Autocrats’ Tech Assault and Democracy’s Response 

Democracies are facing increasing threats by autocratic regimes around the world and by autocratic notions and leanings within their own borders. Many experts believe the rise is intertwined with advances in technology. This conference will focus on how new technologies are strengthening autocracies around the world and what the United States and other democracies can do to thwart their infiltration and effectiveness, primarily through civic engagement and education, media response, and private sector technology collaboration.

Day One - How Technology is Contributing to the Rise of Autocracy and the Decline of Democracy
The first day of the conference will focus on the assault and its use of technology—and the scenario’s gravity is striking. According to “The Autocrat’s New Tool Kit,” a March 15, 2019, Wall Street Journal article by Richard Fontaine and Kara Frederick, “[the technologies] will allow strongmen and police states to bolster their internal grip, undermine basic rights and spread illiberal practices beyond their own borders.” The conference will also examine the likelihood of and extent to which these tools may be used by U.S. actors to legitimize and advance autocratic doctrine within the domestic population.

Day Two - How To Save Democracy and the Rule of Law: Responses in the United States and Abroad
The second day of the conference will explore responses by democracies: taking prophylactic action domestically to block or minimize disruption efforts, including in the United States civic education and media literacy, the media’s response, and technology company collaboration; using the same technologies to advance democracy; and taking positions on behalf of the repressed, either as a single nation or as a party to a formal resolution or other global initiative.

The questions participants aim to answer during the conference are sharply defined, but the answers are not clear-cut. For instance, what are the priorities for government leaders, policymakers, the press, the private sector, schools, and individuals when addressing autocrats’ assaults? How do these parties corral and reconcile different, even competing, interests to form a united and effective front? How can we use the same technology to advance democracy? What is being done now, and what is next? 

 This event is co-sponsored by Perry World House and The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, both at the University of Pennsylvania.