More recently, Margaret Roberts has explained how the Chinese government uses “flooding” techniques to maintain domestic stability.
Instead of just censoring people, they seed public debate with nonsense, disinformation, distractions, vexatious opinions and counter-arguments, making it harder for their opponents to mobilize against them.
Consider what is called the “Dictator’s Dilemma,” the tradeoff autocrats face between political stability and open information flows.
On the one hand, accurate and freely available information helps governments, including authoritarian ones, to run better: by alerting government officials to what is happening among their citizens, allowing markets to function properly, and identifying corrupt low-level officials who stymie policy and make citizens unhappy.
Our theories have mostly assumed that democracies are better off when there is less control over information.
The central assumption, which owes much to John Stuart Mill and Louis Brandeis, is that the answer to bad speech is more and better speech.We need new frameworks to understand the limits of this optimistic view.Changes in technology have made speech cheap, and the bad guys have figured out that more speech can be countered with even more bad speech.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. policy makers, pundits, and scholars believed in the 2000s.Even worse, the Internet seems to be undermining democracy by allowing targeted disinformation, turning public debate into a petri dish for bots and propagandists, and spreading general despair.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.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.Autocrats have addressed this dilemma with a variety of mitigating strategies that strike tradeoffs between the risks and benefits of free information.Traditionally, authoritarian governments have tried to restrict access to most information and limit speech through a variety of censorship mechanisms.