Big Data and Democracy

54 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020 Last revised: 8 Apr 2020

See all articles by Freek van Gils

Freek van Gils

Tilburg University - Center for Economic Research (CentER); Tilburg University - Department of Economics; Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC)

Wieland Müller

University of Vienna, Department of Economics & VCEE; Tilburg University, Department of Economics & CentER

Jens Prufer

Tilburg University - CentER; Tilburg University - Department of Economics; Tilburg University - Law and Economics Center (TILEC)

Date Written: March 17, 2020

Abstract

Recent technological developments have raised concerns about threats to democracy because of their potential to distort election outcomes: (a) data-driven voter research enabling political microtargeting, and (b) growing news consumption via social media and news aggregators that obfuscate the origin of news items, leading to voters' unawareness about a news sender's identity. We provide a theoretical framework in which we can analyze the effects that microtargeting by political interest groups and unawareness have on election outcomes in comparison to "conventional" news reporting. We show which voter groups suffer from which technological development, (a) or (b). While both microtargeting and unawareness have negative effects on voter welfare, we show that only unawareness can flip an election. Our model framework allows the theory-based discussion of policy proposals, such as to ban microtargeting or to require news platforms to signal the political orientation of a news item's originator.

Keywords: disinformation, interest groups, news platforms, microtargeting, voter awareness

JEL Classification: C72, D72, D82, D83

Suggested Citation

van Gils, Freek and Müller, Wieland and Prufer, Jens, Big Data and Democracy (March 17, 2020). TILEC Discussion Paper No. DP 2020-003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3556512 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3556512

Freek Van Gils

Tilburg University - Center for Economic Research (CentER) ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Tilburg University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC) ( email )

Warandelaan 2
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Wieland Müller (Contact Author)

University of Vienna, Department of Economics & VCEE ( email )

Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1
Vienna, A-1090
Austria

HOME PAGE: http://https://homepage.univie.ac.at/wieland.mueller/

Tilburg University, Department of Economics & CentER ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://www.tilburguniversity.edu/webwijs/show/w.mueller-3.htm

Jens Prufer

Tilburg University - CentER ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, DC Noord-Brabant 5000 LE
Netherlands

Tilburg University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Tilburg University - Law and Economics Center (TILEC) ( email )

Warandelaan 2
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

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