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New Report: Digital Threats to Democratic Elections

January 18, 2018

I’m happy to be releasing a new report, Digital Threats to Democratic Elections: How Foreign Actors Use Digital Techniques to Undermine Democracy. I wrote the report together with Jordan Buffie, Spencer McKay, and David Moscrop. The project was supervised UBC political scientists Mark Warren and Max Cameron, two leading thinkers on democratic institutions. The report is being published by UBC’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

A year ago that we applied for a SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant (see my earlier thoughts on this valuable genre of grant). When we began evaluating research on the topic in May, 2017, there were excellent journalism investigations and academic working papers, but little peer-reviewed research. That is changing, and our knowledge on foreign digital interference and online misinformation is rapidly increasing. I hope our team’s contribution can help provide an overarching view of what we know, and what we still need to learn.


Thanks to Oliver McPartlin for the report design, and for creating this striking cover image.

I’m pleased with our report, but I realize that some of you might not make it through 50 pages of text and over 20 pages of cited references. I have options for you!

And I don’t think I’m giving too much away, but here is the last paragraph of the report:

A serious concern is that foreign and domestic actors, using digital and non-digital tech- niques, are creating vicious circles to undermine democracy. e e ects of these techniques used by foreign actors – such as exacerbating social cleavages and distrust, or undermining fair participation and institutional e ectiveness – can make democratic countries even more vulnerable to future interference. If such vicious circles continue, and the quality and legitimacy of democracy degrades, then it will become increasingly di cult for democratic states to advance their citizens’ interests and resolve social con icts.

Policymakers, citizens, and researchers therefore need to take serious and swi action. If they do so, many responses to foreign interference may also safeguard democracy from being degraded by domestic actors. And by improving the quality of democratic pro- cesses and institutions, we can help make our political systems more resistant to foreign interference. ese virtuous circles should be what we aim for when we address digital threats to democracy. (p. 52)

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