Authoritarian influencers take advantage of emerging technologies and the globally connected digital environment to extend their reach into open societies.

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Rapid advancements in the technological sphere have been a driving force of globalization, leading to ever deeper forms of technological interdependence between democracies and autocracies. Ubiquitous instant-communication tools and technologies that enable the collection and processing of big data have opened unexpected avenues for the manipulation of public opinion, political processes, and democratic institutions. 

Emerging technologies are reshaping how communities interact with their environment, how businesses deliver services, and how governments solve problems. Until the past decade, the dominant assumption was that the conveniences and practical capabilities of new technologies—including big data tools, integrated urban-management systems (“smart cities”), and the so-called Internet of Things (IOT)—would generate positive progress. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that the advantages these powerful technologies offer to authoritarian regimes have been profoundly underestimated.

Sharp Power Influence

Platforms and innovations developed in open, democratic settings are not immune from vulnerabilities. Google and Apple, for example, have conceded to content takedown requests from authoritarian actors, setting a harmful precedent for free speech. 

The rapid diffusion of platforms incubated in authoritarian settings poses an additional threat. The widespread uptake of TikTok and WeChat—both developed by Chinese-owned companies—has enabled censorship, misinformation, and other corrosive practices in some settings.

Authoritarian powers are harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to devise ever more precise methods of social management. When disseminated in places where civil society and government oversight are limited, AI technologies can facilitate the closing of civic space and the normalization of authoritarian values.  

International standard-setting bodies—such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)—present a ripe opportunity for authoritarian actors to shape the underpinnings of the international technological environment, from technical standards to the conceptual framing of tech-related debates.

Emerging technologies offer numerous conveniences and capabilities, benefiting consumers and government alike; they also carry inherent risks that can threaten liberal democracies when leveraged by powerful dictatorships that wish the reinforce and spread their authoritarianism.

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Samantha Hoffman

Double-Edged Sword: China’s Sharp Power Exploitation of Emerging Technologies

Democratic Responses

Modern technology is shaping the political landscape, and democracies should deepen efforts to encourage free expression, protect the integrity of information, and strengthen essential privacy safeguards. Civil society can meet this multisectoral challenging by coordinating with media, government, and private-sector actors.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Civil society should participate in transparent, multistakeholder governance and international standard-setting bodies like the ITU, ISO, and IEC.
  • Nongovernmental actors can support the “siloing” of data to limit authoritarian affordances and enhance security.
  • Civil society should encourage investment in research and development to offer credible alternatives to systems and services designed to meet authoritarian standards.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Media and civil society organizations should coordinate to expose and amplify indicators of tech-enabled sharp power in their countries. This will contribute to broader public awareness of the issues, encourage debate on what should be done, and pressure governments to take protective action.
  • Corporate and government research-and-development technology enterprises should invite civil society groups to consult on whether their technologies meet democratic standards. 
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society organizations should be trained on emerging technologies and enabled to implement digital literacy programs that go beyond basic personal and corporate data-management practices.
  • Civil society can leverage foreign-language expertise to pursue research into authoritarian states’ laws, regulations, and pronouncements surrounding emerging technologies.


The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence international norms and standards governing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart cities, big data, and surveillance tools.

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Source: Jamestown Foundation

Publication Date: August 18, 2023

Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Eurasia, Georgia

Author: Beka Chedia

View Resource: Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Georgia has forged a strategic partnership with China after years of closeness with Western partners. China’s increasing influence in Georgia, particularly through investment in key strategic infrastructure, threatens Georgian democracy and the potential for rapprochement with NATO.

Source: The Guardian

Publication Date: August 11, 2023

‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Authoritarian Country: Saudi Arabia

Affected Region: North America, United States, Europe, United Kingdom, Global

Author: Paul MacInnes

View Resource: ‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in sports to bolster the country’s international image while advancing domestic development goals. Activists and experts warn that the Saudi government is “sportswashing” to distract from recent human rights abuses.

Source: Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística

Publication Date: August 6, 2023

Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Latin America and the Caribbean, Bolivia, Nicaragua

Author: Pablo Medina et. al.

View Resource: Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

As Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, ramped up investment in Latin America, leaders signed agreements to strengthen their “digital communications strategies” and Russia-positive content has begun to appear in local media. Rosatom’s consultants have also intervened to sway local election results.

Source: New York Times

Publication Date: August 4, 2023

How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: United Kingdom, Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, United States, Europe

Author: Mara Hvistendahl et. al.

View Resource: How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

An American donor with ties to Chinese state media has funneled money through nonprofit organizations to ultimately promote Chinese talking points within leftist activist groups, think tanks and media outlets worldwide.

Source: Euractiv

Publication Date: June 19, 2023

Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Bulgaria

Author: Krassen Nikolov

View Resource: Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has seen a rapid growth in Russian propaganda over the past year, spreading disinformation and fake news through a network of growing mushroom sites, or websites created by malicious actors to project disinformation.

Source: Reuters

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Germany

Author: Tassilo Hummel, Polina Nikolskaya, Mari Saito, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev

View Resource: The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Ties between a German national soccer team and Russia’s state-owned gas company contributed to a blossoming relationship between the two countries. Foreign investment across Russian and German enterprises facilitated the spread of Russian influence and improved public opinion about Russia in Germany.


Media and Information
Media and Information
Media and Information

Culture and Entertainment
Culture and Entertainment
Culture and Entertainment

Knowledge Generation
Knowledge Generation
Knowledge Generation

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