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

See all articles by Nahema Marchal

Nahema Marchal

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: February 10, 2020

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Marchal, Nahema, Conceptualizing the Impact of Digital Interference in Elections: A Framework and Agenda for Future Research (February 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3536281 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3536281

Nahema Marchal (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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