Conceptualizing the Impact of Digital Interference in Elections: A Framework and Agenda for Future Research
29 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2020 Last revised: 11 Aug 2020
Date Written: February 10, 2020
Concerns over digital interference in elections are widespread. Yet evidence of its impact is still thin and fragmented. How do malicious uses of social media shape, transform, and distort democratic processes? And how should we characterize this impact? Existing research into the effects of social media manipulation has largely focused on measuring its purported impact on opinion swings and voting behavior. Though laudable, this focus might be too reductive. Drawing on normative theories of liberal democracy, this paper argues that the threat of digital interference techniques lies beyond their capacity to change individuals’ political viewpoints and demonstrates how social media manipulation may undermine popular perceptions of electoral integrity, with potentially far-reaching consequences for public trust. Following this assessment, a preliminary research agenda is formulated, highlighting previously overlooked relationships that can be explored to better understand how malicious uses of social media might shape such attitudes and to what effect.
Keywords: Social Media, Digital Interference, Elections, Democracy, Public Trust
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