Protecting Democracy from Disinformation: Normative Threats and Policy Responses

Tenove, Chris
The International Journal of Press/Politics

Following public revelations of interference in the United States 2016 election, there has been widespread concern that online disinformation poses a serious threat to democracy. Governments have responded with a wide range of policies. However, there is little clarity in elite policy debates or academic literature about what it actually means for disinformation to endanger democracy, and how different policies might protect it. This article proposes that policies to address disinformation seek to defend three important normative goods of democratic systems: self-determination, accountable representation, and public deliberation. Policy responses to protect these goods tend to fall in three corresponding governance sectors: self-determination is the focus of international and national security policies; accountable representation is addressed through electoral regulation; and threats to the quality of public debate and deliberation are countered by media regulation. The article also reveals some of the challenges and risks in these policy sectors, which can be seen in both innovative and failed policy designs.