In more innocent times, the rise of the Internet was seen by many people as a boon to democracy. Disruptive, yes, but the Web broadened the flow of information, introduced new voices into the political debates, empowered citizens and even provided a powerful fundraising tool for some lesser-known candidates such as Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.
Now, in what are clearly less innocent times, the Internet is viewed as a far less benign force. It can be a haven for spreading fake news and rewarding the harshest and most divisive of political rhetoric. It is a medium, for all its benefits, that has dark corners populated by anonymous actors (some not even real people) whose influence appears to be growing but not easily measured.
Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University, is among the many — academics, political practitioners, journalists, law enforcement officials and others — who are attempting to understand better the consequences of conducting campaigns and governance here and around the world in the Internet age. He has written about this in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Democracy in an article with a title that sums up his concerns: “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”