Digital Threats to Democracy: Comparative Lessons and Possible Remedies

Miller, Michael L.; Vaccari, Cristian
The International Journal of Press/Politics

We introduce a special issue that collects eight articles, comprising research from twenty-three countries and four continents on the sources, impact on citizens, and possible remedies to various digital threats to democracy, ranging from disinformation to hate speech to state interference with online freedoms. We set these contributions against the backdrop of a profound change in how scholars think about the implications of digital media for democracy. From the utopianism that prevailed from the 1990s until the early 2010s, the post-2016 reckoning has led to a change in the kinds of questions scholars ask, with the focus gradually shifting to investigations of the threats, rather than the benefits, of the Internet. The eight contributions presented in this special issue employ a variety of disciplinary approaches and methods, often comparing different countries, to address some of the most pressing questions on how the Internet can hinder the feasibility and well-functioning of democracy around the world. We conclude by setting out three challenges for future research on digital media and politics: a growing but still partial understanding of the extent and impact of the main digital threats to democracy; the risk that the dominant approaches become overly pessimistic, or founded on weak normative grounds; and the risk that research overemphasizes direct and short-term implications of digital threats on individuals and specific groups at the expense of indirect and medium-term effects on collective norms and expectations of behavior.