Media and Information

Multimedia

Media and Information

Authoritarian influencers leverage propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and sway over content delivery systems to undercut the integrity of the information space.

Megaphone

Overview

State dominance over political expression and communication is a fundamental component of authoritarian control. Increasingly, authoritarian leaders that restrict media freedom and manipulate discourse in domestic settings also seek to curate information flows abroad as a form of modern censorship.

Digital-era changes to the information ecosystem have allowed narratives crafted by authoritarian regimes to gain traction far beyond their countries’ borders. Social media and the internet have lowered barriers to entry, enabling new actors to operate as information gatekeepers. Independent media outlets, meanwhile, have become increasingly vulnerable to economic coercion as they struggle to sustain themselves in an unfriendly business environment.


Sharp Power Influence

Authoritarian influencers take advantage of this already challenging information environment to flood the international media market with often coordinated, state-sponsored content: 

  • State media outlets that lack accountable and transparent governance structures—like RT (Russia Today), Sputnik, Press TV, CGTN, and Xinhua, among others—privilege authoritarian narratives and sideline independent perspectives.
  • Content-sharing and coproduction agreements between state-backed and independent news outlets act as a conduit for insinuating regime-friendly content into local reporting.
  • Journalist trainings and exchanges organized by authoritarian powers emphasize the regimes’ achievements and educate foreign journalists on how to report from the official perspective.

Authoritarians also employ trolling, online harassment, and forms of digital disinformation at scale to silence political dissent, shape election outcomes, and undermine democratic institutions. New technologies developed by a thriving commercial sector that offers disinformation as a service are used to demoralize, distract, and divide publics.

Information is a weapon—and one that can be used against us. This is an uncomfortable truth for open, democratic societies. We like to think that our media ecosystem is self-sustaining.

Megaphone
Edward Lucas

Firming Up Democracy’s Soft Underbelly: Authoritarian Influence and Media Vulnerability

Democratic Responses

Civil society can counter authoritarian sharp power in the media and information space. Familiarity with how authoritarian powers influence the information circulating in print publications, radio broadcasts, television programs, and social media feeds is a crucial first step.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Media outlets should enhance operational transparency by publishing details about commercial relationships, acknowledging partnerships and information sources, and implementing procedures for receiving public complaints about inaccurate information.
  • The media sector should resist authoritarian efforts to define the boundaries of free expression and association by affirming its commitment to democratic standards, like accountability and human rights, and letting these principles guide engagement with authoritarian actors.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Social media platforms should identify more meaningful ways to work with researchers, journalists, and civil society organizations, for example, to identify emerging threats and problematic accounts tied to authoritarian actors. Platforms should ensure that content producers and independent voices critical of authoritarian influence have an avenue for appeal when encountering online harassment or other censorship efforts.
  • Democracy and rights-focused organizations should incorporate the specific challenges posed by authoritarian media influence into future initiatives, with coordination and support from funders.
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society can help address persistent political-literacy gaps about modern forms of authoritarian influence. Surge capacity for local civil society expertise will help address sharp power inroads in established and emerging democracies alike.
  • An understanding of authoritarian influence should be mainstreamed into nongovernmental work on media freedom, free expression, and internet freedom. A comprehensive mainstreaming strategy can build on existing initiatives and should include investigation and research, actions by media outlets, initiatives led by journalists’ unions and media owner associations, and civil society efforts. 

Media and Information

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence the media sector and information space in every region of the world.

Latest Resources

View All

Source: Wired

Publication Date: July 27, 2022

How Tor Is Fighting—and Beating—Russian Censorship

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Ukraine, Eurasia, Russia

Author: Matt Burgess

View Resource: How Tor Is Fighting—and Beating—Russian Censorship

Russia’s efforts to block Tor came in two flavors—the technical and the political—and extended beyond its own borders. In some areas of occupied Ukraine, internet connections were being rerouted through Russian networks, and that brought censorship and surveillance with it.

Source: Democracy Paradox

Publication Date: July 25, 2022

Aynne Kokas on the Intersection Between Surveillance Capitalism and Chinese Sharp Power

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Global

View Resource: Aynne Kokas on the Intersection Between Surveillance Capitalism and Chinese Sharp Power

Consumers can be exploited by companies from any number of countries due to a lack of data privacy regulations. The risk of partnering with Chinese firms stands out, however, due to the government’s established framework that pressures firms into storing data in China and sharing it with regulators.

Source: Vice

Publication Date: July 24, 2022

Revealed: Documents Show How Roblox Planned to Bend to Chinese Censorship

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: North America, United States, Asia-Pacific, China

Author: Joseph Cox

View Resource: Revealed: Documents Show How Roblox Planned to Bend to Chinese Censorship

In partnering with Chinese tech firm Tencent to launch a version of its game in China, video game developer Roblox had to comply with Chinese censorship laws—for example, maps created in the game had to recognize Beijing’s claim of self-ruled Taiwan —and host user data on local servers.

Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: How Australia’s Civil Society Led the Way

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Asia-Pacific, Australia

Author: John Fitzgerald

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: How Australia’s Civil Society Led the Way

Australian civil society was years ahead of the government and its agencies in exposing PRC surveillance and interference among local diaspora communities and in working to defend the rights of those belonging to these communities as equal citizens of Australia.

Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Taiwan’s Democracy Under Fire

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Asia-Pacific, Taiwan

Author: Ketty W. Chen

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Taiwan’s Democracy Under Fire

The Chinese Communist Party continues to launch influence operations against Taiwan, often using proxies to serve PRC aims. One factor working in Taiwan’s favor as it resists these efforts is the commitment of its robust and vibrant civil society to defending the island nation’s democracy.

Source: Journal of Democracy

Publication Date: July 19, 2022

Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Transparency Wins in Europe

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Czechia, North Macedonia, Lithuania, Hungary

Author: Martin Hála

View Resource: Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: Transparency Wins in Europe

Making friends among foreign political elites through united front work, “economic diplomacy,” corruption, and other means allows Beijing to repurpose coopted institutions for its own agenda, undermining democratic systems from within. It is the role of democratic civil society to expose these efforts.

Sectors

Megaphone
Media and Information
View:
Media and Information
Media and Information

Graph
Commerce
Entertainment
Culture and Entertainment
View:
Culture and Entertainment
Culture and Entertainment

Brain
Knowledge Generation
View:
Knowledge Generation
Knowledge Generation

Phone Cloud
Technology