens and politicians respect.Consider what is called the “Dictator’s Dilemma,” the tradeoff autocrats face between political stability and open information flows.On the one hand, accurate and freely available information helps governments, including authoritarian ones, to run better: by alerting government officials to what is happening among their citizens, allowing markets to function properly, and identifying corrupt low-level officials who stymie policy and make citizens unhappy.A government without accurate information about its country and its people risks enacting unpopular and ineffective policies it might otherwise have avoided.Focusing on Democracy’s Dilemma may help us to cut the problem down to size.What we need now is to understand the corresponding Democracy’s Dilemma.Democracies depend on the free flow of accurate information more fundamentally than autocracies do, not only for functioning markets and better public policy, but also to allow citizens to make informed voting decisions, provide policy input, and hold officials accountable.


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