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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.
At the same time, information flows can be manipulated to undermine democracy by allowing the unchecked spread of propaganda and pseudo-facts, all made more efficient by the Internet, automation, and machine learning.
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.
A new consensus is emerging that democracy is less a resilient political system than a free-fire zone in a broader information war.
This despairing, technologically determinist response is premature.
Understanding Democracy’s Dilemma will require that social scientists—who try to explain democratic legitimacy and why people accept election outcomes that aren’t in their short-term interests—think more carefully about the information and knowledge that democracy requires.
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It will require, too, information security specialists—who model information systems and their vulnerabilities—to think more carefully about how the more complex systems underpinning legitimacy and shared beliefs can create serious vulnerabilities.
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.