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Marietje Schaake: Can democracy survive in a digital world?

A former Member of the European Parliament sizes up the state of democracy in the digital age and finds much to fret about, but also ways to fight back.

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Marietje Schaake says democracy is under attack from propagandists and bad actors. | Stocksy/Jess Lewis

Marietje Schaake was a Member of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2019 and now serves as the international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center and international policy fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.

As she has watched democracy evolve in the age of instantaneous global communication and hyperconnected social media, she has grown concerned about the resilience of democracy as technology disrupts the status quo.

While the technologies — and the often-unregulated companies who created them — claim to be well-meaning, she says democracy is under attack from propagandists and bad actors using these transformative tools in troubling ways. The business models based on surveillance and advertising were never designed with preserving democracy in mind. We now find ourselves at a decisive moment for the future of elective government, she says. America and other democratic nations can expose the meddlers and their techniques or succumb to their approaches. The solutions, she says, begin at the grassroots and with the tech companies. We need real-time and independent monitoring and research to better expose manipulations and to allow for evidence-based policy making.

Join Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast for an insider’s sobering look at democracy in the digital age. Listen here, and subscribe here to the podcast.