‘Democracy has become the target of modern cyber warfare’

Source: Yusuf1020
Source: Yusuf1020

Fake news, alternative facts, filter bubbles, and voting software that can be hacked in seconds: digitisation doesn’t exactly seem to be helping democracy, concludes Valerie Frissen, Endowed Professor of ICT and Social Change at Erasmus University. Which begs the question: how can we make the internet work for us instead of against us?

It’s a grim picture that Frissen paints for us, starting with the Dutch electoral system. Our retro way of voting with a red pencil, for example. It has nothing to do with nostalgia, but rather with the fact that even the best security experts haven’t managed to create a hack-free digital voting system.

The vote-counting computers for the last elections turned out to be leaking like sieves. ‘The ethical hacker that researched this concluded that the average iPad has a better security system than the Dutch electoral system,’ Frissen explains.

A Bad James Bond Film

And it doesn’t stop at the Dutch elections. Ominous stories about fake news, alternative facts, and filter bubbles are dominating the news. No one seems to believe in the democratic potential of the internet anymore.

‘In retrospect it seems like we’ve fallen into a bad James Bond movie. A movie with a Cold War scenario in which Putin is the evil nemesis who not only wants to bring America down, but also points its poisonous arrows towards innocent mini-countries like the Netherlands.

'Putin is at the head of dark hacker squads and factories full of Macedonian teens who are systematically and aggressively throwing fake news at us. With modern ammunition like digiprop and DDoS-attacks they’re targeting our elections, news, and technology. Democracy has become the target of modern cyber warfare.’

Even some politicians are using digital propaganda, adds Frissen: the ‘Twitterer-in-Chief’ in the US and his ‘blond Dutch cousin', for example.

But: Democracy is Strong

But, there’s some good news: in spite of all these digital attacks on democracy, the Dutch have managed to make it through the elections without being manipulated. Democracy is stronger than we think.

‘So how can we develop the internet so that we don’t undermine our democracy but make it stronger? Can we use the strong points of the internet to improve whatever’s not working?' Frissen asks. 'After all, the internet is a particularly democratic architecture: open, without a central power and with many built-in checks and balances. Enough leads to bring digital democracy back to life for the next elections.’

Source: Financieele Dagblad

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