Authoritarian governments have been able to exploit new technologies to control people and extend their power, feed their influence, and promote their models. The aggressive spread of authoritarian digital activities is a major challenge to worldwide democracies. In turn, these are currently not offering convincing alternative paradigms for technological and global governance. They inadequately face authoritarian threats and ought to reaffirm a strong leadership in the digital arena, working on their technological gap. Today, the struggle between democracies and autocracies takes place also in the technological field. This issue was stressed upon by Christopher Walker, Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy, who on October 11th introduced the Forum 2000 Foundation’s “Facing the Authoritarian Techno-Challenge” conference in Prague.
Walker reflected on the challenges posed by the link between technology and authoritarianism, which is of paramount importance today. Autocracies have the advantage of manipulating their societies through far-reaching technologies without any supervision or repercussion. They move faster than democracies in this field. Particularly, “China is imposing its vision on how the technology should be organized in the future world arrangement.” “Digital technology is a liberating force,” said Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director of Global Digital Policy Incubator. However, “autocrats are capitalizing much on it. Artificial Intelligence is today’s game-changer of international politics,” she added.
Authoritarian regimes “violate their citizens’ privacy, liberties, and human dignity.” Furthermore, “democratic states need to acknowledge the authoritarian techno-challenge” and tackle the attacks which undermine civil liberties. China “is exerting its influence around the world expanding its techno-authoritarian model,” normalizing it. Through its ruthless use of cutting-edge surveillance tools, the PRC is thus shaping the world for years to come. “Autocracies are making sure that the future protocols are those set by them. Dominance in technology translates into military, economic, and geopolitical power. And “if this is not perceived, democracies – which were slow in reacting to the authoritarian challenge – cannot move to the future.”
Maria Virginia Marin, Executive Director of ProBox in Venezuela, knows this very well. “There is a lack of awareness about how authoritarian and populist governments confuse the social space,” she argued. Regimes like those in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua use authoritarian techniques to control their population, to spread fake news, and to create artificial consensus. The government’s use and control of social media platforms create a different reality than the country actually lives. Misinformation about the pandemic is just the last example of the ruthless use of propaganda. Which “is deeper and louder than the civil society.” Democracies should use digital activism too to tackle authoritarian trends and their State-led techno-control. And “must learn how to use cyberspace for the challenges ahead.”
The deepest insight on China and the autocratic techno-challenge of the present and the future is narrated by Xiao Qiang, professor at Berkeley and founder of China Digital Times. “Many people are willing to take that narrative of propaganda.” China is an informational threat to all democracies, and “has won the AI battle against the US. China is headed toward techno-world dominance.” The issue of technocratic control is at the center of Xi Jinping’s State vision as an enhancer of both security and scrutiny. Furthermore, the PCC leader is attracting many techno companies to work with the Chinese government on this matter. According to him, “individuals are subordinated to the State.” Cyberspace is the battlefield of the future.
While “China is extending its influence all over the world, through central databases and media manipulation”. Indeed, “autocratic use of technology today might be a potential danger for the citizens,” concluded the last speaker, Trisha Ray. An Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in India, she emphasized the opportunities of 5G and its role within “the global contest between digital democracy and digital authoritarianism.” Free speech and freedom itself are at stake with the rise of techno-authoritarianism. Especially if democracies do not react cohesively, proposing new strategies, partnerships, and cooperation.
(Published on amedeogasparini.com)