Democracy Summit 2024: Leaders Perceive Tech as Democracy's Double-Edged Sword



Democracy Summit 2024 called forth world leaders who spoke about how technology appears to be democracy’s double-edged sword, impeding human rights and democratic norms. They spoke about how dealing with disinformation and manipulation of electoral systems has become a bigger problem, causing turmoil in an already chaos-stricken world. At this democracy summit, world leaders also saw the event as a platform to invite the global cooperation of countries, particularly from the youth population, to take a stand on supporting democratic values through technology. Organized at Seoul, South Korea, this year’s event saw the participation of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, the foreign ministers of Ecuador, Gambia, Indonesia, Guyana, and Mauritius, and other minister-level leaders.

While AI is already proving its power to transform every aspect of human life, from education and health to security and entertainment, it can risk hampering human rights and democratic values as well. It can resonate quite an impact on the realization and protection of human rights by playing the roles of both an enabler and a destroyer. This means it can open up new avenues to tackle existing challenges like poverty, discrimination, disease and violence by tracking down and correcting unfairness in data and decision-making processes. It can even lend protection to human rights activists and defenders by equipping them with tools that can watch, report and campaign for human rights violations.

Its same abilities can be used to manipulate, interrupt privacy and lead to discrimination. For instance, while it collects data, it could pool and share personal information without the person’s consent. It can manipulate and spread disinformation through deep fakes and fake news. It can cause discrimination by reproducing and aggravating the bias and prejudice in the data or algorithm, leading to unfairness and undesirable outcomes for people and individuals.

Few Real-Life Incidents

By now, a lot of incidents about technology violating the rights of human beings and democratic systems have surfaced.

YouTube’s Failed Content Moderation Experiment 

During the peak of COVID-19, YouTube faced a failure in content moderation when it replaced several human content moderators with AI algorithms to remove content containing hate speech and misinformation. These systems ended up over-censoring users and doubled the rate of incorrect takedowns.

Hiring Fails

Hiring algorithms used by employers to screen candidates have actually left a negative mark on freedom of expression by having the latter only polish up attributes appealing to the company they are applying to.

Google’s Gemini Incident

Why, take the recent news of Google’s Gemini, which caused a stir among users, who were present results of colored people when searching for America’s founding fathers, pope and Vikings, originally white people.

To counter these digital threats to freedom, world leaders, mainly South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other foreign officials of Ecuador, Gambia, Indonesia, Guyana, and Mauritius, and other minister-level leaders are gathered around to host a summit for democracy.

The Agenda for This Year’s Event

The latest event is said to be the third of its kind after the US President Joe Biden flagged off with the first one in 2021 that focused on fulfilling the promises of one of his campaigns. Its aim was to help put a halt to democratic backsliding and erosion of human rights and freedom worldwide.

A Warning About Threats Made to Democracy Systems through Technology

For this year’s event, world leaders aim to convey about the potential threats technology causes to democracy to the masses. The South Korean President signaled a warning about how AI and other digital tools are spreading fake information that not only has a negative effect on human rights and individual freedom but also stampede the values of democratic systems.

A Guidance for Tech Companies to Defend Human Rights Activists Online

On another note, the US Secretary of State, Blinken, revealed plans for Washington to release the first guidance of its kind for tech companies aimed at stopping attacks launched against human rights activists and defenders online.

A Call for Youths Involvement in Democracy

Members of the South Korean hosts also conveyed about involving the hands of young generations to partake in democracy in a number of ways through the event.

Technology Must Support Democratic Rights and Values

The US Secretary of State warned the Democracy Summit about the dangers of disinformation.

Blinken spoke about how almost a large part of the world’s countries are about to have elections, and dealing with disinformation has become a matter of chaos now.


He said that disinformation has found a way to pose itself as a greater threat than before due to emerging technologies, including social media platforms and artificial intelligence.

Causing Confusions

The nature of the information environment is already known to be fast-changing, but with those new technologies, the situation has been drastically accelerated. This accelerated the pace of disinformation and fed fodder to polarization, adding more confusion to what the people already face about the world around them.

Delaying Help

Blinken called out disinformation’s capability of having people, about millions, with wrong assumptions and thereby not getting vaccinated, which eventually caused several fatalities during COVID-19. Even for matters relating to climate change, disinformation happened to cause a delay in action during a crisis.

Falsehood Diverting Serious Debate

Speaking of the ongoing elections happening around the world, Blinken predicted that citizens and candidates will be hurled with an overwhelming amount of falsehoods that could tumult serious civic debates.

Instigating Arguments

He even took up the act of adversaries using disinformation to take advantage of the differences inside democratic countries by implanting cynicism and instability. He stressed how it leads to instigating arguments between groups and discrediting institutions.

Exposed Countries Propagating Campaigns

He even called out two countries such as China and Russia, for investing heaps of money into promoting propaganda and preventing Western news outlets. He said that China purchased television platforms from Africa, which did not consist of international news channels from subscription packages, and the same in South Asia showed that these platforms supported pro-China news big time. For Russia, media content was being concealed across Latin American channels that eroded global support for Ukraine.

As another example, Poland’s undersecretary of state at its foreign ministry, Robert Kupiecki, implied that the number of false information spread of Russian propaganda accelerated social media, deepfake techniques and omnipresent bots were more gruesome than the ongoing invasion of Russian actions on Ukraine.

His Suggestions

Blinken suggested revitalizing democracy, which could help shape the future of technology that is inclusive, respects rights and that drives progress for people’s lives. While authoritarian and repressive regimes use technology to undermine democracy and human rights, we must ensure that it sustains and supports democratic values.

AI and Other Technologies Should Support Democracy

The South Korean President opened the event by highlighting countries’s duties to share experiences and wisdom that could allow AI and other technology to uphold democracy.

Yeol said that AI and other technology are giving room for fake news and disinformation to thrive, potentially threatening democracy.

Impact on National and International Security

Given the multitude of difficulties that confront all of our democracies, this platform is desperately required. The creation and management of new technology impact both national and international security and have geopolitical implications. Authoritarian regimes are known to manipulate and tamper with foreign information, especially disinformation, in order to undermine democratic countries.

A Head-On Approach

We must approach this problem head-on. Sweden has taken some significant steps in this regard, and I would like to highlight some of the concepts that we have considered:

Uncertainty feeds the spread of misinformation. It is imperative that we communicate our messages loudly and clearly. Our stance on some principles and policies needs to be emphasized, restated and clarified.

Proactive Strategic Communication

One of the best methods, in our opinion, to strengthen resistance against outside manipulation and interference with information is through proactive strategic communication.

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