JOURNAL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS

JOURNAL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS

SCHOOL OF GOVERNANCE AND POLITICS, MGIMO UNIVERSITY, RUSSIA

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24 September 2020

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18 September 2020

MGIMO Institute for International Studies Publishes Article in Leading European International Relations’ Journal

Researchers of MGIMO’s Institute for International Studies (IIS) and the Laboratory of International Trends Analysis (LAMP) published their paper in the established European Journal of International Relations. The journal is included in Q1 of both Scopus and Web of Science, ranking top-6 in Web of Science “International Relations” category.

Challenges for Democracy

Aysylu Safina, Nikita Sklyarov,
second-year master’s students, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Abstract: In the context of the globalization processes and growing significance of the informational technologies the cyberspace became a major platform for the current agenda-setting. Advanced informational technologies may both have a long-term positive effect on the democracy and pose a threat to functioning of democratic institutions. The world is in the midst of a great democratic transformation, in which citizens are able to participate in the political processes without any representatives and directly influence the decision-making process. Nevertheless, the Internet remains a platform for manipulation of public opinion and formation of the certain citizens’ beliefs which eventually may result in destabilization of democratic system and social approval of controversial decisions taken by the authorities. In the article we highlighted the effects of several propaganda tools used in the cyberspace: web-bots, trolls, fake news, “priming” and “framing”.

Keywords: cyberspace, web-bots, fake news, democracy, public opinion

Introduction

The Internet became a digital environment for communications which provides both the bilateral and multilateral exchange of information based on the principle “many-to-many”. Its capabilities allow the individual to communicate without any mediators. Informational technologies certainly caused a number of challenges for democracy and addressing these issues will be critical for improving the future viability of our digital public sphere. Furthermore, young generations use the Internet and social media to find news and information that directly informs their political identity and shapes their opinions about the political reality. Due to the development of informational skills of the people and the growing significance of the Internet manipulation of public opinion is becoming more and more possible.

Study

 The research was aimed to identify the mechanisms of opinion formation within the cyberspace and the increasing influence of Internet. According to Russian Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) more than 80% of citizens aged 18 and over use the Internet every day and the number of daily users had been growing steadily [1]. Ambitious in scope and comprehensive in purpose, the Internet has led to positive outcomes as well as to negative ones. On the one hand, citizens can be involved in political processes and act without any representatives since they have an opportunity to directly influence a decision-making process. On the other hand, the Internet remains a tool of propaganda and platform for manipulation of public opinion which may result in the certain voting results and social approval of controversial decisions taken by the authorities. There is strong evidence in support of this kind of assertion. First, the information flows disseminated on the Internet can be easily monitored by stakeholders thereby setting desirable agenda and communicational context. For these purposes such phenomena as fake news and censorship in Facebook and Youtube can be used effectively. According to the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Research Project propaganda in the cyberspace is being used to manipulate public opinion around the world [2]. The researchers found that fake news, the misinformation of traditional propaganda is widespread and supported by some social networks, as was stated by Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at Oxford.

Moreover, it is difficult to identify a person on the Internet as we cannot be sure that in this informational segment there are real individuals who participate in the political processes within the cyberspace. Thus, the usage of the new technological tools such as web-bots and trolls in the cyberspace became possible. The main purpose of the existence of web-bots and trolls is to create the illusion of public opinion in cyberspace thereby mimicking the certain attitudes. Receiver, reading the comments on blogs and other social media sources, starts to believe that a certain point of view is dominant in society. Web-bot is an autonomous program on network which can interact with other systems or web-users [3]. Whatever their uses, bots on social media platforms are able to rapidly deploy messages, replicate themselves and pass as human users. For instance, the research “Using Social Media to Gauge Iranian Public Opinion and Mood after the 2009 Election” conducted by Rand Corporation demonstrated that web-bots on the Twitter platform  were widely used to radically alter the existing public opinion [4]. In addition, referring to the “spiral of silence” of Noelle-Neumann, a person is included in the informational chain. For individuals it is easier to agree with the received information analysis that defending their personal attitude to it. Therefore, a large amount of information is perceived without any critical attitude as society is engaged in this “spiral of manipulation”. It may lead to a fake public opinion formation due the special agenda-setting techniques “priming” and “framing”. The information, which is delivered through Google’s search or Yandex’s search, is selected and prioritized by  the hidden algorithms that have been coded to filter and deliver content in order to maximize web-users’ engagement with this content on the platform [5]. Instead of promoting free information flows and transparent ideas’ dissemination that is essential for democracy, the personalization of the content has created filter bubbles which limit information flows and impose certain views on the society. Accordingly, nowadays society is facing a threat of the democratic procedures distortion since the cyberspace is increasingly being used as the platform for the public opinion manipulation and engagement of the targeting audiences.

Conclusion

There are increasing concerns that the informational technologies are undermining democracy – broadcasting conspiracy theories, fake news and censorship. Such phenomena as fake news, web-bots, trolls, “priming” and “framing” are crucial tools in digital propaganda attacks and aimed to publish misleading or incorrect information, demobilize opposition and generate false support of the certain decisions. The disinformation on the Internet can distort political processes, spread skepticism and distrust and interfere with the citizen’s ability to make smart political decisions. Strong democratic system requires the transparency of the information flows, a pluralistic climate of opinion and the capacity to negotiate public consensus in the cyberspace.

References

  1. Elson S.B., Yeung D., Roshan P., Bohandy S.R., Nader A. Using social media to gauge Iranian public opinion and mood after the 2009 Election // National security research division: published by the RAND Corporation. 2012. p. 29-65.
  2. Forelle M., Howard P., Monroy-Hernandez A., Savage S. Political Bots and the manipulation of Public Opinion in Venezuela // SSRN Electronic Journal. 2015.
  3. Grachev M.N. O sootnoshenii koncepciy ustanovleniya povestki dnya i frayminga [About the correlation between the concepts of agenda-setting and framing] // Vek informacii. 2018. №2. V.2. p. 94-96.
  4. Kvyatkovskiy K.O. Diskurs politicheskoy blogosphery kak object politologicheskogo issledovaniya [The discourse of political blogosphere as the object of the research in political studies] // Vestnik Uzhno-Ural’skogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seria: Socialno-gumanitarnye nauki. 2012. №10.
  5. Volodenkov S.V. Noviy formy massovoy kommunikacii v kiberprostranstve i sovremennoe politicheskoe upravlenie [The new forms of mass communication in the cyberspace and the modern political governance] // Kontury global’nyh transformaciy: politika, economika, pravo. 2011. № 6.
  6. Zybarev D.U. Obschestvennoye mnenie: diskussii o definiciyah [The public opinion: discussions about its definitions] // Armiya i obschestvo. 2014. №3.

[Internet resource]. – URL: https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=115657

[Internet resource]. – URL: https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/projects/computational-propaganda/

[Internet resource]. – URL: https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/blog/three-reasons-junk-news-spreads-so-quickly-across-social-media/

[Internet resource]. – URL: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-26/twitter-says-russian-linked-bots-retweeted-trump-470-000-times

[Internet resource]. – URL: https://eto-fake.livejournal.com/1357895.html

[1] [Internet resource]. – URL: https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=115657

[2] [Internet resource]. – URL: https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/projects/computational-propaganda/

[3] Kvyatkovskiy K.O. Diskurs politicheskoy blogosphery kak object politologicheskogo issledovaniya [The discourse of political blogosphere as the object of the research in political studies ] // Vestnik Uzhno-Ural’skogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seria: Socialno-gumanitarnye nauki. 2012. №10.

[4] Elson S.B., Yeung D., Roshan P., Bohandy S.R., Nader A. Using social media to gauge Iranian public opinion and mood after the 2009 Election // National security research division: published by the RAND Corporation. 2012. p. 29-65.

[5] [Internet resource]. – URL: https://eto-fake.livejournal.com/1357895.html