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Council Post: Democracy 2.0: Electoral Integrity In The Digital Age

Jared Thau is the Founder and CEO of Gameverse Interactive Corp. a leader in Software and Gaming.

What happens when the world of technology—of tech giants, governments and regulators—comes to collide with the world of democratic processes, elections, civic engagement and information flows?

This article offers an analytical review of the complex interplay that underpins all three spheres—election integrity, civic participation and informational flows. As technological innovation rapidly spreads and transforms, it is no longer just how we live; it is also how we think that is changing. And with these changes comes the impact of their conjunction in the sphere of the democratic process, influencing not just how actors engage with politics but also the way in which institutions, both new and old, churn in the vortex of the machine.

Advancements In Election Integrity

Innovations in technology are changing the rules of elections, offering a world of electronic voting systems, digital voter registration and sophisticated election-monitoring mechanisms. Electronic voting systems can potentially speed up the voting process. Digital voter registration can expand electoral participation and facilitate voting options for the largest number of people.

Looking at the concrete example of election-monitoring mechanisms, comprehensive risk assessments can identify various elements of the voting process that are vulnerable to hacking and other forms of digital interference. These systems could also detect evidence of such interference and allow officials to take pre-emptive or corrective actions. Mechanized observation systems can help collect comprehensive information for analyses regarding how democracy is or is not functioning.

The expansion of electoral safety practices to cover cybersecurity and other aspects of transparency represents one way of developing a modern approach to preserving the integrity of the current electoral process. But new threats, like disinformation campaigns targeting the electoral process, have emerged alongside technological improvements.

Evidence points to increasing attacks on the legitimacy of democratic institutions and outright attempts to discredit election results, such as in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as the French and German elections in 2017.

Empowering Civic Engagement

The digital turn has allowed individuals to become important civic actors, help shape public debates and political processes, exercise their political voice and discuss and challenge the political system. Online forums and social media have helped create spaces of grassroots mobilization, voice and visibility, giving powerful, transformative momentum to civic production.

Yet, most platforms are riddled with misinformation and echo chambers. Algorithmic curation often time-locks political debates and silos participants into debates in which political engagement is unproductive or becomes devoid of meaningful exchange by reinforcing biases, simplifying others’ positions and stimulating ideological polarization.

Echo chambers and algorithms can also produce brittle debates by amplifying a lack of consensus, and online systems—whether social media or other forms of digital communication—can be used to harass activists and minorities.

There are many ways to address this. Cultivating digital literacy to handle these challenges, making digital spaces more inclusive, adopting more democratic political practices around discussion and debate on the web and keeping tech companies accountable for the ways in which they channel public discourse is paramount.

Mitigating Misinformation Challenges

Fighting the scourge of misinformation entails a combination of education, technological and policy intervention. Enhanced media literacy, digital literacy and critical thinking education are necessary to build the capacity of citizens in their ability to discern misinformation online.

Improved transparency and accountability in the management of online platforms and their handlers, enhanced fact-checking and imbibing cybersecurity strategies are key to ensuring electoral integrity and safeguard the society from misinformation.

There is a need to bring tech companies, civil society organizations, and governments together to seek common ground and organize strategies to fight misinformation and make it more difficult for malign actors. This can help decrease the number of malicious actors and end the post-truth production and dissemination of misinformation.

Charting The Path Forward

No matter how we move forward in the realm of technology and democracy, it will require collaboration. Policymakers, private tech companies, civil society organizations and citizens need to team up. In coming together, we can generate an ecosystem of thinking, tech-enabled citizens who understand the meaning of good information, who can harness technology ethically and who take part in the democratic process.

We can equip everyone with the tools to take control of their digital futures in a way that sustains democratic institutions and values for future generations. That requires understanding the root causes of problems and working toward structural fixes such as transparency, corporate accountability and universal digital inclusion—so we can have a more responsible, democratic digital future that helps us all thrive.

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