Elon University

Full Anonymous Responses: The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age

Anonymous responses:

This page holds full anonymous responses with no analysis to the following 2019-2020 research questions: Between now and 2030, how will use of technology by citizens, civil society groups and governments affect core aspects of democracy and democratic representation? Will they mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation, mostly strengthen the core aspects or not much change the core aspects? Please explain your response. What do you expect democracy to look like in 2030 from the perspective of citizens? What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? What role will technology play in whatever changes take place?

Results released Feb. 21, 2020 – What’s in store for democracy over the next decade? To illuminate current attitudes about the likely future evolution of humans plus internet-facilitated technologies in the next few decades, Pew Research and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate and public practitioners and other leaders, asking them to respond to the following prompt:

There were 979 experts who responded to some aspect of our queries; some of them did not write an elaboration of their choice as to whether humans’ uses of technology in the next decade in regard to impact on democracy are likely to strengthen it or weaken it or to effect no change.

About 49% said uses of technology will mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation.

About 33% said uses of technology will mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation.

About 18% selected to respond that there will not be much change.

To read the full report on the Future of Democracy in the Digital Age, click here:

To read the credited responses to the questions, click here:

Following, presented in random order, are the full responses by by study participants who wrote an elaboration on their choice in answering the question above but chose to remain anonymous and not take credit for these remarks. Some of these are the longer versions of expert responses that are contained in shorter form in the survey report. This page includes some responses that were not in the report.

“Uses of technology will mostly weaken democracy”

In this section of responses, when given three choices, respondents answered that in the decade between 2020 and 2030 people’s uses of technology will mostly weaken democracy.

An associate professor of computer science who previously worked with Microsoft said, “I worry about three related trends: 1) the increasing decentralization of news generation, 2) the lack of easy-to-use, citizen-facing mechanisms for determining the validity of digital media objects like videos and 3) personalization ecosystems that increase the tendency toward confirmation bias and intellectual narrowing. All three trends decrease the number of informed voters and increase social division. Governments will eventually become less averse to regulating platforms for news generation and news dissemination, but a key challenge for the government will be attracting top tech talent; currently, that talent is mostly lured to industry due to higher salaries and the perception of more interesting work. Increasing the number of technologists in government (both as civil servants and as politicians) is crucial for enabling the government to proactively address the negative societal impacts of technology.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Technology-enabled disinformation is corrosive to democratic processes and institutions. There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle – increasingly we may be unable to have shared understandings of the world – or trust that videos, photos, audio recordings, ‘scientific’ studies or legal documents are authentic. Civility in civic discourse and integrity are increasingly quaint notions. Authoritarians will weaken checks and balances, turn courts into extensions of those in power and thus undermine representative democracy – enabled by the manipulation of digital media to stoke fear and mask inconvenient truths. We’re already at a point when even educated citizens in first-world societies are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. And we’re already seeing fear of the ‘other’ stoked to the point where inhumane treatment of children is accepted in this country. Extreme partisanship is putting all of our democratic institutions at risk to the point that shared power and orderly transitions may not exist in 10 years. Civil unrest seems inevitable. We have institutional actors denying and actively disabling climate science and hiding public information about the consequences of climate change, for example. We can look forward to less cooperation among nations, more mass migrations, drought, food shortages, economic disruption and more manipulation of public sentiment. Drones, for example, may soon deliver packages but may find even more utility as delivery systems for bombs and as means to invade personal and political boundaries. Democracy only works if there is an informed citizenry. And right now, we have a booming misinformation infestation eating away at citizenship and democratic institutions.”

A civil society expert specializing in issues of internet governance said, “Free speech and technology in the US is seen much like gun control is seen – as a right that can’t be challenged, no matter the negative consequences of abuse that are possible. The consequences of not imposing reasonable controls deemed appropriate in a free and democratic society (reference to Canadian constitutional reference https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html) threatens democratic processes being corrupted in traditional free democracies. Action is required, but it will take time. In the meantime, democratic institutions will be further attacked.”

A British-American computer scientist and computing pioneer said, “Governments of all stripes want to censor the internet. They are delegating responsibility for doing so to the platforms. This has three effects. 1) It cements the platforms’ dominance, since smaller competitors cannot afford the ‘content moderation’ technology that is required. 2) It allows the platforms to suppress content they don’t like and feature content they do. 3) Content moderation doesn’t work at scale; the highly motivated will spend the effort needed to evade it, and the highly motivated are malign. The result, as we see now, is erosion of democracy, and it will continue.”

A California-based professor whose research niche is American political behavior wrote, “The ease at which misinformation can be spread is dangerous to democracy. Whether it is extremist groups, politicians, etc., this dissemination of ‘fake news’ can be weaponized against opposition, minority parties or democratic institutions.”

A civil society advocate said, “Technology and advertising today generate shorter attention spans. For many issues, ‘like’ or ‘move up’ is inadequate. Thoughtfulness and discourse are not encouraged.”

A co-founder of one of the internet’s first and best-known online communities wrote, “Democracy is under threat. The blame can’t ultimately go to the internet or to computer-aided automation or to artificial intelligence. The vast power of personal and corporate wealth to wield these technologies in support of their selfish interests will increasingly suppress egalitarian and democratic values.”

A computing science professor emeritus from a top U.S. technological university wrote, “Success of Russian disinformation in the 2016 U.S. elections (and success of disinformation by various smaller U.S. extremist groups) has shown both the Republican and Democratic parties that such strategies can be very effective and so I predict that such strategies will become more and more mainstream, as long as current slander and libel laws remain ineffective in punishing the spreaders of disinformation. As artificial intelligence technologies are employed to create ever-more-realistic disinformation videos and as multiplication of software AI disinformation bots can be replicated and spread easily by individuals or small groups, more and more people will be fooled by disinformation, thus weakening our democracy.”

A consultant expert in human-compatible artificial intelligence responded, “I don’t like the question. The tech tools are altering how we live our lives and play out our politics. Some of that will undermine traditional patterns of democracy, opening – or amplifying – challenges.”

A dean and professor at a major California-based technology university wrote, “While today’s technology means that many more voices can and will be heard, the manipulation, disruption and control of information and democratic processes by individuals and groups will remain a threat until we develop and institute robust protections – which are not likely to be in place by 2030.”

A director for a leading global human rights organization said, “Without better technological literacy and better public campaign-awareness, technology has the potential to weaken democracy by reinforcing opinions people already hold and thus polarizing societies, creating a chaos of information that makes it harder to discern truth – especially if people gravitate toward self-reinforcing information. At a minimum, that could lead to greater voter apathy, polarization and a sense that any one vote does not matter. It may also push politicians to extreme positions.”

A director of a center expert in politics, policy and news management commented, “We have seen how technology speeds the spread of mis- and disinformation, which have always existed but are more easily created and shared by social media platforms. Big-data tools allow better targeting of voters to distort issues, suppress votes, gerrymander districts and polarize communities, all of which cause harm to democratic systems.”

A director of urban studies at an institute studying labor issues commented, “The internet will continue to be used as a tool of polarization and misinformation. Not necessarily because state-actors or non-state actors will try to manipulate attitudes. We will do it to ourselves by selecting the information that validates our predispositions.”

A distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science at a U.S. university who is expert in the future of communications networks wrote, “Democracy will be affected in mostly negative ways by information technology. For example, social media makes it possible to reach voters in targeted ways and deliver information from a distance that is tailored to specific goals, rather than fostering local community discussion and participation. The lack of privacy in internet service platforms along with artificial intelligence and big data now make it possible for candidates to identify and influence voters in ways that could not have been imagined only a few years ago. Without corrective action (such as new election rules limiting the use of private citizen information), these new capabilities could lead to increased political instability and possibly the breakdown of entire democratic systems. The U.S. appears to be the first such casualty in the Western world.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The expanded use of technology with respect to the democratic processes will tend to weaken one of the most important aspects of democracy and the democratic processes – the use of technology instead of person-to-person dialogue seriously degrades (or removes altogether) meaningful dialogue and exchange of ideas between individuals. When individuals use technology to express their political views/opinions instead of having direct human interactions, these views tend to be more extremely stated than if that person is speaking a view/opinion to another person. Also, in many cases, if someone else expresses a different view from what the original individual expressed, the first person is much less likely to pay any attention to a view expressed using technology than if that view were expressed in a person-to-person discussion. Additionally, the increased use of technology for analyzing segments of society to ‘shape’ delivery of messages for particular segments will result in an increase of messages that distort the reality of the message or distort the results of what the message is describing.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I expect current digital tools to weaken democratic institutions. The original promise of the internet and of low-cost communication was the proliferation of different viewpoints – viewpoint diversity, in other words. But the internet has done nothing to provide users with any way to weigh and sift the different claims made by different voices, a role once performed by professional journalists. This role has been entirely abdicated by the big content providers, such as Facebook and YouTube. These platforms do allow people to find the ‘information’ with which they are most comfortable and reinforces existing tendencies toward confirmation bias. Because technology now lets us customize the information we receive, there’s no shared sense of the informational or news agenda the way there was when most people got their news from the three major broadcast networks and from national and local newspapers. Democracy will be harder to support when people don’t even have a shared body of information about public affairs about which to debate. And the evisceration of local newspapers and the concentration of ownership of local television stations means that local news, in particular, is going to be less available and less useful.”

A Europe-based internet governance advocate and activist said, “If current trends continue, there won’t be a real democracy in most countries by 2030. The internet’s funding model based on targeted advertising is destroying investigative journalism and serious reporting. More and more of what is published is fake news. Citizens cannot make informed decisions in the absence of reliable information.”

A fellow at a major university’s center for internet and society wrote, “I am worried that the ease with which hostile powers and trolls can manipulate public opinion will only increase and become more sophisticated, leading to voters having increasingly lower levels of factual information at their disposal or, worse yet, increasing apathy toward or cynicism about voting and the democratic process entirely. I am concerned about deepfakes and other technological manipulation as well. Finally, I am concerned that the corrosive effects of technology of voters might lead to the continued entrenchment of the Republican Party despite clear voter preference in many areas for other leaders.”

A fellow at a think tank’s center for technology and innovation wrote, “Democracy will be driven by more artificial intelligence systems, which will automate a range of decisions. Consequently, individuals may have limited input into their own decisions because data will be extrapolated from machines. What this will mean is a looser connection to democratic processes or connections driven by what one sees, hears and senses through dominant platforms. Without some level of policy restraint when it comes to specific use cases, such as voting, technology may serve to erode public trust, while simultaneously relying less on actual public input due to the level of sophistication that emerging technologies offer.”

A fellow at one of Europe’s leading schools of economics and independent digital policy consultant said, “I expect the situation to vary greatly around the world and by social group. In some places, new participatory institutions will have grown up, while in others there will be effective dictatorships, and many intermediate states. I can’t say what the mix will be nor what will ‘win.’”

A former telecommunications industry executive wrote, “Absent improved tools for identifying credible information and sources, and mandates on the operators of digital platforms to promote veracity, there is a strong likelihood that these tools will be used to deplete the value of objectivity, drive more misinformation and confusion, empowering fringe voices from both ends of the spectrum to organize and hold greater sway over politics, and deepen political, racial and other resentments. Globally, there will be ever-stronger digital engagement, but it is unlikely to strengthen successful representative democracy.”

A leader for a top-level internet domain registry said, “Social media unwittingly mobilized the weaknesses of people and our psychology. It has a currently unchecked ability to perpetuate lies, hate speech and conspiracy at incredible speed and reach. Disinformation and propaganda are among the greatest threats to democratic institutions. Unmanaged, we will see more autocratic-like regimes, even in what were consolidated strong democracies.”

A lecturer in media, science and technology studies wrote, “I am concerned that individuals and institutions cannot sufficiently strengthen the public sphere, allowing for an improvement in democracy.”

A lecturer on the social implications of computer technology based at a major Silicon Valley-area university said, “I’m surprised you even think this question worth asking, in the age of Trump. It’s not mainly about the technology per se. It’s about people thinking that somehow Google stands outside of capitalism. ‘Google is your friend,’ they say. Until quite recently people felt that way about Facebook, even! I know, this isn’t the answer you expect; you want to hear about ignorant people reposting propaganda. But one reason that works so effectively is the Google search bubble. And another reason, of course, is that people at Fox News say things they know aren’t true in order to maximize profits. And so on.”

A longtime CEO and internet and telecommunications expert commented, “Citizens will increasingly act absent any understanding of critical analysis and reasoning, fact checking or even rule of law. Under the guise of ‘acting out against injustice’ we will continue to see cyber vigilantism, whereby social media firestorms effectively ‘try and convict’ anyone accused of word or deed not supportive of their values.”

A longtime internet-rights activist based in South Africa responded, “During the World Information Society debates ending in 2005, there was a tension between Western democratic states and Islamic, Chinese and Russian authoritarian states about whether governments should forge a treaty on internet governance. Western democratic states opposed any form of treaty as a barrier to internet freedom. It is ironic to look back and see that a treaty would have been useful now. Whether the powers of states and tech corporations can be reined in effectively is the current struggle. The genie is out of the bottle and it does not bode well for systems of democracy that have already been undermined in Western states. A state of global cyber war now exists and is likely to persist over the next decade. The oligopoly of state-supported tech companies, whether in the US or China, will be difficult to break. It is trite to differentiate between a Google or an Alibaba – both received substantial state support from their respective governments – the Googles by failure to apply anti-trust law to prevent monopolization, the Alibabas by state protection against competition in China.”

A longtime leader in the Internet Engineering Task Force who has worked with several top global technology companies said, “Until there is a mechanism that allows everyday internet users to discern the source of the information they are consuming, the level of disinformation will continue to rise. This rise will cause users to be confused about issues, vectored into polarizing positions and have less trust in the democratic process.”

A longtime leader of a regional internet management organization commented, “The ability of small, organized groups and organizations to have a voice louder than their proportion of the population has and will continue to disproportionately skew their influence.”

A longtime participant in the IETF wrote, “Political overreaction to perceived issues of ‘hate’ or other speech parts of the political or pundit establishment do not like will lead to increased censorship of user speech and activities by the internet platforms (in the U.S. – elsewhere there will be increased outright government mandated censorship and suppression of ‘contrary’ thought and speech). Since the freedom to speak and have contrary ideas is the foundation of democracy such platform-based censorship will undermine many democratic institutions.”

A longtime technology journalist for a major U.S. news organization commented, “Our laws and constitution are largely designed for a world that existed before the industrial age, not to mention the information age. These technologies have made the nation-state obsolete and we have not yet grasped the ways they facilitate anti-democratic forces.”

A member of the IETF based in California wrote, “The entities that wish to manipulate public opinion are far more sophisticated than the public’s ability to determine what is real and authentic. Combined with a general public that seems uninterested in being educated by seeking out and understanding opposing viewpoints, it creates a perfect storm wherein opinions can be pushed in any direction.”

A North American research scientist said, “I fear that the ability of technologies to both collect personal data and to select what information is directed to those individuals based on such data will undermine the effect that reason and information could have on the decisions that people make and thus on the nature of democratic institutions.”

A researcher based in North America said, “I expect that technology will continue to be hijacked by members of the far right and as a result our democracy will continue to weaken. In truth, it does not feel like our elected representatives are actually advocating for citizens now.”

A pioneering researcher of human-computer interaction commented, “I fear that people care less about privacy. There is more and more tech encroachment without appropriate organized resistance.”

A pioneering technology editor and reporter for one of the world’s foremost global news organizations wrote, “I do not have great faith that the institutions tasked with ensuring that online discourse is civil and adheres to standards of truth and fairness will be able to prevail over tendencies of autocratic governments and powerful private sector actors to use cyberspace for narrow political ends. This is, unfortunately, the current tendency. It can be reversed but that would require leadership from the United States. For much of the 20th century, the U.S. fostered the multilateral institutions that forwarded the cause of liberal democracy globally. I don’t see the U.S. capable at present of returning to that role. I sincerely hope I am wrong. The internet has never had an effective governing body with any considerable clout to set policy that might guarantee network neutrality on a global scale, inhibit censorship and apply such conventions as the Universal Bill of Human Rights. Further, a handful of platforms have come to dominate the online world whose moral compass has been questioned. Some are dominated by governments. Others owe allegiance only to shareholders.”

A principal engineer for a major internet cloud data services company said, “I expect a continuation of existing trends in which people essentially get stupider. If you doubt the premise, just read the Lincoln-Douglas debates and compare it to current political discourse, even excluding the outpourings of Tweethead Donald. Sigh!”

A director at a university based in the U.S. South wrote, “There will continue to be polarization and manipulation of opinion. The use of the internet to promote fake news has already caused devastating consequences and I do not see that trend slowing down.”

A professor and internet researcher said, “Based on many components including the government shutdown during investigations of tech innovators, the poor responses by key tech holders to be responsible to their publics and politicians, and, importantly, the lack of response about Russian tech interference produced by the Mueller report,  I feel sadly confident that democratic institutions will not be affected in any positive way in future by citizen’s perspectives. Instead, technology will continue to create disenfranchised, disempowered citizens.”

A professor expert in learning in 3D environments said, “The big platform owners such as Facebook are using increasingly complex mechanisms to allow paying customers to steer content toward us, drawing on analytics that predict our interests and dispositions. In the past the mechanisms for getting information to people were simpler and the wealthy were able to control the flow of information through media ownership and the power of the advertising dollar. In many countries, most notably the U.S., this resulted in a system of government where only those who could attract large financial backers could stand for election because of the huge cost of getting their message out there to individuals. For a while it looked like the internet would enable more-equitable access to information distribution and we might see the curtailing of the control of the large media companies and as a side consequence the strengthening of our democratic systems through broadening of opportunities for the non-wealthy to engage in politics. The explosion in the volume of information has led to the majority of people tending to rely on or trust the major platforms to filter and distribute information rather than managing their own personal learning environments with feeds from trusted independent sources. The upshot is that although there has been a shift in power from newspaper and TV owners to the owners of social media platforms, the majority of people remain dependent on large corporations for the distribution of information about local, national and international events. As the filtering mechanisms become more sophisticated and more personalized to the individual, the opportunities for the wealthy to manipulate opinion will become even greater. The democratic system depends fundamentally on free access to reliable information, and once this is gone the system will effectively become less and less democratic.”

A professor of computer engineering based in Italy wrote, “Democracy in the next decades will be significantly influenced by digital technologies. Some impacts will be negative (fake news, digital ignorance, bots, info manipulation); others could be positive (blockchain, information diffusion, e-participation). The risk is the people and parliaments will not be aware of how digital technology may be (mis)used to manipulate their opinion and behavior. To avoid these risks, large discussion, people involvement and new laws are needed.”

A professor of computer science from New Zealand commented, “Political groups advertising through social media using micro targeting makes it hard for agencies to detect electoral malpractice. Social media recommendation algorithms encourage people into extremist positions (the filter bubble effect). Social media undermines traditional journalism and encourages the distribution of fake news. Deepfake technologies are proliferating. Unless social media and tech companies are regulated in all these areas, I’m pessimistic about the impact of tech companies on politics.”

A professor of computer science said, “Artificial-intelligence technology, especially machine learning, has a feedback loop that strongly advantages first movers. Google’s advantages in being a better search engine have now been baked in by its ability to accumulate more data about user search behavior. This dynamic is inherently monopolistic, even more so than prior technological advances. Persuasive technologies built using these technologies are capable of refining and shaping public opinion with a reach and power that totalitarian governments of the 20th century could only dream of. We can be sure that today’s regulatory mood will either dissipate with nothing done, or more likely, become a driver that entrenches existing monopolies further by creating technical demands that no competitor can surmount. Democratic institutions will have a very difficult time countering this dynamic. Uber’s ‘greyball’ program, intended to defeat regulation and meaningful audit, is a harbinger of the future.”

An expert in economics based in the Silicon Valley area wrote, “The question lacks a geographical focus, i.e., is it about Western democracies, China, Africa, etc. My forecast is that established democracies will recover from the challenges of the internet and become stronger as a result. But I also forecast that autocracies in China, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere will be able to use the internet to better control their populations. What will be true everywhere, however, is the end of privacy as we have enjoyed it in the 20th century.”

A professor of information science commented, “At the moment and in the near future, the pendulum is swinging toward state-sponsored actors and those on the other side of the law. The IT infrastructure (and data) of U.S. cities are being held for ransom; state actors are probing each other’s information infrastructures and are interfering in each other’s elections. Those institutions that should play a role in mitigating these threats seem to have abdicated their responsibilities. In the case of the U.S., here the current administration has apparently gutted the government cybersecurity offices and agencies. These threats to democratic institutions put them under severe strain.”

A professor of journalism at a major university in New York said, “Technology will weaken our ability to come to consensus; by nurturing smaller communities and fringe ideas, it will make compromise and finding a modus vivendi much more difficult.”

A human rights activist said, “Social media will continue to erode faith in facts and reason; echo chambers and emotion-driven communications plus security problems in voting will undermine public discourse and faith in elections.”

An expert in the management of organizations who is based in California said, “Humans are motivated to form hierarchies. When the internet was new, these hierarchies were not so well-formed and so an uptick in democracy appeared. Now the dark forces are organizing and manipulating, rendering the web another platform for the powerful to manipulate and control. I expect this will only grow.”

A professor of political science working at a Silicon Valley-based university said, “I fear the expansion of cyber warfare and invasions of privacy and extensions of echo chambers of hate that will develop faster than the capacity to inhibit them. I HOPE I’m wrong, given that I believe technology used properly is a terrific tool for voice, representation and democracy.”

A professor of public policy, economics and sociology at a major university said, “There seems to be no realistic way to check the effects of IT on polarization and misinformation. The true beliefs and actions of political leaders will continue to have decreasing influence on voting.”

An expert in sociology and public policy wrote, “Social media and massive databases have opened new avenues for malign actors to manipulate public opinion, particularly in negative ways such as spreading conspiracy views, intimidation (weaponizing the First Amendment as we see on Twitter) and incitement of violence. Bot armies and databases of persuadable people that include information on what sets them off empower the worst nationalistic and international actors to tear down democracies – as happened already with the U.S. (Trump) and U.K. (Brexit). A second, related issue is that, via technology, people can enter alternate realities where others reinforce their fantasies and strengthen them – flat earthers, those who believe in vaccine and climate conspiracies, moon landing hoaxers and so forth. These are problematic in their own right, but also lend themselves to further manipulation, destruction of trust in institutions, scapegoat seeking, and the rejection of science.”

A research fellow at a technology law and policy clinic said, “Technology is unlikely to reverse some of the most pernicious problems facing our democracy, such as gerrymandering and voter suppression, and we can expect to see more waves of effective mis- and disinformation campaigns about political candidates.”

A research leader for a U.S. federal agency said, “Social and traditional media has grown increasingly partisan and biased. Misinformation and disinformation are now causes of concern for major government institutions. Working to be respectful of First Amendment rights while not allowing the perpetuation of mis- or disinformation is of critical concern. I don’t expect that to be resolved within the next 10 years. We are living in the times of 50 shades of gray. In many cases, the determination is not black-and-white. The headline may be misleading, but not entirely untrue. I think that’s appealing to the media right now.”

A research scientist focused on fairness, transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence said, “The rise of fake news and manipulated media like deepfakes has sown a greater distrust of media and institutions that is undermining democracy, leading to a less-informed and less civically engaged population. People don’t know what to believe, so they often choose either to believe nothing or to believe whatever their gut tells them. Moreover, foreign actors that use social media manipulation tactics to sway elections further undermine democracy’s legitimacy.”

A researcher and teacher of digital literacies and technologies said, “In the early internet days there was a claim it would bring a democratization of power. What we’re seeing now is the powerful having larger and more overwhelming voices, taking up more of the space rather than less. This leads to polarization, rather than a free-flowing exchange of ideas. Anyone falling within the middle of a hot issue is declared a traitor by both sides of that issue and is shamed and/or pushed aside. Laws and regulations in regard to how information is shared in digital spaces will change as this becomes more exasperating. Technology companies and their technologies will be more regulated to ensure more fairness in information. If not, then we may see a leaning toward anarchism and/or extreme politics that exceeds what we’re seeing today.”

A researcher for a futures research center based in Europe said, “Although I wish for and have previously believed in a future in which internet communication technology supports greater democracy and participation, the current situation and recent developments leading to it paint a difficult picture when extrapolated into the future. Combining this present moment with probabilistic forecasts regarding the development and widespread availability of artificial intelligence, approaches to analyzing big data, further digitization of daily life and the diminishing abilities to think critically, the business-as-usual scenario I imagine is one in which unethical actors (e.g., extraction-driven states, extremist ideologues and racists) continue to exploit people’s fears and vulnerabilities, dividing publics and geopolitical alliances, so they can achieve their own small-minded objectives. Having said all of this, I hope for a different future, one in which our digital technologies support a shared planetary consciousness that drives our Earth’s many political systems toward impactful positive actions, such as implementing UN Agenda 2030 (the Sustainable Development Goals).”

A researcher into complex systems, evolutionary ethics and network evolution wrote, “Growing tech sophistication will undermine the ability of individuals and institutions to identify mis/disinformation. Combined with a reluctance to regulate news dissemination by internet platforms and governments, this will lead to the majority making less well-informed political judgments. Nations and societies that take a more active regulatory role will likely be better off than others, e.g., the EU.”

A researcher of digital social innovation based in Spain said, “Technology is eroding agency of individuals as well as collectives by different means.”

A researcher working with a major U.S. technological university’s internet policy project said, “Unfortunately, the rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook will be mostly damaging to democracy in mature states (U.S., Europe), but may contribute in developing economies (India, Brazil). Mature states have complex institutional structures that work best if they can take advantage of informed discourse. Social media has trivialized discourse. That bodes ill for democracy. The rise of populism is aided by social media. Combatting the worst aspects of that will be a challenge that we will, unfortunately, not rise to. Social media is best at eliciting emotional responses (fear, anger), and worst at promoting understanding or considered decision-making.”

A respondent based in Europe wrote, “I expect it will mostly weaken democracy due to the easy disruption of (true) news.”

A retired information science professional said, “Who is in charge? The internet wants to give the impression that the voting public knows the issues and can make an informed choice. Hah! Recent history proves this to be untrue. The internet just looks like another newspaper. What gets the highest billing floods the air.”

A security intelligence and advanced threats researcher at a major U.S. technology company wrote, “My primary concern, given recent evidence, is that governments will not restrict abuses of technology advances, instead using them for surveillance and control in ways that would weaken and fundamentally destroy a democratic society. Also, disinformation and propaganda has already become a problem, and from all indications it will get much worse before it gets better, insofar as a society that can readily tell the difference between truth, lies, manipulation or propaganda.”

A senior attorney working at the intersection of business and telecommunications said, “Certainly, technology is facilitating democratic processes, such as platforms that increase 24/7 access to information by campaigns and voters. In the neutral category, technology can either improve or decrease equal power among votes, through mapping software that enables detailed redistricting. Those attempting to negatively change democratic institutions and processes, unfortunately, have certain structural advantages. I am focusing here other countries’ governments attempting to disrupt the U.S. through internal division fanned by propaganda. As I am not a federal employee, I cannot know some of the countermeasures being deployed; the following is solely what is apparent on the surface.  – Labor in the countries generating messaging warfare against the U.S. is generally far cheaper than the cost of labor readily available to U.S.-based agencies, parties and campaigns. – The U.S. is not, to my knowledge, deploying counterpropaganda. (While campaigns and parties may do so, their scale appears to be lower than the onslaught being leveraged against the U.S. by foreign countries.) Its tactics are efforts to defuse malware and convince private industry to take down false accounts and sites. To date, however, it appears that private industry – media and social media companies – has not yet determined how to effectively separate and instantly deactivate for-hire propaganda; false accounts are still evidently in widespread use. While false accounts are active, their messages are countered only by narratives from individual political parties or campaigns, or U.S. citizens with time on their hands. This means propaganda, such as the thousands of comments by foreign nationals’ accounts, pages and bots posing as U.S. citizens, on social media posts and mainstream media articles, is a net win for those negative influencers. What institutions and processes those foreign accounts will endeavor to change remains to be seen. The last half-decade has seen movements to: – change the results of U.S. elections and votes on legislation by generating false narratives about candidates, cultural groups, elections in progress and events, – hold a Constitutional Convention – ostensibly to pass a balanced budget amendment, yet during a run-through in Virginia, numerous other amendments were welcomed, – suggest that the president could overstay his term limits, – increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court, – increase Congressional opposition to allowing a president to nominate a Supreme Court justice pursuant to his Constitutional authority. This is just the beginning.”

A senior consultant based in Australia commented, “Inequality will contribute through lower spending on equal education, technology access, aging population unable to keep up cognitively and financially. The rich will gain more control of communication – Murdoch. Lies will confuse and prevail. Democracy will die, controlled by wealthy capitalists. Climate change, destruction of our animals, plants, water security will kill many; the rich will not care, until it is even too late for them. Thank heavens I will not be alive to see these horrors. Unless I am totally wrong and humans become real humans, not just greedy hate-filled idiots.”

A senior coordinator in a U.S. government agency said, “Foreign countries and far-right-wing hate groups will grow more sophisticated in their ability to infiltrate the web with biased stories and ads designed to suppress or sway voters and negatively impact public opinion toward government leaders who strive to reinstate democratic practices and norms.”

A senior fellow at an institute that promotes global cooperation wrote, “The changes in technology will have a mixed impact but largely negative. On the positive side, the technology will help give voice to individuals and groups that have historically been marginalized by the majority culture. However, this will also give way to fragmentation and an increase in single-issue politics, which are largely divisive and reduce the effectiveness of legislatures. Further, the risk of abuse increases due to the lower barriers to entry for corrupt state and non-state players who can use the technology to create real ‘fake news.’”

A senior policy analyst for a multinational economic policy group said, “Without some sort of regulatory intervention – whether imposed by governments, through co-regulation with the private sector or self-regulation by the private sector – the present business models of the major social media and search platforms will yield more of what we have gotten so far: societal polarization and a tilt toward sensationalism and misinformation. Trust in government institutions and in the mainstream media will further erode. The level of discourse will sink, not rise.”

A software engineer based in Poland responded, “I think there are several aspects of the current technology progress that weaken democracy. In end of the 18th century, states discovered conscription. A slave is never a good soldier – so masses got their part in the sovereignty. We don’t need mass armies anymore. New technology enables centralized control to a degree never imagined before.”

A technical adviser based in Africa said, “In 2030, citizens will be even more wired and dependent on technology to obtain information than today. However, the challenge will be to ensure that they are enhancing democracy rather than corrupting it through disinformation, hacking and other disruptions.”

A vice president for a global healthcare technology company responded, “It is easier for some authoritarian nations to use their governmental power to ‘attack’ democracy system in democratic nations. If democratic nations do not exert efforts to mitigate those ‘attacks,’ the democracy system will be damaged.”

A vice president for global public policy at one of the largest internet access providers in the U.S. said, “Unless we collectively find a solution to current – and new – uses of social media and technology that distort truth/facts and that diminish the strength of journalism, the advantages of technology to democracy will not outweigh the threat.”

A vice president for public policy for a major global telecommunications company said, “The current trend is for technology platforms to exacerbate polarization on social and political issues, while undermining confidence in established institutions. It will be challenging to effectively regulate technology in a way that addresses these concerns. It’s also unlikely companies will be able to effectively self-regulate.”

A vice president for research and economic development wrote, “Algorithms will continue to polarize opinions and emphasize ‘risks’ and ‘dangers’ to get viewers to click, and to contribute to various causes. While it is possible that people will become more sophisticated and less prone to be influenced by this extremism, I think for the next 10 years at least, it will continue to polarize publics around the world.”

A well-known scholar of public affairs and administration said, “[There are] many benefits to the new technology. But it will exacerbate polarization, spread much misinformation and provide a forum for hate speech and groups.”

An activist attorney expert in free speech, privacy and security said, “Honestly, I have no idea what it’ll look like. The only logical approach is to ask, given that 2030 is only 11 years away, what CAN change? We are talking about either U.S. or Western democracy in the age of Trump here in America and a similar far-right resurgence in the U.K., France, Germany, etc. –accompanied by hyper-partisanship and a lack of common ground on scientific truth. These are not transitory phenomena. They draw strength from religious faith, which uneasily co-exists with science, from huge wealth disparities that diminish middle classes and foster resentment that often targets scapegoats like immigrants or the racially or ethnically ‘other.’ ‘Technology’ is far less important than massive wealth concentration and inequity as a structural factor that hurts democracy and democratic institutions.”

An advocate and activist based in Europe wrote, “Social media can present false news/facts in their news feeds that plant doubts and fears in people’s minds even though they would reject them if they spent time to consider the news/fact rationally. Subsequently these false news/facts are recalled, repeated and shared uncritically.”

An advocate and activist based in North America wrote, “The counting and/or tabulation of votes by exclusively electronic means creates a radical lack of transparency and ample opportunity for accidental and intentional manipulation of results leading to undermined public confidence in democratic vote counts. Moreover, as seen in Bush v. Gore, there is inadequate time for paper trails or audits to be done to correct erroneous results.”

An anonymous conference organizer commented, “It has been observed that for democracy to work, the people need to know everything about their government, and the government needs to know nothing about its people. Unfortunately, the opposite is increasingly the case. Recently Hong Kong protesters had to buy single-trip transit cards with cash to be able to exercise democratic power; this will be impossible when mass face-recognition technology is implemented. Essentially, it is becoming almost impossible to behave democratically.”

An anonymous futurist/consultant commented, “Technology will continue to be abused to drive political agendas that are antithetical to democracy and the principles of the Constitution. Putin and Trump’s minions are just the tip of the iceberg.”

An anonymous government-relations professional wrote, “Unless there are serious measures implemented to protect democracy from the misuse of online platforms, I fear that our democracies will continue to be undermined through manipulation of voters. Application of electoral advertising laws to platforms, disclosure of purchasers of political ads, etc., will be essential to avoid the worsening of the current situation.”

An anonymous internet pioneer active in the Internet Engineering Task Force said, “Unfortunately, we have seen that public opinion can be easily swayed through social media. There are inadequate controls to prevent targeted manipulation of such media by foreign governments and special interest groups. Well-informed citizens are probably less likely to be fooled by such campaigns, but our electorate is not limited to well-informed voters. Will democratic institutions change and respond to this threat, or will they merely try to endure it?”

An anonymous member of civil society said, “The current wave of controls that we are seeing even among so called ‘champions’ of democracy is not an encouraging sign. I feel that we will see more controls in the changing dynamics of tech and governance. This is not good news for democracy and social justice causes. Looking back, the internet is not the same as it was during 2001-2007. This is when many countries started putting up blocks and filters, and now is the time of filters, cyber armies and increasing controls. Sad state of affairs.”

An anonymous researcher wrote, “We will continue to try to push back cyber disinformation threats and direct hacking attempts of media and electoral servers and databases from both foreign countries and from internal, cynical political organizations. Very little has been done to protect democracy in the U.S. since Russia attacked after election in 2016 or when Sony was hacked by North Korea – it seems American politicians will be more likely to start using these tactics themselves than hinder their propagation.”

An anonymous researcher wrote, “I fear that technology will be used to craft messages, share data, etc., by those with specific objectives and the know-how to use the technology. There will be a lack of engagement but more of a one-way communication with messages that are not necessarily open and honest.”

An anonymous respondent based in Europe wrote, “True democracy is based on the wishes and views of the entire public. By mediating opinion and feedback through digital/internet technologies, many people will be excluded and other people will have a disproportionate voice. We already see signs of this digital divide and I believe the effects will increase.”

An anonymous respondent based in France said, “Democracy can only exist in the real world thanks to the commitment of a majority of citizens. The virtualization of civic engagement has no effect if not combined with its embodiment in real-life action. Online ‘mobilization’ gives a false impression of ‘having done something about’ anything and everything.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Too many rights are being taken away from the masses to appease a certain few. Constitutional rights of American people should take precedence over any rules issued by third parties.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The degree of tracking of comments by individuals will increase dramatically in the future as Deepmind-style algorithms are applied to internet-based material. It will become much harder for people to make comments without knowing that their attitudes are being logged and accumulated by organisations of all manner, so there will be a reluctance to speak one’s mind. Hence ‘free speech’ will be constrained and thus the democratic process hindered.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Social media has contributed to both shorter attention spans and lack of critical thinking. Folks look for pages that agree with their opinion and never check the authenticity and accuracy of the information.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “On the global scale, technology will overall increase the democratic involvement and reach of citizens, especially in the developing world as increased globalization and involvement from key players like the U.S. and EU nations encourage transparency. However, China has the potential to stall trends toward democracy and regime change through increased monitoring of their citizenry and refinement of their ‘social credit’ legislation/monetization of following the whims of their single party. There is a potential for China to help prop up regimes in developing countries where they have vested interests by distributing such technologies to undemocratic regimes that want to remain in power. I think that India could go either way depending on whether or not widespread corruptions in their political environment exploit or are thwarted by increased access to technology and information by their citizenry. Unfortunately, fundamentally undemocratic processes in the United States, like the electoral college, will continue to be undermined by fake news and technology-backed manipulation of rural states, which have outsized electoral college voting power but typically lack education and will likely remain vulnerable to such exploits.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I am worried about what the future will hold. We have achieved a lot in being able to identify those who would use the internet to destroy democracy but have so far not been able to stop them. If that doesn’t happen, democracy can only be diminished. Those who wish to protect democracy have to step up and design the tools, help change the laws and regulate the corporations that hold the power.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The internet under capitalism will only serve the few, not the many, and democracy will weaken as a result. The problem is about competitive economic imperatives rather than technological affordances.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Unless there is transparency, tech will be the new digital atomic bomb – it has moved faster than individuals’ or the law’s understanding of its unintended consequences and nefarious uses.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It’s not the technology that will cause the changes, but the systems and structures that create various tech. The ability to use the biases inherent in these systems to create particular perspectives is something we have already seen, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. At the current rate of disregard and lack of responsibility by those who own and run large tech companies, we are headed toward a complete lack of trust in what is factual information and what is not. This will, as we have seen already, cause significant issues in respect to democratic proceedings.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Power corrupts. Look at the tech giants today – manipulation and propaganda. They are elitists who think they know best.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I worry that relatively few voices will dictate the majority of people. That is, the internet will primarily promote biased views and only views from one viewpoint. People will not use the internet to research the issue, rather, they will simply go with whatever biased opinion is put in front of them.”

An anonymous respondent said, “There is ample opportunity for technology to amplify civic engagement and strengthen democracy. However, I do not believe that governments understand the tools and they will fail repeatedly to regulate or organize them properly; I also do not have faith the private companies are democratic, and therefore they are apt to reinforce capitalism alone, not democracy.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I think democracy is in danger from technology, especially the most powerful technological companies (power = wealth accumulation, number of users, global influence). These companies are inherently capitalistic, not democratic, and their disproportionate power is dangerous for democracy. Further, the greed and smugness of a small but powerful group of politicians compounds this problem. I am not sure that ordinary citizens can fight back successfully.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Public institutions move slowly and thoughtfully. People doing nefarious things move more quickly, and with the internet, this will continue to challenge us.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I believe technology is going to aggregate people’s individual voices and remove individual democracy.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As the most popular social media are controlled by leftists, I expect further shadow censorship of conservative ideas and individuals. Further, Orwellian demagogues of the Democratic Party will continue pushing censorship legislation and regulations to ‘protect us’ while using those as a political cudgel against conservatives.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Citizens will become less trustworthy as hackers gain more access to technology.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The Russians and others show the way to using neutral technology to undermine democracy. Lack of transparency is a big part of the problem. The Facebook profit model is another.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “That’s just what the trajectory seems to be. The internet produced echo chambers and diverging fact bases, with the big companies being unable to deal with popularity of the links/posts as measured by true interest versus bots, and as supported by facts versus fakes. Fact checking is slow, and is human-based, but humans don’t scale.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Unless we decide to regulate social media (like we have regulated past technologies like television and radio), it is too powerful not to disrupt and ultimately corrupt political discourse.”

An anonymous technology journalist commented, “Technology companies and governments have incentives to avoid doing things to address the damaging ways in which internet platforms damage democratic institutions. Democracy is based on an underlying trust that social media is rapidly eroding (along with other factors that have nothing to do with technology).”

An anonymous U.S. policy and strategy professional said, “Technology allows the creation of a bullying environment that polarizes people to the point at which they do not attempt to understand other opinions or views, weakening public discourse and driving outrage and attacks on minority views.”

An anonymous writer said, “Unfortunately Facebook and Twitter have conditioned people to expect their information to come to them in snippets rather than consuming a broad spectrum of relatively un-slanted information. It’s just too easy, as Russia demonstrated, to manipulate people’s opinions in that environment.”

An artificial intelligence expert wrote, “‘Democracy’ is likely to be even more of an elitist endeavor by 2030 than it is now. Life is good if you’re a big corporation, but not if you’re an ordinary working-class citizen. Who has a voice in this world will depend even more on money and power. Civic technologists will first promise to save democracy with technology but then start charging for it after five years because ‘someone has to pay for maintenance.’ And they will get away with it, because no one will remember that political rights are a basic right and not a commodity.”

An associate dean of research for science and engineering commented, “While I’m optimistic in the longer-term, I think over the next 10 years we will see an increase in the current trend of using technology to further engineer elections (including gerrymandering) and to target those most vulnerable to manipulation (on all political sides). A result is over-representation in elected government of self-interested minority points of view (extremes on many sides), increased obstacles to ousting parties from power (especially in two-party systems like the U.S.) and, for a while, at least, the continued divisiveness of political discourse. I simply hope that by 2030 we’ve turned the tide and start reversing some of these challenges.”

An associate professor of data science and computer science commented, “The legal system is, as always, far behind technology. While it enables voices to be heard, tech has already weakened democracy by enabling governments and corporations to erode privacy and silence those who might otherwise speak out.”

An education program coordinator said, “Who controls the media will have the power. Locally, technology can have some positive impacts – creating meaningful groups, raising awareness for local issues. Doctored videos will be a threat to democracy.”

An environmental data manager commented, “Technology is making it easier for outside actors to sway public opinion with no repercussions.”

An executive with one of the world’s top five digital information and entertainment companies commented, “Stopping the spread of disinformation and misinformation will require tech companies – Facebook and YouTube primarily – to have a new mindset about their services, which I don’t see them willing to do. They have not yet been clear-eyed about what they have done with these platforms, to recognize that – contrary to their rhetoric – they are not creating a platform for free expression but have created the platform for using expression to abridge the rights of others and that is their business model.”

An expert in computer-supported cooperative work and socio-technical systems wrote, “Social media tech firms will continue to resist control and meaningful regulation in order to preserve their core business, aptly described by Shoshana Zuboff as ‘surveillance capitalism.’ The oligarchs, perhaps still aided by foreign interests, will continue to manipulate public opinion for their own benefit. Economic inequality will continue to increase, as will resentment, misdirected toward immigrants and the ‘elites.’”

An expert in digital culture based in the United Kingdom responded, “Lack of sufficient platform regulation, and technological sophistication of private actors, open up democratic political systems to substantial interference and manipulation, e.g., the techno-social conditions that led to Trump’s election persist.”

An expert in human-computer design wrote, “The decay of democracy should be attributed foremost to capitalism itself, and thus only in a secondary way to technology. Capitalism seems overdue for major shock, enough so that predicting much of anything so far ahead as 2030 seems foolish. The present moment witnesses the close of a decade of ever-intensified distraction engineering.”

An expert in international business and communications based in Europe responded, “The demise of trust – particularly with the internet and social media as platforms for news dissemination – is an issue. We know now that people’s behaviour and attitudes can be manipulated by profiling them through data collection, data breaches, understanding their orientations and by essentially grooming them through echo chambers.”

An expert in politics and economy who has led a multi-billion-dollar sector of a consultancy wrote, “Since the founding of our nation the press has played a critical role, but it has often not been without controversy. See http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Media-gossip.pdf for a quick summary on the role of the press and partisanship. Social media and the internet are the latest iteration of this trend, albeit they may exert unusual power to influence opinion. Such outsized power was also the concern in the early days of the republic and has been in many emerging democracies around the world. The internet is simply the latest iteration of this debate. The key question is what will be done to contain ‘fake news’ and influence campaigns based on ‘fake news,’ particularly when purveyors of that ‘fake news’ hold the reins of power. Also, I would add that your question is challenging in that it seems to assume that the status quo will remain (i.e., unregulated internet). If you answer the question with that presumption, you will get a different answer than if you presume increased oversight and regulation will address some of the most egregious issues. In that circumstance, as with my response, you may reasonably conclude that democratic institutions and processes will remain roughly the same, although they will change/adapt to the internet age.”

An expert in the ethics of autonomous systems based in Europe said, “Today most people don’t trust politicians anymore because most of them are here not to enhance the people’s well-being and to solve their problems but mainly to enrich themselves and gain as much power as possible. Digital devices provide more and more new means to enhance the power of leaders to control people and to manipulate an ersatz [inferior substitute] of democracy for their profit while they simulate and broadcast some false flavours of democratic representations to the population. Decisions that restrict people’s rights, autonomy and freedom are promoted as necessary for enhancing the security, care and well-being of the population while in fact the purpose is to protect the interests of lobbyists who seek power and influence. New digital means (biometrics, facial recognition, big data, deep learning, artificial intelligence) allow those in power to recognize and to profile people (position, behavior, localization, way of thinking, ideas, political opinions, level of life, health, founding, money, social relationships and so on). Stakeholders can use these devices to make appropriate decisions concerning what they consider subversive people and moreover to fight them if necessary. Robots and autonomous AI systems will be very efficient slaves to help to educate people who will not fit the requirements and rules imposed by the dominant class. This model will be developed in more and more states in the world and will progressively narrow freedom and decrease the quality of life of ordinary people belonging to medium and low social classes. At the same time, the field of available jobs will be more and more narrow because AI and robots will replace human beings in most areas and lead the majority of people to be unable to find means to work to support and fulfill themselves.”

An expert on online trust and identity who is active in the multistakeholder organizations that build and maintain the internet said, “Technology can be fairly neutral (absent the underlying bias of the designers) but the uses are shaped by social and economic factors that drive toward consolidation and control. Having created a prefect panopticon that maps every end-point and every device on the network, and with the rise of middle-box collectors that use massive compute power to correlate identifiers, the end result will tilt toward command and control.”

An internet pioneer and technology developer and administrator said, “The foundation of democracy is an informed public. By undermining the economic foundation of journalism and enabling the distribution of disinformation on a mass scale, social media has unleashed an unprecedented assault on the foundation of democracy. The decline of newspapers, to just highlight one downside, has had a quantifiable effect (as measured in bond prices) on governmental oversight and investor trust. My expectation is that by 2030 as much of 75% of the world’s population will be enslaved by artificial intelligence-based surveillance systems developed in China and exported around the world. These systems will keep every citizen under observation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring their every action.”

An internet pioneer based in North America responded, “I am deeply concerned that democracy is under siege through abuse of online services and some seriously gullible citizens who have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction or who are wrapped up in conspiracy theories or who are unable or unwilling to exercise critical thinking. Many who feel maligned, ignored or harmed are willing to believe that others are responsible (and they are sometimes right about that). The ‘system’ may well be stacked against their interests. Wealth disparity is partly the consequence of a financial system and business mantra that rewards shareholders over all others. We are seeing erosion of trust in our institutions, fed in part by disinformation and misinformation campaigns designed to achieve that objective and to stir dissent. We are seeing social networking systems that provoke feedback loops that lead to extremism. Metrics such as ‘likes’ or ‘views’ or ‘followers’ are maximized through expression of extreme content. Trolls use media that invite commentary to pump poison into discussion. Constant cyberattacks expose personal information or enable theft of intellectual property. Tools to facilitate cyberattacks are widely available and used to create botnets, generate denial of service attacks, spread malware, conduct ransom demands and a host of other harmful things. Law enforcement is challenged in part by the transnational nature of the internet/web and lack of effective cooperative law enforcement agreements across national boundaries. Privacy is abused to commit crimes or other harmful acts. At the same time, privacy is extremely hard to come by given the ease with which information can be spread and found on the net. Nation-states and organized crime are actively exploiting weaknesses in online environments. Ironically, enormous amounts of useful information are found and used to good effect all the time, in spite of the ills listed above. The challenge we face is to find ways to preserve all the useful aspects of the internet while protecting against its abuse. If we fail, the internet will potentially devolve into a fragmented system offering only a fraction of its promise. In the meantime, democracy suffers.”

An internet pioneer developer and administrator who is active in the Internet Engineering Task Force said, “Technology giants mostly arise in the U.S. and China, and the massive application of technology to surveillance is supported and/or very minimally regulated by both powers. Private data gathering, government data gathering and the equivalent of psyops (both governmental and private) are pretty much unbridled. These are greatly weakening democracy.”

An internet services consultant who served many years as an architect for a major telecommunications company said, “There will be more propaganda and ill will propagated by social networks, and sooner or later, people will get sick of it. Also, there is a significant lack of privacy, and many will be negatively affected by this. People will move away from technology and wireless.”

The coordinator of a public-good program in Bulgaria wrote, “In the long term, digitalization of societies could strengthen the democratic foundation and processes. But by 2030 we will still see fighting between small groups and communities that leads to extremes. This will give ground to governments to become more authoritative and build up even stronger control via the internet.”

The leader of a technology innovation group at one of the world’s top five technology organizations wrote, “Technology has already and will continue to place huge strains on democracy. First, digital technology makes it immensely easy for a small number of leveraged actors to exercise great control over our public discourse. We see this as they exercise control over the information made available and presented to citizens. Second, digital technology makes it immensely easy for actors to hide or obscure their involvement and their intent. Third, digital technology makes it immensely easy to erode truth through fabrications or amplifications. For democracy to survive, we must figure out how to bring transparency and accountability while also preventing tyrannical control. This will require deep changes to the ways we build and deploy technology.”

The program director of a university-based informatics institute said, “Human nature will drive technology use for individual benefit, not societal. Societal benefit needs some measure of altruism to effect positive change. Technologies are, however, leaning to catering to individual ‘likes’ and a ‘vote by click’ phenomenon. The two paths are divergent.”

A futurist and consultant said, “Until providers like Facebook and Google not only are more transparent about the biases of their algorithms but also more responsible about detecting external adverse manipulation of data being promoted by those same algorithms, the democratic process and institutions will be compromised rather than strengthened. On the other hand, if technology is able to be used securely to increase and/or facilitate citizen access to the voting process as is being done in Singapore currently, then voter participation counseling dramatically improves by 2030.”

A professor and director of a major U.K.-based foundation commented, “The architecture of social and digital media have developed without any sense of how they might be used. We spent 15 years thinking they were like infrastructure. Many academics were seduced (against the historical evidence) that this new form of media would be positive, enhance organisation and knowledge, make mobilisation easier and so on. They do, but they do so for ANY kind of value. So, we were very slow and our institutions were very slow to build the safeguards we might have thought necessary. Take election spending. I am from the UK. Until now we believed (rather fiercely) that elections ought not be won by spending. We saw democracy as independent from money and sought to protect elections being in effect bought. This is not the same point of view as in the U.S. But the U.S. did not have the same relationship to spending on elections as it now has either. It used to be more like the U.K. However, in the U.K. these serious proscriptions that elections are essentially value-driven democratic marketplaces for ideas have been eroded by the new digital world in two ways: the regulators were slow to recognise new ways of spending money (on Facebook for example ) and the new internationalisation means that, e.g., the UK Brexit Party actually canvasses U.S. money. This is to democrats profoundly shocking. But we don’t have any regulatory practices fit for controlling it. The architecture of communication now enhances like-minded solidarity and de-legitimises opposition. People can live in self-righteous bubbles and having made their minds up on issues are sectarian and partisan and behave more like crowds. So representative democracy is giving way to plebiscites and division.”

A professor of sociology at a major California university said, “Powerful governments and their allies are using technology to destroy the concept of a single, accepted truth. While not always succeeding in implanting particular beliefs in the minds of citizens and residents, the constant assault on truth leads to fatigue and resignation, that the actual truth cannot be known, or that all political actors are equally bad. This resignation, moving into apathy, allows those in power to behave badly and centralize their power. The wild card is whether new technologies can detect bots and fake video/audio, and whether mainstream media and social media companies behave responsibly to bring an accepted truth back to life.”

A creative services professional said, “In the continuing aftermath of the 2016 election, this meme will influence the next few election cycles regardless of tech inroads, improvements and innovation used by the government (and private sector). Until this national mood settles down and is not confrontational 24/7, technology will be part of the near-term weakness of core democratic values and components.”

The co-founder of an online-communities organization said, “In the relatively short term I am pessimistic about the impact of the profit-driven digital platforms on representative democracy, because they are brilliantly designed to bring out the worst in us to feed the business models of the tech giants. Human beings are highly adaptable, and we will eventually learn to reduce our obsession with and blind faith in the tools of digital engagement. But ‘eventually’ can be a long time. Before this can be effectively addressed, we have major changes to make in antitrust policy and privacy policy, which will drag on for years.”

A psychologist, researcher and author wrote, “I want to believe that the pendulum will swing toward pro-social innovation and functional democracies. Right now, it is a dangerous situation. I fear that we will continue to lose control over even-handed delivery of truth, facts, objectivity. The polarization, nationalism and hate seem difficult to control, especially when used by current governments and parties. The popularity of Trump and several other nationalist authoritarian leaders is frightening, and their use of tech to distort truth, lie and convert voters is powerful. This can only change with radical new tech ethics – something our current leaders undermine. If places like The Center for Humane Technology gain visibility and impact and there is a sea change in the polarization of previous allied countries, there is hope.”

A strategic consultant based in Europe said, “The situation will be different country by country. I would love to see democratic processes to be significantly affected by technologies. I hope that reports on increasing private companies’ control on our data and individual behaviour will be so important that even governments willing to have control on their citizens will act to protect them as it will be a way to protect government against overt power of private companies. Unfortunately for Chinese people, I expect that government and private companies will act in common to oppress citizens.”

“Uses of technology will mostly strengthen democracy”

In this section of responses, when given three choices, respondents answered that over the decade between 2020 and 2030 people’s uses of technology will mostly strengthen democracy and democratic representation.

A specialist in telecommunications policy who works for the U.S. government said, “I expect democracy to look like vibrant engaged civic communications and activities. The internet offers incredible tools for civic engagement and involvement. Notwithstanding the very real digital divide, people in the U.S. and throughout the world use the internet to engage with each other and that won’t stop. Challenges of misinformation and attempts at psychological manipulation are very real, but on balance access to information and speedy communications makes the internet a powerful democratizing force.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The internet essentially constitutes the essence of true democracy – a free world where people of any tribe, color, poor or rich, young or old can express their hearts and minds unreservedly, unstoppably. Every aspect of our social, political, economic and cultural activities is well captured and represented in the internet. The internet has become a vital part of our society, a vibrant real digital world, now integrated as an extension of our societal interactions and cohabitation. With the internet, democracy has been exposed and questioned of its true essence to address and meet the expectations of social need. There has never been any good concept that could not be perverted for the wrong, mischievous, selfish purpose, and the internet is not immune to such damaging activities. What this will foster is a technological commitment to thwarting those negative forces and restoring the internet to its rightful place in our society. This should constitute the commitment of the next decade in the use of the internet.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Because the technology needed to organize people is relatively simple, including such tools as Facebook, Instagram and email, I expect digital tools will make it easier for people to organize. The downside is large corporations and governments can also exploit these same technologies. However, in the past, the tools such as printing presses and television channels were always out of reach for the masses and were mostly controlled by wealthy institutions and governments. On the whole, the masses have more access and more control than they did before the existence of digital tools; for this reason, digital tools are likely to help make the world more democratic.”

A professor of media and information policy said, “The internet is enabling the rise of a Fifth Estate, comparable to the Fourth Estate of the independent press. This extends from the ability of networked individuals to use the internet and social media strategically to empower themselves vis-a-vis other actors and enhance their relative communicative power.”

An active internet policy leader involved in ICANN activities said, “I hope a wide range of both official and unofficial transparency and open-government initiatives will make information about the activities of government more open than ever before. This will fundamentally change the nature of democratic engagement – previously practical barriers meant the role of elected representatives was core to engagement and following a specific issue for most citizens. The role of the elected representative must change. Many political parties will struggle with no longer being a default intermediary, and this poses difficulties with maintaining a single unified and coherent policy platform; in democracies with a relatively small number of major parties, this may be a seismic shift.”

A professor of information technology based in Singapore wrote, “The capability of the internet to mobilise responses is unparalleled, so I expect this to continue. But I also expect the capability to mobilise to be used against forces that aim to ‘de-democratise’ governance. In other words, I expect that the forces in favour of democracy will overcome the forces against it.  Anything else will simply be self-destructive.”

A professor of neuroethics based in North America said, “I have confidence in the appeal of democracy to humans, and I anticipate that after some hiccups – some perhaps serious, others less so – technology will be used to help strengthen democratic institutions.”

A professor of computer science based in Brazil wrote, “It is difficult to foresee any global scenario for democracy, since it depends on the current democracy itself locally at each country. Democratic countries tend to be more democratic while autocratic ones tend to be more autocratic. Technology tends to amplify the current status quo. I do not believe technology will make a totalitarian regime more democratic. On the other hand, democratic regimes could become less democratic from the misuse of surveillance systems with the justification of national security.”

A futurist and consultant said, “Democracy currently has a crisis in global leadership. Without significant change in 2020, for which I am hopeful, I can’t hold a lot of hope for democracy in 2030. I’m afraid the question is not what will change, but what must change. Without changes in democratic institutions, the future of democracy itself is in question. There is an urban/rural split at work in tandem with a severe disparity in the distribution of wealth – with climate change overshadowing it all. Technology will have a hand in providing as well as impeding solutions.”

A respondent active in state politics in the U.S. Northeast wrote, “Technology, and the internet specifically, is a tool. All tools can be used positively or negatively. There is great power in the networking and communication potential through many platforms if any one platform becomes too managed or corrupted. We have seen strong progressive democratization through the general public access to and use of these tools such as with the Arab Spring movements, which have then been clamped down on, and Black Lives Matter and videos of police brutality, which again have begun to be filtered.”

The president of a major foundation said, “If the tech giants can abandon their blatant political biases, their shallow, malevolent, surreptitious, crass manipulation of information and their heinous abuse of power, emerging digital horizons have a wonderful chance to allow every citizen a fresh new world of excellent journalism, opinion and commentary.”

A journalism and First Amendment law expert said, “Technology should make it easier for citizens to track issues that are important to them – or the nation. Increased use of human and artificial intelligence ‘moderators’ should help screen out misinformation and deliberate attempts to distort news and information, and increased vigilance will have kicked in with regard to campaigns, voting and election results.”

A distinguished fellow at a major futures consultancy said, ““Democracy is a messy business. We can access, remember and amplify discussions at an unprecedented level. Our conversations are busier, louder and more likely to reflect emotion than informed thought. Who thought democracy should reflect the conversational norms of the upper-middle class? We will experience more chaos, and ephemerality in the national exchange, some of which will be tweaked by hostile voices. It is important to recognize these patterns and intentionally reshape institutions so that we can keep moving forward. Technologically-enabled conversations do not mean that people will agree, or that they will engage in those conversations in a civil tone.”

A longtime technology CEO and former thinktank leader commented, “We are at the beginning of the emergence of many new ways of doing politics empowered by the ‘nets. The Sanders and Trump 2016 campaigns were immature precursors. The biggest role technology will play will be to increasingly provide a catalytic surface for people sharing a perspective to find each other and begin working together. I expect both the Democratic and Republican parties as we know them will be gone, replaced by a more multi-polar form of politics.”

A longtime IETF leader responded, “I hope democracy in 2030 will feature a clearer understanding of what citizens want from their government, individually and collectively. Internet and web technology have made it possible for people to share their views and learn that they are not alone in having their views. It has given people access to alternative perspectives and breaking news at a much faster pace than ever before. This can be empowering. Certainly, it can also be demoralizing when one is on the wrong end of backlash in social media. And, it amplifies the need for engaging critical thinking (‘don’t believe everything you see in print’ obviously pre-dated the digital era). But it is the personal and social norms that we’re losing, not the technology itself, that is at the heart of much of our problems. People are a lot less civil to each other in person now than they were just a few decades ago. So, what will change in terms of democratic institutions: campaigning will change (it already has) – where candidates direct their messages, how and how often; continued calls for transparency in action.”

A chief operating officer with a 20-year tech industry career, expert in the cybersecurity, DNS and internet infrastructure, commented, “Technology can be a force for good or evil. The widespread access to internet and the rise of social media has made it possible to communicate and interact in ways not even imagined a mere 30 years ago. The problem is that with the erosion of critical-thinking skills, true journalism versus opinion journalism (and the prevalence of ‘sound bites’ in lieu of serious debate based on facts) lack of proper policy and governance principles, these tools are being used to spread false information. The public made more gullible by a short attention spans, eroding reasoning skills, becomes a malleable target for those who seek to erode the fundamental institutions of our democracy.”

A co-founder and director based in California commented, “Technology will help to create better ways for citizens to exercise their democratic rights. There will be more transparency due to emergence of application of data mining/analysis to information generated by public institutions. The negative impact of the election interference using social media has been overblown. What has changed is actually more engagement by the youth due to their presence on social media.”

A communication policy specialist with a U.S. agency said, “Democratic processes should be enhanced in 2030. Decision-making by essential democratic institutions, and attribution to the individuals who are involved in making those decisions, should become more transparent with the availability of social media.”

A coordinator of enforcement and internet policy said, “There has been a general trend toward technology providing greater good for society with the exception of some major hiccups that will be addressed in the coming years. The ability to meet people virtually and to hear their voices will vastly expand the opportunities for cross-border collaborative efforts and empathy that was simply not possible in a previous age. With the expansion of bandwidth capabilities, this will eventually lead to good outcomes if people find better safe spaces online than seen so far in social media. The problem seems to be a lack of authenticity in social media. Software will need to be developed that provides more genuine human interactions on the internet, and I think the voiceover-IP and video conferencing has started to make this possible. This should enhance democracy in the long term.”

A director and senior scientist for an institute studying environmental impacts on personal health said, “I am worried at present about the use of technology to undermine democracy, as has happened already. However, I am hopeful that by 2030, we will have devised some solutions. Specifically, I hope that technology will be developed to distinguish real people from bots and motivated disinformation attacks.”

A director for a university-based internet and society center commented, “There’s a tendency to overestimate the impact of technologies with respect to the public sphere, when rather than serving as protagonists, they merely catalyze existing forces and pathologies. Just as during the era when newspapers reigned supreme, there were both responsible and irresponsible gatekeepers, so today we face challenges as publishing and communications models have shifted. I’m optimistic overall, so long as critical pressure continues to be applied to the entire sector.”

A director of entrepreneurship and innovation at a major technological university wrote, “Millennials – almost digital natives – will completely rule the product development roost by 2030. Identity, voter registration – and therefore voting – and census are likely to become fully digital. And why not? Ballot initiatives, candidate positions, candidate reviews, etc., will all be available at the time of voting. This will create access for many people who do not ordinarily vote because of the narrow way the U.S. manages voting (only on weekdays, in person and through physical ballots). The breadth of information accessible will also allow citizens to make more informed choices.”

A director of strategic initiatives for a major data organization said, “Access to information supports social justice and civic engagement so I selected the optimistic response. There are challenges but I am confident that creative and intelligent forces will prevail.”

A director with a Europe-based deliberative-democracy organization said, “I don’t know how they will be impacted. I wish democracy will find strength in the new tools. I fear they may have a derelict effect. In any case they are just tools and the responsibility of them having a positive or negative impact lies entirely in the political dynamic at play.”

A former assistant for U.S. information policy said, “Knowledge is essential for democracy. The challenge will be to identify truth from fiction in the years ahead.”

A former director with a major U.S. economic council said, “My answer may be more hopeful than predictive. Technology can be a force that distorts or undermines democracy and its institutions, or it can be a force to expand voice and participation. It is likely both simultaneously. While recent experience is dispiriting, it has awoken new understanding and a rapidly growing desire to master new tools and understand their power to change longstanding social institutions for good and ill. While currently I learn each day a bit more to discourage than to encourage, over the 11-year period of the question, as our own understanding improves, I am confident in our capacity to apply technology to give new people voice and distribute the locus of power – and I cannot allow myself to believe that these good forces will be overcome. Modern technology, like its earlier incarnations, represents a new playing field on which century-old battles play out. I must believe in the potential for us to marshal these tools MOSTLY for good. That gives us our purpose.”

A former provost and vice president of a major technological university wrote, “More people, both in roles inside institutions and as individuals, will become more tech-savvy and new approaches to reaching out to people, to educating citizens, to interacting with individuals and with institutions will develop and continue to be developed as technologies emerge and evolve. This has occurred with technologies historically – from the printing press to television. People use and adapt to what is available to them. Supporters of democracy and democratic institutions will work to have technology benefit citizens so they can be a secure part of governing themselves.”

A futurist based in North America observed, “If voting is successfully suppressed in otherwise relatively robust democracies, such as the United States, this not only undermines democracy in countries where this occurs, but also in their neighbors and allies. Technology currently seems to be undermining democracies in more ways than it is protecting them, and this is very worrisome. Democracy will be most robust in countries that take steps to protect their democracies, and also countries that work to promote and protect the equality and equal participation of people of all genders, races, gender identities, as well as making participation available to all appropriate voting and participation ages. Voting rights and access to voting is a key pivot in such scenarios.”

A leader for a foundation wrote, “If people take action: governments coordinate with tech companies to eliminate abusive practices; government provides unified, systematic protection against foreign as well as domestic attackers; users are better educated on the risks; users are responsible users of tech – then tech could significantly enhance core aspects of democratic institutions.”

A professor of engineering based in Spain said, “If we, the citizens, do not stop the rising power of states, there is a clear risk that the big data produced in a fully digital society may be used by the states to gain a complete control over populations, with unrestricted means to detect any deviation from laws and regulations leading to a true ‘Big Brother.’ This is particularly risky when political parties tend to understand democracy as the way to impose their one ‘true’ to everybody, not a place where different life projects can coexist. Technology may become the definitive weapon against citizens’ freedom.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I am concerned that it’s simply a game of numbers. My fear is that the democratic process will be significantly influenced through deceptive techniques used by large self-interested groups.”

A longtime engineer and architect for several of the world’s foremost technology companies said, “Democracy will move online, just as so many other aspects of life – from shopping to banking to doctor’s visits to education to renewing a driver’s license – have done. Voter suppression based on economic and geographical limits will become ineffective. Yes, online voting presents the risk of electronic vote tampering, but it’s also an opportunity for transparency and security.”

A professor known for her research into online communications and digital literacies said, “The internet has always been a double-edged sword. Having so much information so freely available is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. How will we respond in terms of how we regulate, educate, make new laws and so forth? This remains to be seen. There is a learning curve with new technologies in terms of separating fact from fiction. The internet poses the most sophisticated challenges yet in this regard; it’s so easy to manipulate and make fake things look real. Yet, I have faith that as humans evolve to catch up with their technologies, we will learn how to be more discriminating and careful. Most people today know what a piece of junk mail is; the same can’t be said for years ago. Yet with all of that said, I do worry about the near future, especially with conspiracy theorists being invited to the White House and the false equivalence fallacy everywhere (my idea is as good as yours; my understanding of vaccines is as good as the understanding of a medical doctor). By 2030, I expect the technologies to be more sophisticated, and I also hope that the big Western democracies will keep working on the problem.”

A pioneering internet-information personality said, “There will be a huge change between now and 2030. It will become easier to identify bot-generated posts and articles and filter them out. Same with dubious news sources; we are going to be able to know more about sources and verify them. BUT what happens in 2030 depends entirely on who is elected in 2020, both the president and the Senate.”

A post-doctoral scholar studying the relationship between governance, public policy and computer systems said, “In order to realize the benefits while managing the risks, it is important that policymakers establish rules that work to support democratic interests and limit incentive structures that work to entrench existing power dynamics. Regulation is critical to establishing public trust. Technology holds great promise in increasing democratic representation, bringing the ability to scale contact between governments and citizens and enabling individual-level provisioning of services as well as easier communication and collaboration between representatives and those they represent. By 2030, governments will have had the opportunity to reap the benefits not just of computerization, but of connectivity and the internet in understanding the needs and desires of their citizens and provisioning policy and services in response. However, this transition is not without risks – communications technologies create new social spaces with as-yet-unformed norms: mores, principles or laws. Sometimes, existing norms can be applied to new technologies, but sometimes new norms must be created through processes that can be quite a bit slower than the development of the technologies themselves. These social spaces are, in the meantime, vulnerable to undermining and manipulation. Simultaneously, the online spaces created by these technologies are designed to benefit and entrench existing power structures as well as the people and companies who develop the technologies that create these spaces. For example, choices about whether and how to tolerate abuse (even as simple as abusive advertising or ‘spam’) determine how useful these platforms are and for what uses they can meaningfully be put.”

A professor at technological university based in Sweden wrote, “Though access to information has already increased tremendously, there is still more to come, and more ways in which the results of this access will express.”

A professor of business at a major state university based in California wrote, “I am a little concerned that too much ‘technology’ is taking over our lives. Where will this end?”

A professor of computer science based in the United Kingdom wrote, “I expect to see better-informed decision-making, from government policy down to individual vote choices at the polls. Technology provides ready access to more sources of information than would otherwise be possible, which should enrich our knowledge and also make fact-checking more likely. On the other hand, the spreading of misinformation is also facilitated by technology and the personalising of social media has led to filter bubbles. Overall, I come down on the positive side, but we need to educate people about the ways in which their opinions can be manipulated. I am skeptical about electronic voting, both ensuring that votes are legitimate and freely made (not fraudulent or coerced) and that they are not made frivolously, without due consideration. Physical attendance at a polling station mitigates against these possibilities.”

A professor of computer science from Spain wrote, “With technology we have the opportunity to have more transparency. If we are able to overcome the problems of lies and fake news, we will have a more-representative democracy that must perform better by having our representatives under more-direct scrutiny.”

A professor of computing sciences based in Italy commented, “Technology can be used to assess the opinions of citizens on a number of important issues and produce new laws that will be supported and appreciated by them. But the key point is to integrate information and decision in a single platform. Information cannot be pushed by interested actors (private) and then choices/decisions collected by another (public) actor. Only informed decisions should be taken, and technology can help in implementing this concept.”

An expert in digital culture who is based in Nigeria said, “New media technologies are gradually transforming political cultures and promoting some tenets of good governance such as accountability, transparency, participatory democracy and credible electoral process. My studies on the use of technology in Nigerian democratic practice have shown that democratic institutions in the global South may be significantly affected in new ways by technology in the next few years. For instance, the emergence and use of new media in 2011, 2015 and 2019 electoral cycles in Nigeria have significantly increased. Political actors, candidates, political parties, state actors, non-governmental organisations and private citizens are increasingly relying on social media platforms and other mobile technologies to amplify their voices, sell their policies and mobilise support, and engage with elected leaders. The electoral-management office has also been using new technologies for education, information and mobilisation. Of course, these positive results are not without some of the downside of technologies in democratic practice. Instances of false alarms, hate speech and flaming conversations are promoted through unmoderated online platforms. But, to my mind, technologies have done more good than harm to the development of democratic practice.”

An expert in information science based in North America said, “People are getting more and more sophisticated about using online tools to organize and share information. At the same time, they are becoming more savvy about ‘fake news’ and other threats to democracy. On the whole I think it will make for more voices heard, more interest in running for office and other benefits to democratic institutions.”

A professor of information systems wrote, “Technology has strengthened civil society in important and profound ways.”

A professor of psychology from South Africa said, “Access to information will improve Some local authorities will use electronic polling to make decisions.”

A civic media scholar and game designer commented, “Questions like this must be read carefully. Your question only asks about the agency of citizens, civic organizations and government – not corporations, advertisers or foreign governments. That matters. Technology as used by the groups you name is largely positive, since all of them are focused on the public good (even citizens, since I think that is different than residents or individuals, and refers to their civic role or citizenship). Overall, tech may be undermining democracy – but not by the actors you ask about.”

A research scientist expert in public economics said, “More access to data and records more quickly can help citizens be informed and engaged, however more information can flood the market, and people have limited capacity/time/energy to digest information. Plus, fake news is a distraction.”

A research scientist for a major technology company whose expertise is technology design said, “Online platforms drive increased participation and civic engagement. Increased engagement is largely a product of the media environment, and – in places where the press is absent, restricted or has become blatantly politicized – that engagement will bear the marks of a distorted information environment.”

A researcher based in North America commented, “I expect more real-time, responsive engagement from government, community leaders and citizens through digital media, more virtual attendance at community board meetings and Parent-Teacher Association gatherings, simultaneous-translation capacities and symbolic voting/polling to gauge direction if not investment in local government.”

A researcher based in Norway said, “The internet offers a talk-back channel. Unlike elections, where people vote once and are then largely unable to give feedback to how their elected governance is performing until the next elections, the internet offers a possibility to directly say what you like and do not like in real time. More importantly, there are people who live in a country but have no way to vote for many reasons. Their votes can be heard too. However, we have not yet learned how to use the internet and are now experiencing whiplash. The internet is not a neutral channel for communication. People are sometimes only aware of short-term shortcomings and not of long-term benefits of a policy – everyone screams, no one reads. However, I believe that we can and will learn how to make the internet a tool for democracy mainly because that is the only choice we have – we cannot and do not want to make the internet go away.”

A security expert for a major web infrastructure services company wrote, “Citizens in 2030 will have access to a larger number of online services than today. These services will be more tightly integrated into people’s lives and identities. Digital citizenship and stronger identity services will enable governments and other organizations to have more visibility into which citizens are unable to vote and why. This may lead to efforts to improve voter turnout and registration, leading to a stronger democracy.”

A senior lecturer in computer science wrote, “Although I don’t expect dramatic change, I expect significant improvements over the next decade mostly in countries where democratic institutions are weaker. We can see some of this effect occurring in notoriously undemocratic countries even now, as authoritarians make concessions to popular demands, concessions that would have been unthinkable decades ago. Although technology has harmed advanced democracies like the U.S., these harms so far have been relatively mild by comparison.”

A senior standardization expert with a major European telecommunications company said, “There will be greater transparency.”

A technologist for a top-five global technology company said, “My experience is in the U.S. and Europe, and I continue to believe that internet technologies are on balance a force for good in these countries. I have less experience of China and other authoritarian regimes.”

A technology consultant and futurist commented, “The question is too shallow. The provision of tools does not determine how the tools will be used. Nor does the existence of tools indicate what regulatory framework will exist around the use of those tools. While it is possible to imagine societal structures that benefit from and utilise the internet as a key support for democratic processes, it is also possible to imagine governmental restrictions that curtail their use or give power only to specific ‘safe’ uses. Ultimately, we may determine that democracy is rooted in people and that people will achieve democracy using whatever means are available. Thus, the internet will become a tool for democracy.”

A vice president and strategist for a company that manages crisis operations wrote, “All signs today highlight the fraying effect that social media technologies in particular have had – and are having – on social cohesion and democratic discourse. But at the same time, we are seeing growing pressure on governments to intervene, and key pioneers of these technologies expressing dismay for the effects they are having. Today’s youth are also much more savvy at sifting truth from fiction online than preceding generations, and we have seen governments at every level, but especially local governments, creating new means to encourage and engage public voices in government decision-making, ranging from app-based reporting and prioritization of potholes in major roadways to public input into fiscal resourcing of government programs. 2030 is a long way off in terms of technology, and it is reasonable to expect that we will see considerable advances over the next 10 years to address the negative effects of Web 2.0.”

A writer and editor who covers technology and the internet commented, “For citizens who are not highly engaged in democratic processes, outreach through social media platforms will bring a higher level of engagement with candidates and causes. They’re far more likely to hear about human rights abuses and ways to help than ever before.”

An administrator for a major technology standards-setting organization wrote, “In recent weeks we have seen local communities that are driving change use technology to organize events and people. While some governments are trying to suppress the infrastructure used by today’s technologies, the individuals have found alternative ways of making things happen. We’re also in an age where bad actors are using technology to influence elections, smear politicians, etc., but there is an offsetting usage of technology to identify and stop these activities. I expect that by 2030 we will see more open democracies around the world and technology will continue to evolve to deliver more and more services to citizens (i.e., e-health, smart cities, smart water).”

An anonymous respondent based in Africa commented, “Democracy will mean being able to vote using personal mobile devices from whatever location. Election results should also be available transparently as the voting takes place thanks to technology. Technology will be at the core of democratic processes with mobile technologies paying a key role.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I expect citizens to be active observers, if not participants, in the democratic process in countries. Digital technologies readily provide access to information that allows individuals to form opinions and join collective efforts. These opinions and efforts can be for good or bad, but the opportunities for increased involvement make digital technologies a valuable tool for democracy.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “While currently democratic institutions and practices are under stress from the uses by certain actors of networked information and communication technologies, there are a number of groups working to address some of the worse abuses. One challenge is to not look at evolving uses of networked media by bad actors but to look at larger structural issues that weaken competition. As with infrastructure and networked industry sectors (water, electricity, transportation, telephone), there may be advantages to large firms that allow them to obtain and exercise monopoly power. Looking at mechanisms such as structural separation of different activities may be one way to reduce the power of certain platform firms and also to reduce the political vulnerability that arises from such concentration.”

An anonymous respondent said, “In the future, democratic rule, better representation, honesty on identity, are expected to reinforce democracy.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Increased access to information, increased true information (mingled with the false). This will require an extensive media education campaign. Overall, I believe that increased knowledge access enhances democracy.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I expect more and more regular robust engagement of the citizenry in the public sphere. This can include speaking out on platforms such as Facebook, more people using technology to get information and the active inclusion of those who are currently marginalized in the democratic process. First, traditional advocates (not lawyers, but activists, public policy analysts, etc.) will continue their policy analysis and activism. Second, non-traditional advocates will find ways to use current technology or new technology will enable them to play a more active, anonymous role in the process. I also think technology will drive more in-person engagement in the public sphere as a result of any negative impacts of technology on the democracy (such as threats against election processes at any levels of government). Democratic institutions will be impacted by a much-needed change following a likely dramatically uncomfortable backlash about race, economic status and privilege.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I am generally a tech-positive person. So, despite many of the abuses we’ve seen and will continue to see, I believe technology overall will enhance our ability to participate and shape our democracy for the better.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Tech is here to stay – it won’t go away. So, if techlash is the worry, the solution is more and better tech – by people for the people, by governments for the people. It is the inevitable way, if governments want to make use of digital, and they have to, There is so much to gain, too.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “IT will aid democracy by enabling citizens to participate directly in decision-making, receiving information from verifiable public sources and, hopefully, thereby increase the sentiment of being a stakeholder in society. Mobilisation on important issues will also be easier. This has downsides too, of course, but overall a healthy equilibrium should emerge as stakeholder participation pushes back trolling, etc.”

An anonymous technology strategist and trainer said, “By 2030 the platforms will have figured out solutions for the problems currently plaguing them in this space, making them more valuable contributors to the global conversations around our democratic institutions. Voter registration and civic engagement will increase as a result.”

An area director with the Internet Engineering Task Force observed, “The issue at hand is the balance between real exchange of ideas versus active and intentional misinformation. I think this balance will swing further toward misinformation for a while, but by 2030 we will find ways to better curate and filter.”

A businessman and entrepreneur wrote, “There is a growing realization that data and technology can have a profoundly negative or positive role in democratic life, owing to recent highly publicized challenges across the globe. Responsibility for ethical use of data and analytics will become more commonplace and generally improve how democracies (and businesses) operate. Citizens and consumers will grow to expect to be treated with fairness and dignity.”

An economic development and social innovation consultant whose specialty is purpose-driven emerging tech said, “From a U.S. perspective, I expect the size, values and expectations of Gen Z as well as technological progress in the next decade to enable more direct participation, with the potential to augment and in some cases to replace aspects of representational models of government. Though much smaller in population, countries like Estonia have pioneered digital democracy initiatives that can be emulated. I believe artificial intelligence and automation will be utilized in wider applications across government, from benefits to healthcare to legislation development. Overall, I expect a more participatory process due to advancing technology.”

An entrepreneur based in Southeast Asia said, “What do you expect democracy to look like in 2030 from the perspective of citizens? Educated citizens who also understand how the internet works will become more-aware citizens. What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? More-aware citizens will likely be active participants and contribute to society by volunteering or by making choices/decisions that are for betterment of society. What role will technology play in whatever changes take place? Technology will make educated citizens, who also understand how the internet works, more aware.”

An expert in social informatics based in Denmark predicted, “Representative democratic institutions will remain mostly under control of elites and become increasingly irrelevant. Citizens will exercise democracy through ad hoc social movements coordinated online. Economic coordination will shift toward cryptocurrencies, making state-sponsored money less important.”

An international policy adviser on the internet and development based in Africa said, “Technology evolves every day. It is also somewhat an equalizer, though for developing nations there is still a digital gap. Democracy in 2030 from the perspective of citizens will have improved significantly because access will have increased and also the platforms that offer these avenues for citizen involvement would have tuned tools better than we have now. This includes privacy. Technology will continue to be an avenue to disseminate information, provide whistleblowers a megaphone, and increase open data and ways to create accountability.”

An Internet Engineering Task Force participant wrote, “People have started to recognize the echo chambers created by social media and are adjusting their behavior. Ultimately, I don’t think technology will either strengthen or weaken democracy in the long-term, but in the short term it certainly can induce positive or negative effects as social norms and institutions adjust to account for initially disruptive tech. Ultimately, the strength of democracy depends on education, civic engagement and willingness to debate and compromise, none of which have been negatively affected by modern technology in any unique sense.”

The chair of an Internet Engineering Task Force critical infrastructure group wrote, “I hope that people will take the time to learn, review and understand opinions and facts about issues that are important to them. This is, perhaps, not what is happening today with certain segments of the population. I hope that this will change.”

The founder and director of a global environmental advocacy organization said, “Democracy will be strengthened only if the use of fraudulent bots can be minimized.”

“There will not be much change”

In this section of responses, when given three choices, respondents answered that over the decade between 2020 and 2030 there will not be much change in the impact upon democracy and democratic representation of people’s uses of technology.

A pioneering professor of computing sciences responded, “A substantial change to democratic processes is likely to happen in the short term – both positive change caused by greater access to increasing amounts of information, and negative change caused by increased use of fake news, targeted ads, etc. However, history shows us that there were similar worries going back to the Gutenberg press, the advent of radio, the invention of television, etc. As people grow up with the technologies, they learn to balance things, to handle information better, etc. While I think we will go through some turbulence in the coming decade, I’d hope that by 2030 children are being taught to deal with digital information the way they are now taught to distinguish ads on TV, that democracies will start to have regulations that restrict the worse abuses (similar to the way subliminal advertising on TV has been regulated), and that people will be finding new ways to both use and abuse the technologies as society gets used to the impacts of technology.”

A professor of communications specializing in politics said, “Digital technology will continue to advance, and at the margins might enable more public input into decision-making, but also enable greater disinformation campaigns, etc. However, the biggest change will be far greater governmental regulation of the social media and public discourse – not in a ‘1984’ way, but to attempt to lessen fake news and so on.”

A professor wrote, “Throughout American history, civic and public leaders have always adapted to the technology at hand. Lincoln had his speeches copied in their entirety in the newspapers, so he wrote his speeches accordingly. FDR had the radio and used the fireside chat to express his ideas. Kennedy understood the emerging power of television and used it to his advantage. Now, leaders are using social media. So, the message is the same; it’s only the delivery method that differs.”

An analytics consultant wrote, “As technology grows, I expect our nature to how the technology will be used also changes. I don’t see it as we cannot keep up. I think we get wiser as we live with technology.”

A futurist and consultant wrote, “We are at the beginning of mass adoption of technology for purposes of political discussion, information and campaigning. A lot of what we are seeing now in terms of litigation and backlash is symptomatic of this kind of mass adoption. Fraud and disinformation exist across all media; people, given time to adapt, (for the most part) learn how to recognise and avoid or disregard it. What will be interesting to watch is how the relative ease of engagement through digital means impacts the levels of engagement – I think we may see a much more vibrant and participatory democracy by 2030. The structures themselves may not change all that much, but the way they are used could change massively, and that in turn can precipitate sea changes in society, culture and global economics. We are already seeing early signs of increased political engagement by young people, and technology being their first medium, I anticipate bigger changes as more of Gen Z reaches voting age.”

A chair of political science based in the American South commented, “The quality of democracy in the US depends on structural institutional reforms, e.g., of the basic rules about representation and voting. On one hand, civil-society groups organizing to push reform through the normal legal channels can and do use online platforms to magnify their voices and to speed up the process of what scholars call ‘policy diffusion.’ On the other hand, the tweet-bite culture of the web focuses most citizens’ and policy-makers’ minds on the minutiae and miscellany of politics as a soap opera, even more than the old sound-bite cultures of TV and radio, ultimately stunting public interest in institutional reform.”

A consultant who works for U.S. government agencies said, “The biggest fear of technology will be the use of artificial intelligence. While at present we have control of AI, in time we will lose that control. As systems are augmented with AI, it will remove the human element over time. We can say what we like about technology and our control of technology, but in time external forces will replace the human element. This will happen in all areas of technology, including the governmental technology world. At some point it will go beyond its own programing doing what it believes is in our best interest.”

A dean of research in the humanities based in Australia commented, “Technology alone is unlikely to significantly affect democratic institutions per se over coming years (till 2030), however, the political landscape is increasingly critical of democratic practices and institutions as currently manifest. As these come under increasing pressure, I suggest that we will see this also played out in the online content, in the regulatory practices controlling platforms and communication media and any resistant efforts to these measures.”

A director of a think tank technology policy program and cybersecurity expert said, “I think the answer is ‘none of the above;’ I think at first, our democracy is likely to be weakened by technology, as already evidenced by our elections. I hope that technology will eventually create new ways to interface with the democratic process to correct that. So the outcome will be net-zero, but the path along the way will not be.”

A director of youth and media at a center for internet and society said, “I’m concerned that with the rapid advance of digital technologies, inequalities will continue to reproduce and, in many cases, amplify. For some – primarily those living in the Global North (U.S. and Europe), with high-quality internet access and the skills to use it well – it may get easier to access knowledge and education, benefit from economic growth and participate as citizens to society.”

A former leader of data philanthropy for a major global company wrote, “It will require action by governments to utilize technology for good – but we are still in the early days of government implementing technology-driven approaches, and I am not optimistic government will move fast.”

A futurist and researcher expert in data and privacy said, “There will definitely be issues with the impact of technology on elections – following up on the manipulations and fake news and targeting that occurred in 2016. I also think, however, that digital-identity advances and electronic voting systems will provide advantages for registration and voting of those populations previously largely targeted by voting barriers and disenfranchised in other ways. Thus, traditional cultural forces will continue to be at work (‘bubble’ news selection, self-filtering and isolating media trends, as well as gerrymandering battles and voter registration challenges) and technology will enhance or enable those trends. But the overall democratic process will progress at a more complex level than simply due to the technology used by these various stakeholders for their pro- or anti-democratic purposes. Technology is intrinsic in everything we do today, and it will be so in the ‘democratic process’ moving forward too – but I don’t think technology will be determinative in whether we become more or less democratic by 2030, even if it is used as a tool in many ways as those traditional struggles continue.”

A longtime internet engineer active with the World Wide Web consortium said, “Technology will affect democratic institutions and processes, but I’m guessing that this will be for the better and for the worse, so in total, about balanced out. But that also means that significant efforts should be devoted to trying to get as much as possible from the better side and eliminate or reduce stuff on the bad side.”

A North American research scientist said, “The majority of the people in North America (particularly those born and raised in North America) are not interested in politics. They do not follow politics and are without political memory even about the recent past in their lifetime. People in their 50s seem not to know anything about events that they have actually witnessed 25 to 30 years ago. Several times, during the occasional conversation with political implications, I had a chance of mentioning some root cause of some event. They were surprised. Somebody said, ‘I do not remember.’ In one instance I mentioned a labour dispute in a place where (I knew) that these people worked at the time of the labour dispute. They had problems remembering something that actually caused them three years of wage freeze. I have many examples of this type, all prior to when the internet reached the masses. These people were already disinterested and unaware in the 1990-1995 period.”

A partner at a major European law firm said, “It’s hard to look forward as far as 2030. But generally, the combination of big data and super-computing power seems to be having a negative effect on democracy, and I see no signs that that can be effectively policed or regulated, particularly given the power (and data troves) of very large internet companies and of governments.”

A professor and expert in management organization at a major European university commented, “Will technology change democracy and social engagement? Absolutely. But can anyone tell whether pro- or anti-democratic tech will win? You would have to be massively arrogant to answer that with any certainty. We will see an arms race in civic technology, but it is too soon to tell which side will win. What seems sure is that the old certainties – regarding media and parties – may never come back. It is quite possible that the most powerful agent of democracy in 20 years will be a rating agency.”

A professor of criminal justice said, “The fundamental underpinnings of democracy are unlikely to be significantly changed by technology in the future. I could be wrong. However, I believe that in 2030 there will still be splintering and increased political polarization as individuals are able to challenge democratic ideals and influence political processes through anonymous activities.”

A professor of political science said, “We have always had conflicts. They will continue. We have had past eras in which newspapers were used to incite partisans. What is unknown is how we will deal with misinformation. Having a president who lies relentlessly and creates an alternative narrative through social media is new and we are all unsure where this goes after he departs. There is just a lot of uncertainty.”

A research scientist and co-author of a study on intelligent future internet infrastructure said, “I do not expect technology to play a major role in changing the democracy or even to strengthen the participation or willingness of the citizenship to get further informed or participative to the process. New applications and devices will provide new ways to interact with equal peers and maybe with elected representatives. Despite that, the electorate will possibly continue to use the tools they have at hand with the same degree of participation and expectation from democracy as they do nowadays.”

A research scientist based in California commented, “I don’t think democracy will look all that different. The loudest voices will continue to be those that are heard. While the media may change, the elite will still run everything.”

A research scientist for a U.S. federal agency wrote, “We are in a period of growing isolationism, nativism and backlash that will weaken democracies around the world and it will probably have reached a peak by 2030. Although technology and online dissemination of information will be a tool of information and disinformation and it will be a tool of policing populations the underlying economic and environmental shifts are mostly responsible for changes resulting in weaker democracies.”

A researcher based in New Zealand said, “Looking back I can see various times democracy has given good results and bad. It ultimately comes up with what people think their country should be like – democracy is rule of the people. I don’t think people think about it very much and usually just think it should be something that works for them and the people they know. Perhaps they care about others but usually with the caveat that what I give to others means I don’t lose much myself. Given some of the weird stuff people voted for prior to social media and the way they could be manipulated by the people wanting power, I think we are just seeing more of the same.”

A researcher for one of the top five global technology companies commented, “I expect democratic institutions will change in contradictory ways: 1) There will be growing use of social network platforms to manipulate public opinion (a negative). 2) There will be growing use of technology to engage the public in debate and education (a positive). It’s hard to predict whether these will balance out or one will become more prominent.”

A senior research program manager investigating information science for a major think tank said, “I’m answering this from a U.S. perspective. U.S. elections have a history of being influenced that predates technology. In my view, only a small fraction of the voting population (which is a regrettably small fraction of the eligible voting population) is likely to be really well informed under the best of circumstances. Political parties will try to exploit anything to influence outcomes. The difference technology has introduced is the ability of non-stakeholders to influence elections (e.g., nation-states). Like other social changes, I expect citizens to become more knowledgeable about how to read new media and to adapt to them, just as prior generations understood how to read newspapers with points of view. I’m less concerned about technology than I am the ability and willingness of my fellow citizens to educate themselves about the sources of information they consult.”

A senior research scientist with a center for international security studies wrote, “Democracy is and will always be filled with fake news and preposterous bloviation. The only things going for it are 1) it is better than other methods for aggregating preferences (but what utter halfwit invented e.g. monarch?) and 2) it leaves people free to organize and to chime in and to do what they want. Technology will add to the heap, perhaps, but not change anything crucial.”

A sociologist based in North America said, “Tech will probably evolve to support and undermine democratic values. In the end it will probably not matter.”

A sociology scholar wrote, “I answered ‘not much change’ for want of a more precise category. I see both positive and negative possible outcomes. On the positive side are increasing opportunities to communicate new knowledge, publicize successes, counter negative messages about democracy and mobilize people to act. But on the negative side, the same qualities that can enhance democracy can also undermine it. I have hope that the positive will win out as we become more alert to the dark side of technology.”

A technology developer active in IETF commented, “My response of ‘no change’ was a cop-out due to lack of a suitable alternative. I expect tech to affect things both positively and negatively. I feel I am better informed than would have been possible in the past. At the same time the flood of misinformation is a big problem with potentially large negative effects. I don’t know which will be dominant – I expect it will swing back and forth. I *hope* that this eventually works itself out into something good, but I am not confident of that.”

A technology developer and administrator expert in learning technologies said, “There’s a level of engagement that folks expect and tolerate in any given area of attention… politics, entertainment, education. Opportunities to make that engagement more rich don’t necessarily result in an overall increase in the quality of engagement; rather, a richer experience suggests that people can dial-back their consumption. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see much overall change.”

A United Kingdom-based researcher seeking to better understand the conditions under which citizens learn and improve political discourse said, “Technology fundamentally does not solve the problem that most people don’t really like politics and therefore do not make it a top priority in their lives. There certainly are worrying elements – like internet (especially YouTube) ‘rabbit holes’ that radicalize people by bringing them to ever more extreme content.”

A dean at a public policy institute based in Southern Europe said, “Democratic institutions won’t be affected much by technology. The technology will change the ways we interact, however that will not threaten the democracy.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The biggest threat to democracy is people’s lack of critical-thinking skills to be able to distinguish between information and misinformation. Misinformation campaigns have always existed, even before the internet, so their existence in the age of the internet is nothing new. As long as people (the electorate, politicians, policymakers, etc.) continue to think critically, democracy will remain relatively threat-free.”

An anonymous respondent from North America said, “Technology use seems to have its ebb and flow. It can trend in one direction in one election cycle, and then correct itself in the next. For example, in the U.S., Obama’s 2008 campaign is often seen as one that made smart use of social media and technology tools. Now that is the norm. The 2016 U.S. election was marred by media manipulation but has now led to more awareness of fake news and trolling, and more scrutiny on social media. I say ‘more’ with qualifications; this is my area of interest and I can’t say for sure how much this added awareness and scrutiny properly trickles down to the general population.”

An anonymous respondent said, “On the one hand, there are filter bubbles and the increasing trend to empower dissent. On the other hand, there are new ways that existing institutions can adapt. Democracy itself will change.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I see three threads relevant to this discussion. 1) The very real threat of hacking and related cybersecurity issues. Manipulation of results is a concern. Might election results someday be held hostage by ransomware? This is a problem inherent in the technology and the solution is technological. 2) Monopolistic control and/or censorship of information. This already exists in China. In the U.S. there are many, messy, conflicting voices online in our democracy, as there should be. The bigger problems are affirmation bias and the fact that lies are made to seem real by instant popular acclaim. Our attention span is short. Fact-checking that comes hours after the lie does not erase the lie. On the plus side is 3) the tremendous, creative innovations appearing every day, including those that enhance communication.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It’s certainly the case that the medium affects the message and that living in an interconnected world has concrete and specific impact on the way the world operates, but I believe the strongest lever on the outcome of democracy will be the people who wield power to utilize and control these technologies and others. It’s impossible to predict what things will look like in 2030 without understanding who the key players will be. Factors such as the health of our president and international trade dynamics are likely to be more impacting to democracy than the technical capabilities of media and social technology (seeing as they will likely be wielded and manipulated by these players). That said, the broad sociological and psychological manipulations that are made possible by the current state of these technologies are alarming and not to be dismissed. Similarly, however, advances in authentication technologies paired with blockchain could create similarly impacting opportunities (and challenges) when wielded by new and unexpected parties.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Yes, the internet will be used to violate human rights and commit atrocities. But it will and does also enable humanity to connect and grow as never before. It is a new form of adversity that humanity must rise and adapt to. I don’t think it won’t change. I just think it will worsen and improve in equal measure. Authoritarian (and non!) governments will find more creative ways to use the internet to monitor and control their citizens, and extremism will use it to spread. At the same time, the internet will form more new connections and communities than ever imagined.”

An anonymous technology consultant said, “The core structure of democracy depends on institutions (e.g., courts) and traditions (e.g., the principle in the U.S. that the military defer to the elected civilian government). Twitter, Facebook, fake news, etc., may change these to some extent but their fundamental form is strong and can be expected to survive.”

An engineer who works for a major global networking company said, “The problems of democracy are largely human. Fraud will always exist. In some cases, technology creates opportunities, but in others it closes doors firmly. Technology asks us to re-think our notions of identity and what it means to be a private individual in society. How can one remain private while eliminating the threats of fraud? For example, the clash between security, privacy and fraud exist in legacy voting systems, let alone online systems.”

An expert in political polls at the local, regional and national levels said, “Technology is a tool – the way politics has proceeded throughout history is that political actors use new technological tools and incorporate them into their campaigns. Current technology is not much different.”

An expert in the law who previously worked for a U.S. government agency wrote, “I am wary of predictions about technology that is evolving at such a rapid rate. The Federal Trade Commission spent considerable resources updating its rules for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act less than a decade ago and the rules will now be overhauled again to respond to issues that were unanticipated the last time. My own view is that digital technology will be both a benefit and a curse. Improving information flows and better tools to curate information will lead to a more participatory and informed public dialogue on political and social issues. But more-effective communication has a downside, too. Increasingly sophisticated marketing based on data and inferred data on every individual threatens to cross the line between persuasion and manipulation and coercion, and the First Amendment restraints on government will require a substantial degree of proof of coercion before the government will be able to intervene to safeguard individuals from clear overreaching. The threat of manipulation – and we saw the first signs of that in 2018 with the Cambridge Analytica fiasco – is real and growing. Whether industry or government can curb it is an open question. Industry of course has a conflict of interest – the more successful its manipulation is, the more money industry makes. And government has the restraints of the First Amendment that limit its role. But there is no crystal ball here and predictions are only that.”

An international public policy analyst wrote, “The problem is not with legitimate actors. It is with nefarious actors who seek to undermine and influence democratic processes. Here I do not mean differences of opinion, no matter how reprehensive you may find viewpoints. Rather, active actions by third countries or non-domestic actors to influence outcomes. The question does not seem to capture them.”

An internet pioneer active in IETF who’s now working to develop edge computing said, “Technology will severely impact privacy and enable distribution of inaccurate information. On the other hand, it will also make accurate information more accessible. Extremist groups will be able to organize using technology, but the mainstream will also be enhanced. All in all, I think it will probably more or less balance out.”

The director of a global online civil rights organization wrote, “I think we overplay the role that tech played to date in democratic institutions. I worry it will degrade our democratic institutions going forward, but there’s some chance that it will help people get access to data – but I’m less optimistic that we know what to do with that data.”

The executive director and co-founder of a major digital activism organization said, “The answer is substantially ambiguous. A serious confrontation with the tech sector and its power over our society and economy might be forthcoming. If it emerges and is successful, it could help ensure that tech on the whole operates in the public interest. If not, we’re likely to maintain the status quo or see worse.”

The founder and chief operating officer of a brand strategies company wrote, “The vast majority of citizens are not effectively engaged in democracy now, never have been and never will be. To the extent they participate at all, their engagement has been to a great extent driven by the mass influencer of the day – the church, the newspaper, the television news anchor, etc. This will not change. What may change is that as the influence power is concentrated in the hands of oligarchies like Facebook and Google, opposing views will be squashed and political correctness (as dictated by those firms) will become the language of the day. Orwell, I believe, was an optimist.”

The following are responses made by those who wrote a comment after not choosing any of the three options on the democracy question.

An American state senator wrote, “The answer depends on the next election. Despite gerrymandering, despite current manipulation, despite Citizens United, despite foreign intervention, will the proponents of democracy be able to take back control? If so, then we have a chance of continuing to work toward the American ideal of one person, one vote. We will have the opportunity to build artificial intelligence based on those values. If the incumbent and cohort retain power, without check, increasing gerrymandering, destroying the public school system that enables the poor to rise, continuing to increase the delta between rich and poor so that we have the servant class, the homeless class, the nobility class of professionals and the ruling class, then the American ideal is gone. I do not believe we will have another opportunity to save it after Nov. 3 of 2020.”

A retired professor commented, “Corporations will have more power over employees and customers. This will be achieved as part of the ongoing corporate takeover of democratic institutions which U.S. President Eisenhower warned of long ago. Technologies of identification and surveillance will expand in usage, eating away at the private sphere of social life. Social media will continue to reinforce strong social ties among family and friends while reducing the formation of the weak social ties among acquaintances that support intergroup cooperation necessary in a diverse society. Worsening climate and its consequences for health, agriculture and infrastructure will create increasing irrational forms of blame and global conflict. Global conflicts will include electronic and biological forms of aggression against the militarily powerful countries. More citizen backlash is to be expected but will likely be directed against inappropriate targets. Societies as we know them will stumble from disaster to disaster, toward a massive die-off of our species. I hope I’m wrong. I would like to see our species survive with its democratic values intact. I have grandchildren. I would like their grandchildren to inherit a better world than the one that our present technocratic capitalist economy is racing toward.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Democratic institutions will doubtlessly change, but whether that strengthens or weakens them depends on too many factors to give a global answer.”

The director of a major organization’s intellectual freedom project said, “The positives and negatives are likely to balance, and much will depend on unpredictable factors.”

To read the full report on the Future of Democracy in the Digital Age, click here:

To read the credited responses to the questions, click here: