Digital Manipulation and the Future of Electoral Democracy in the U.S

G. Pascal Zachary
2020 IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society  
This article examines the problem of unreliable information on the Web and its implications for the integrity of elections, and representative democracy, in the U.S. Effects of digital disinformation campaigns on voters are hard to quantify because understanding voter behavior is notoriously difficult for scholars and politicians alike. But false digital information does seem to influence voter behavior by amplifying negative attitudes and heightening fears. One rational response is to advocate
more » ... for standards of veracity for digital information, but the challenges to imposing new standards are at least twofold. First, "useful fictions" have been found to sometimes engender beneficial effects; so flatly banning digital falsehoods would seem undesirable. Second, emerging "deepfake" technologies may worsen the problem of digital dissembling. One consolation is the persistent uncertainty about whether video and other forms of digital manipulation influence voters in predictable ways, reducing the perceived value of the practice. The surest remedy may be a "technological fix," inserted into public digital platforms, which can identify instances of maliciously false information, and either quickly destroy or isolate them. Yet no single actor-neither governments, nor "Big Tech" corporations, nor individual citizens or their voluntary associations-can introduce and maintain such a "fix." Partnerships are needed in order to sustain robust remedies. Until then, the influence on voter behavior of unreliable digital information must be better monitored and documented, analyzed, and understood.
doi:10.1109/tts.2020.2992666 fatcat:rufgg5k4p5el7lo3wqvgnadbfi