The Russia watchInformation attacks on democracies; refunding the Alaska purchase?; Russian trolls & toxic politics, and more

Published 16 November 2018

·  Information attacks on democracies

·  Russian trolls prey on the toxic way we do our politics

·  Russia asserts immunity in the DNC case

·  Delay, deny, deflect: Facebook’s Russian propaganda crisis playbook

·  Facebook can’t explain the difference between its PR operation and Russian troll farms

·  Schumer told Warner to back off of Facebook: report

·  Alaska purchase: Kremlin’s trolls suggest a refund

·  Britain presses for sanctions against Russian spy chiefs

Information attacks on democracies (Henry Farrell, Bruce Schneier, Lawfare)
Democracy is an information system.
That’s the starting place of our new paper: “Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy.” In it, we look at democracy through the lens of information security, trying to understand the current waves of Internet disinformation attacks. Specifically, we wanted to explain why the same disinformation campaigns that act as a stabilizing influence in Russia are destabilizing in the United States.
The answer revolves around the different ways autocracies and democracies work as information systems. We start by differentiating between two types of knowledge that societies use in their political systems. The first is common political knowledge, which is the body of information that people in a society broadly agree on. People agree on who the rulers are and what their claim to legitimacy is. People agree broadly on how their government works, even if they don’t like it. In a democracy, people agree about how elections work: how districts are created and defined, how candidates are chosen, and that their votes count—even if only roughly and imperfectly.
We contrast this with a very different form of knowledge that we call contested political knowledge, which is, broadly, things that people in society disagree about. Examples are easy to bring to mind: how much of a role the government should play in the economy, what the tax rules should be, what sorts of regulations are beneficial and what sorts are harmful, and so on.
This seems basic, but it gets interesting when we contrast both of these forms of knowledge across autocracies and democracies. These two forms of government have incompatible needs for common and contested political knowledge.
For example, democracies draw upon the disagreements within their population to solve problems. Different political groups have different ideas of how to govern, and those groups vie for political influence by persuading voters. There is also long-term uncertainty about who will be in charge and able to set policy goals. Ideally, this is the mechanism through which a polity can harness the diversity of perspectives of its members to better solve complex policy problems. When no-one knows who is going to be in charge after the next election, different parties and candidates will vie to persuade voters of the benefits of different policy proposals. (Cont.)