Democracy and the Geopolitics of Tech

Helping governments, companies, and civil society understand how and when technology impacts democracy, geopolitics and global conflict, so we can devise plans, policies and products to counter these threats and bolster our resilience.

Technology is playing an increasingly complex role in helping shape the outcomes of global conflicts, democratic norms and systems, and rising authoritarian power. Both the technologies used to ensure democracy functions–such as voting systems–and digital technologies that influence how we view and engage with information have profound impacts on a key ingredient for a healthy, functioning democracy: trust.

While disinformation, affective polarization, and anti-democratic behavior have always existed, the growing scale of these problems, aided in part by the evolving Internet landscape and our growing reliance on digital technologies, poses novel threats to democracy.

Technology not only increasingly shapes the future of individual democracies, but also of global power dynamics and international conflicts. The days of assuming technology is neutral are over, as the war in Ukraine has so clearly highlighted. From SpaceX’s Starlink providing internet access to Ukraine, to non-state hackers deploying ransomware to cripple Belarusian supply lines, to social media companies’ decisions to ban Russian state media, technology is playing an ever-increasing role in global political outcomes. The information environment has already been pivotal in helping determine on-the-ground outcomes and how we understand events as they unfold.

Through our Democracy and the Geopolitics of Tech practice area, IST is working to help governments, private companies, and civil society understand these threats so we can devise plans, policies and products to bolster our resilience as well as seeking novel ways that technology can be used to help strengthen democracy. Through our current and past initiatives, we have convened interdisciplinary coalitions, provided insights of contested information environments and the malign narratives that pollute them; and developed practical policy and technical recommendations.

IST Initiatives (Current)

Blogger reporting using a smartphone during a political action in Moscow.

The Digital Cognition & Democracy Initiative

The Digital Cognition & Democracy Initiative seeks to investigate how digital technologies affect human cognition, and what those effects mean for democracy.

Support for Civil Society in Ukraine

Towards a Safer Ukrainian Media Ecosystem and Civil Society: How OSINT Can Help
English | Українська | PDF | August 2022

Digital Safety Training for Ukrainian Journalists and Civil Society: Safeguards for the Ongoing Conflict with Russia
English | Українська | PDF | April 2022

IST Initiatives (Past)

Future Digital Threats to Democracy

This series from the Institute for Security and Technology (IST) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) examines the elements and potential implications of digital threats to democracy over the next ten years.

Election Security Initiative
The Institute for Security and Technology (IST)’s Election Security Initiative aims to bridge the public and private sector’s leading experts to better understand the implications of disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks on critical election infrastructure, foreign interference, and the exploitation of emerging technologies on the upcoming election.

Nuclear Early Warning Systems and Social Media Storms
This joint effort with Peter Hayes at the Nautilus Institute addressed cases where social media information cascades led to potential or actual catastrophic outcomes, such as the outbreak of infectious diseases, terrorist recruitment, and mass killings.