Welcome to 2018 Summer Hybrid – LS 657: Challenges of Democracy

Return to the course’s home page?

Week 3 – Due here online August 2-August 6:  What’s Next for Democracy? A look at the Middle East and Technology

Last week, we introduced some of the ideas challenging democracy today in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.  This week we consider two more topics: the now-seemingly-failed-dream of democracy in the Middle East, and a couple of the many implications of the IT revolution – including the Internet and social media – on democracy.

I.  Democracy and the Middle East?

One way to begin this discussion is to define terms.  Very often, in the West, we carelessly use Middle East, Muslim, and Arab interchangeably.  Of course, there are many Arab Muslims in the Middle East.  But Turks, Persians, and Kurds and others are not Arab.  Many Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians, Coptics, Lebanese, and Palestinians and others are Christians, while Iraq alone has Kakai, Yezidi, Shabaks, Bahai, and other religions – not to mention a sharp divide among its Sunni and Shia Muslims.  The “Middle East” includes the countries on the Arab peninsula – and Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, probably – but what about North Africa – Arabic-speaking Muslim countries? Or Afghanistan? Or Somalia?  All we mean here is, we need to pay attention to what we mean.

As for “Muslim countries,” there are 230 million Muslims in Indonesia, 200 million in Pakistan, 180 million in India, 140 million in Bangladesh. At 80 million, there are as many Muslims in Nigeria as in Turkey or Iran.  Iraq, Algeria, Ethiopia, and Morocco – and maybe China – each have as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia.  Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia are each Muslim-majority countries; Macedonia, Montenegro, and Cyprus are each 20 percent Muslim or more.  Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, and France are each about 7 or 8 percent Muslim.  (All these are estimates via Wikipedia – not gospel, but usually pretty close on this kind of thing.)

And so when we ask about Arab democracies, or Muslim democracies, or democracies in the Middle East, we need to be careful that we are saying what we mean, and remembering that these are distinct ideas.

We can start with a graphic from the classic Stepan and Robertsonarticle that made these distinctions.  (Skim this article)

Polity IV, we remember, is database ranking states by year as democratic (closer to +10) and not democratic (closer to -10).  Look at the Arab world – in 2000 (and today, excepting maybe Tunisia), there are no democracies. Look at the rest of the Muslim world – there are some democracies, some in between, and some not democracies – just like the rest of the world.

Michael Ross and others judge that Islam isn’t the problem – oil is.  And Islam isn’t the problem for women in the Middle East – oil is.  Where there is oil, there is a myriad of related problems.  Ross does a great service with his meta-analysis of hundreds of articles about this “resource curse” – we get it all in 15 pages here.  Don’t hurt yourself too badly, but try to get through this article (it’s a lot easier than getting through the 100 it summarizes!)

We can take a third look at democracy in the Middle East by blending it with last week’s work on democratic recession.  After decades of being one of Freedom House’s “partly free” states, Turkey has slipped into the “not free” category.  See Freedom House’s analysis.  Take a look inside of what Turkey’s political purge of the last couple of years looks like, according to the New York Times.

II.  Democracy and Technology

Ok, we take two approaches here.

The first is a short introduction to the question of vulnerability of American elections to anonymous outside influence.

If Putin says, Vote for Trump, that’s one thing.  If a Russian government agency or teenagers in Macedonia post ads on facebook pretending to be almost anyone else, how much should the US worry?

The Washington Post highlighted a Journal of Democracy article on the pros and cons of social media for democracy; it’s followed up by a How Stupid Are We analysis.  A little, sure; but maybe our willingness to be duped is a symptom of our political divisions, more than being duped is a cause of our divisions?

You’ve seen the Mueller indictment (skim this). These Russian journalists claim that much of that information was published by them (read this), months earlier.  Note: even Vox had to acknowledge that (so far), “Importantly, the indictment does not allege that the outcome of the election was changed, and it does not allege that any Americans or anyone on the Trump campaign was aware of or involved in this Russian effort.” This could change, of course, but so far….

Second, how much do we need to mind ourselves?  Edward Snowden showed us the answer might be, Quite a bit.

These are distinct areas, but with certain obvious and not obvious overlap.  We begin with a review of one of the great moments in business-government-cyber-privacy – Edward Snowden.  We start with the two articles from the Washington Post that got this all underway in 2013 – the Guardian was doing this at the same time.  Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras id PRISM and other NSA cooperation with all the big tech companies – Facebook, Google,Microsoft, and more. Start with the graphics: the NSA slides that the Washington Post published (also here: snowden – wapo – slides  ), Next, read the story and watch the interview (6:09) of Gellman at the top of the story.  Two days later we learn about the mysterious source, Edward Snowden: read the story and watch the Guardian’s interview (12:34) of him.

snowden video

The stories are also here: snowden – wapo – Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks.

These were massive new reports, for which the Washington Post and the Guardian won much acclaim and many awards.  But this “intersection” of business and government was just one of many different kinds of cyber-privacy questions.  Should the U.S. or local governments (aka, police) be able to track you and your phone without court authorization?  You probably don’t even want to know about the privacy of your genetic material – good news about law enforcement, but bad news about those Ancestry / 23and me types of services, or what is basically genetic facebook.


III.  Ok, your turn

There is really a lot to think about here.  Take your time with these readings and videos, and then create your own prompts.  You might want to go back and review What Makes a Good Post.  And then:

— news on facebook by Thursday night, August 2

— your essays here by Saturday night, August 4 – which of these issues above really made an impact on you? how do some of the issues coalesce, or contrast? which of these is really illuminating, or somehow not quite right? how does one of these help us understand what’s going on today?

— your facebook comments by Sunday night, August 5, and

— your essay-replies (to your classmates’ essays) here by Monday night, August 6 – some of your comments to each other have really been thoughtful and helpful and extended the discussion – read each other’s work humbly but critically – what are you learning from your classmates, or how are your thinking about something a little differently – it’s ok to disagree with each other and to ask each other questions, if what you’re really doing is making the conversation richer, fuller, and at the same time respectful and humble and civil.

Ok, let’s have fun – what do you really see here that moves you – what do you want to say that makes us smarter, surprised, more curious, etc…?

29 Replies to “LOY-657-DEM-2018-aug6”

  1. The readings and discussion around the “Muslim Countries” is interesting to me. The largest religion in the world is Muslim. One could argue every country is Muslim. However, some countries can consider Muslim residents as not citizens. The basic philosophy of democracy allows this. I am also noticing a common theme that keeps showing up in my essays each week: the problem of religion-based democracy. I’m sorry if you all are getting sick of seeing my posts about it.

    It starts with the Demos. In the demos, those not in power say that they at least have freedom. However, those in power also have freedom, so the demos essentially has nothing. The people in power can label and classify the demos or any group in the demos or any demoi any way they choose and give certain demoi additional privileges over other groups. The best example we see of this is Myanmar.

    Some people in this class may remember my presentation on the Rohingya in Myanmar. Myanmar gained its independence, went through a few different types of government (i.e. communist, dictatorship, parliamentary). Finally, they became a presidential democracy. Because democracy allows for racism and allows for the demos to be controlled, that is exactly what happened in Myanmar. Muslim groups were disallowed citizenship and treated horribly. This lead to violence breaking out in the country as the Muslim groups fought for citizenship and the government tried to suppress them in a violent way. This came to a head in August of 2017 when the government began destroying Rohingya villages—imprisoning, raping, and killing the Rohingya people from those areas.

    This is what can happen when certain religions are treated differently in a democracy. This is what I am worried about from the Israeli new law that makes them a Jewish democracy. It is also what makes me nervous about the Trump-Pence administration, and for good reason.

    A great example of the strong tie with Christianity and the government is Indiana. With RFRA, refusal of Syrian refugees because of their religion, and the school voucher program, the state is practically forcing religion on its citizens. In fact, you are not allowed a marriage license until you have had three sessions with a minister about marriage. The state is literally forcing you to go to church to get a legal document.

    The person responsible for all that in Indiana is now the Vice President of the United States of America. Again, religion is tied to everything. With the ban on “Muslim countries” that is actually a ban based on “Middle Eastern” countries, and Sessions’ new policy to protect Christian groups, the United States is attempting to re-frame itself into a religious-based “democracy.” As we see by the Myanmar example, those are only effective at breeding hate and violence.
    Some personal notes:
    1. I hate the phrase “Middle East.” It is not a thing. Some of the countries are in Africa; some are in Europe; some are in Asia. I used it above because it is a common phrased used. I just personally dislike it.

    2. If my comments about Mike Pence offend anyone, I apologize. I do not mean to offend anyone with this. That said, I and many of my friends felt the oppressive weight of being governed by a religion-based system.

    3. For more information about the Rohingya, Washington Post has had some interesting articles about it. The best for good historical overviews of how the situation developed, Vox did a few short videos and HBO’s Vice did an entire episode on the situation last fall. I recommend taking a look at all of that. The history of Myanmar is really interesting and the refugee crisis is heartbreaking.

    1. Jess: You may also be interested in reading about the political crisis in Venezuela under the Madura regime. I recently read an interesting report about the history of Latin American migration policy. Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia have generally had less restrictive policies when it comes to admitting refugees. Even economic migrants (who aren’t necessarily fleeing political violence) have traditionally been welcomed under specific conventions designed for a year long process of work visa attainment. Compare this with political hurdles and decades long immigration processes in the US and it is easy to see why most migrants across the Mexican border are coming from Central America. Regional support in South America is simply more available . . . until, perhaps, now. Just as the EU is issuing policy restricting migration and resettlement, local populations in Peru, Columbia, Chile, and Argentina are beginning to see competition from workers and migrants leaving Venezuela. The Venezuelan migration crisis is expected to produce migration numbers that surpass the current number of Syrian refugees fleeing conflict zones to countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Israel-Palestine and the EU. Baltimore has a huge Syrian and Eritrean population. DC has a huge population from El Salvador. Peru and Mexico are currently accepting more Venezuelan economic migrants that any other Latin American countries. Lima is becoming a hub for border policy research as the Venezuelan state deteriorates from mass migration for mere economic reasons to emergency migration for reasons of political corruption. I’m moving to Peru in August. While I’ll be removed from centers of migration in Lima, it will be interesting (and disconcerting as I’ll be living there as a privileged student-teacher during a time when borders are being closed to economic migrants and refugees) to perhaps have the opportunity to study migration (within Latin America) to countries that, prior to current situations, had relatively open border policies. I’m thinking of writing my final piece on a comparative study of political frustrations in Syria/Turkey as they relate to a similar crisis (at least in numbers) in Venezuela/Peru. I am wondering if prior open border policy and attention to regional (as opposed to ethnic and religious based) community building will make a difference in addressing the crisis (on a regional level) in Venezuela. At a surface level, it seems that Catholicism is a uniting factor in Latin America, although democratic socialist revolution has been successful in some places and incredibly violent and disruptive in others. I am interested to see which elements present in regional religious stability and/or relative cohesiveness harm/hurt the diplomatic process in Venezuela and how experience with inter-religious dialogue and cross-ethnic peace building in Syria/Turkey contribute to diplomatic processes in a region that is incredibly ethnically diverse.

      1. A really good friend of mine lives in Venezuela. It is really interesting talking to here because she gives more than just the political situation. She talks about it as a new mom and the real daily life of it.

    2. I also wrote briefly about the role of religion in democracy in an earlier post and I came to a similar conclusion, that overtly religious leanings shouldn’t play a role in democracy. As easy as that is to write and believe, I also struggle to picture a world where democracy doesn’t include some sort of religious aspect. I am not a philosopher by any means, but morals, ethics, law, and religion seem to be very closely aligned or at least overlap in some way. As much as I believe the exact lines of these things may be a bit blurry, I am in complete agreement with the idea that religion itself shouldn’t play in a role in democracy. Personally I struggle with religion quite a bit because so many people find solace in the concept, but so many people also use it to control populations and justify immoral or corrupt behavior. In the case of Indiana and many other areas in the United States, religion is used to control and suppress and further a particular agenda, whether that agenda is pro-life, anti-LGBT, or anti-refugee, the agenda is somehow justified because its supporters believe they see the justification in a text. Allowing discrimination of any kind because of a perceived basis of religious freedom is preposterous, and could directly impede on another person’s rights guaranteed to them by the same democracy.

    3. Hi Jess— I appreciate your perspective, especially on the crisis Rohingya people face in Myanmar. I’ve heard about it on the news, but haven’t followed through on researching it; now I’m inspired to do that and learn more. I was interested in giving some more thought to your comment that the current administration is attempting to re-frame the United States as a religious-based democracy. I think the ruling class, and much of the citizenry, has always conceptualized the U.S. as a Christian nation – whether that’s valid or not is another story. But from the Founding Fathers on through every presidential candidate in 2016, American political leaders have always had to express, authentically or less so, a connection to Christian values at the least, though many profess a lifetime of belief and faith. I think sharing one’s religious identity as a qualification for public office is typically meant as a kind of cheat-sheet for the majority-Christian population to size public figures up, Having a national Christian tradition and hearing candidates/leaders identify with that offers the people the chance to evaluate who they are and what they believe in within a shared understanding and context. As a result, individuals have brought their religion into politics, and it shapes policy, law, and the national conversation. So I’m not sure this is a new phenomenon – I think what we’re seeing is a bit of talking the traditional Christian talk that past administrations might have messaged out around their policies… but maybe the walk does not quite line up with the cast of characters in this particular administration. (Perhaps the Christian messaging is undermined by what folks are pointing to within policies as ignorant/racist/inhumane/a misinterpretation of their shared religious beliefs ?) I would be really curious to hear your thoughts!

  2. In 2015, the Migration Policy Institute issued a report entitled, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey: The Long Road Ahead.” The report noted that, at that time, nearly 2 million persons had been displaced from Northern Syria due to persecution by the Assad regime (and ISIS) along the northern Syrian border. With migration already swelling due to an influx of migrants and refugees from Lebanon, the Turkish government was in the process of modernizing immigration policy to reflect domestic standards for EU membership and regulation. But with the realization that the 5 year turmoil in Syria was not coming to an immediate or near-future close, international agencies began redirecting Syrian migrants to border camps and/or third party receiving countries. You can access the full report here.


    After a failed attempt at a political uprising in 2016, President Erdogan (of the conservative ruling party AKP, also known as the Justice and Development Party) classified the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and began purging Turkey of all associated members including doctors, members of the press, educators, and students. Ironically, the Gülen movement is characterized (outside of Erdogan’s government) as a transnational Islamic social movement and was initially aligned with the AKP against liberal secularists and more progressive social reformers in the Turkish government. The article below details some of the latest developments in the ousting of all persons associated with the movement. As progressive parties in the US move towards reforms in migration policy at our own borders, and as we work with international agencies to seek long term solutions for migrant and refugee resettlement out of Turkey and Syria, it is important to be aware of political developments and regional conflict that lead to border swelling, local frustrations, and the need for socio-political and worker movements that address long term solutions and permanent resettlement initiatives as well as conflict mitigation and restorative political justice.

    Ongoing immigration policy reforms deserves immediate attention from the international community. In light of our increasing capability to communicate with one another via the web, discussion of cases of the use of the democratic-liberation aspect of social media is relevant. During the Arab Spring, social media was used as a tool for on-the-ground reform in opposition to restrictive government mandates and offenses. True, social media does democratize our information systems but how do we analyze the press in the context of social media? Is it right to regulate social media use? What standards, beyond ethical guidelines and viewer/consumer protections do we need to address? Everyone frames their story with a spin. In an age where we all have access to the means to tell the history of our lives, do we need additional regulations to protect individuals (children, individuals fleeing political oppression and domestic violence, etc.) whose lives are also affected by the stories that we tell?

  3. I’ve always found the Snowden drama to be very illuminating but also very difficult to fully grasp. There are many levels to this story when considering our country. Isn’t our democracy based on civil liberties and the government protecting our freedoms a la the social contract? I like to be careful comparing present-day policy to the mid-late 1700s, but what the government is doing here isn’t necessarily democratic, right? But where do we draw the line? If these investigations are fruitful like the “thwarting of a bomb plot targeting NYC subway system in 2009” then do we become okay with this type of behavior? Information/cyber warfare is the new “police” work.

    However, fundamentally, don’t you HAVE to have a problem with this? Government having the ability to do real-time surveillance of individuals’ phone calls, e-mails, texts etc. seems inherently wrong and anti-democratic. As the PRISM program stated, it “doesn’t require individual warrants” and there is “broad authorization from federal judges.” FISA spoke mostly of digital information from people outside of the U.S. but a few of the articles mentioned that it was impossible to not have American citizens caught up in this as well because, essentially, they’re collateral damage. Even the stipulations are weak at best: tasking the PRISM system for information on a target means the supervisor must endorse “reasonable belief” which is loosely described as 51 percent confidence. How arbitrary is that?! The NSA can just monitor your phone call as it happens which is dangerous, in my opinion. As the PRISM slides showed, most world communications “travel” through the U.S. because it’s the “cheapest path.” The access that our government has is staggering. And as Gellman states, companies are using legal jargon and verbiage to cover their own rear ends. These companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook are giving your information away because they are offered “incentives” to do so. The worry is where does this stop? And who has access to this? Does the tech savvy gentleman next door, let alone the government, have access to my information and communications? But again, what if this stops attacks? Do we as citizens sacrifice some personal freedoms in order for the public good? Is this a new-age social contract? I would venture to say that most citizens would say yes if it meant thwarting a terrorist attack.

    The problem here is that it seems that the government uses its broad powers to “circumvent the formal legal process required” to surveil citizens. Clapper saying it was an “important and entirely legal program” was laugh out loud funny. My guess is that you shouldn’t need to say it is a legal program. A government program is assumed to be a legal program but that’s why we’re having this argument. The government is there to protect us but this goes against that to a certain extent. “As it is written, there is nothing to prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile of communications, which may have been collected without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone calls or e-mails of specific Americans.” My issue here is the incidental collection of data and the powers of government being limitless. Is it here where we begin the slippery slope down into never-ending government intrusion? What rights would we as citizens still have? Snowden in his interview mentioned this as “outside of the democratic model” and this is a “fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.” I disagree with how Snowden went about this whole thing but he makes some good points. If I had to guess, most people have an issue with government becoming too powerful but not an issue with catching foreign or domestic terrorists before the act…and that’s how the government is going to paint this picture. It’s like speeding cameras being there just for your safety…yeah, whatever you say.

    1. I’m wondering where money comes into the regulation of surveillance initiatives? My sister is a nurse who studies how our health insurance premiums are determined by our consumer activity. Most corporate entities keep data on user behavior. Why does the government need to access this data? To sell us votes! The bottom line is that surveillance is not usually based upon immediate threats to our safety. I’m not saying that there isn’t a component towards security here but more often than not, this information is being used (even in cases where the entities collecting data are led by individuals with ethical concerns like initiatives to understand patterns of behavior for the purpose of mitigating harm) to direct our behavior towards certain goals. It is relevant to inquire, then, into the nature of data collection. Is it ever ethical to collect data on an individual or set of individuals without their consent? Although it may be helpful (and I can envision multiple scenarios where this behavior could actually save lives), I am still very, very wary of speaking in favor of general data collection. We are so far past the point of changing this, however. If you aren’t assuming that everything that you put onto the internet is going to be public knowledge, then you haven’t adjusted to our current state (this may not be a bad thing). My utmost concern, though, is that information that we do not place on the internet is now also likely to be available for public knowledge. I recently realized that my entire desktop was converted to the cloud. I did this accidentally one day while I was attempting to download a game space for my ten-year-old. The next day, I discovered that all of my divorce paperwork and several journaling entries that I had made during therapy for Post-party depression were actually on a network that could be accessed by security analysts who I knew and worked with. This was a little embarrassing! But it’s these kinds of things that we need to think about. A lot of what we write and express and ponder is therapeutic and/or part of necessary step-by-step processes towards healing or understanding on a particular subject. Our ideas and thought patterns often change. With our entire lives now open to cloud based organization, where do we draw the line between understating that everything we say is likely to be available forever, and protecting folks who are working their way through difficult issues that need to be expressed (and even publicized in some cases to garner support and safety) but whose information should remain secure and private?

    2. The role of technology and privacy on democracy will be in the forefront of social and political rhetoric over next several decades. We must consider potential obstacles to democracy such these. We have already seen the impact the media has had on elections, policy, and the general function of our government. With technological advances, we make great strides in national defense and security. We also develop new means to watch our enemies, potential threats to this country and to this democracy. How though do we define our enemies or these threats in the new era of warfare where terrorism leads to elusive enemies? This is dangerous because if we cannot clearly define our enemies and we have privacy invading technologies to find our enemies, who is to say our government will use these technologies on its own citizens? Who then are the real enemies? Who poses the real threat to this democracy?

    3. This will continue to be one of the biggest challenges in our time – maintaining a balance between security and our individual civil liberties, between government surveillance to protect our vital national interests and keep us safe vs. our right to privacy. These issues have become even more complex because of digital technology. We also don’t have a settled policy on the right to privacy in the US which only complicates matters in balancing the state’s compelling interests and our personal liberties. I remember feeling outraged in 2013 when the Snowden records were leaked and we started to learn about systematic mass collection techniques under the PRISM program. And it wasn’t just the suspects data they were collecting, it was anyone in the “contact chain” where they would collect data on the suspect and anyone they encountered digitally to “two hops out” from the target. The scope of that surveillance just seemed like such a breach of privacy and to the rule of law by government, especially with Obama in the White House. I just didn’t feel the security risks or threat of terrorism then warranted that kind of behavior. But in 2018, considering the information warfare threats from Russia and the impact it can have on our elections and stability as a country, I feel a bit different about some of these surveillance programs. This week I reread the Mueller indictment right before reading the pieces on the PRISM and Stingray programs. The scope and complexity of Russia’s influence campaign in 2016 is chilling – the sophistication and detailed planning of this attack is just incredible. And from recent news, we know they’re still attempting to attack us and impact our midterm elections. And they’re not just attacking us, they’re running similar campaigns too, trying to interfere with their elections. This is the threat I feel in 2018, and it makes me want to sacrifice some privacy to keep us safe from these kinds of foreign influence campaigns. My point here is that this will be an ongoing debate in democracies across the world, as we continue to balance national security needs and civil liberties.

  4. So many good thoughts here, everyone. Lots of good questions lots of good thoughts about those questions. Also quite a bit quite a bit to push back on, I think there are some important ideas here that can be looked at a couple of different ways. Let’s see if your classmates do any of that…? 😉

  5. For seven weeks this summer a Turkish PhD student was staying with us while she worked as an intern in a neuroscience lab at Hopkins. She was here while the elections took place in Turkey in late June, and we talked extensively about Erdogan’s government and what life had been life for her and other academics and scientists during his campaign and subsequent reelection. The New York Times article on the build up to Turkey’s situation in 2017 and the report published by Freedom House provided some much needed background to help me understand her concern for Erdogan’s reelection. It was fascinating to see that this decline had been over 30 years in the making, and horrifying to see that Erdogan’s quickness to shut down the press and create a list of public enemies echo, if quietly, Trump’s willingness to dismiss the “crooked media” and label individuals as enemies or criminals, simply because they choose to speak out against him.

    Trump’s ability to completely dismiss an investigation or a proven fact because it doesn’t portray him in a favorable light, and his followers willingness to believe him entirely places him in a position of dangerously high power. By dismissing reputable news sources and vilifying individuals, he is building himself a platform that will be difficult to topple. Erdogan’s power reached new heights when he began to control the media, eliminating news sources and individuals that spoke out against him. Trump gains more and more power and credibility in his own circle as he dismisses science, the environment, education, and the systems set up to keep the president from gaining too much power. My concern is that his supporters don’t understand why his presidency is unique (and not in a good way), or they don’t understand why it’s concerning.

    Last week in a comment I posed the question, does Trump understand what he’s doing? I think he is emulating who he believes are “winners” but I think he is also a puppet for big corporations so they can make even more money. Judging from my conversations with Trump supporters in my own life, I believe that many of his loyal base don’t understand why his message is troublesome and that an “America first” mentality might seem great on the surface but if you actually take the time to understand what is taken away from others to further this idea you’ll understand that it will make the U.S. a weaker country. As Erdogan’s supporters ignore the fact that the stability of their country is linked to the stability of those around them, Trump’s supporters are unwilling to recognize the instability abroad is linked to our stability as a democratic country as well.

    Self-promotion (or maybe self-preservation?) in a leader of a fragile democracy is a slippery slope that could quickly turn negative for all involved, even the original supporters. A free press seems to be one of the biggest factors in maintaining a stable democracy, and it will be interesting to see how midterm elections are portrayed across different media channels (Fox News v. CNN, NBC, Vox) and how Trump pursues reelection in 2020.

    1. Wow, the personal experience with the Turkish doctoral student was really interesting to hear about, thank you for sharing. I loved your line about Trump echoing, if quietly, Erdogan’s practices. Reading that NYT article, I felt like I was reading the SparkNotes on a fictional dystopian novel. But to remember that isn’t too far from our reality here is troubling. And yet, to know there are many great minds equipped to make those connections and work against evil forces does give me hope.

  6. A couple of years ago, my siblings and I had the great idea of getting our mother a genetics-themed Mother’s Day gift: we got one DNA kit for the dog, who we adopted from a shelter that had no information as to the breeds that made her a mutt, and another kit from ancestry.com for her. She excitedly completed the kit for the dog (who we learned was part boxer, part beagle) but she could not bring herself to send her spit in the mail. For one, the concept of mailing her spit made her queasy. But she was mostly concerned about giving away her genetic information. “What if I kill somebody? They’ll have my DNA!” To which we answered, “Mom, if you’re planning on killing someone, we have a bigger problem.” More realistically, she argued, “What if they sell my information to an insurance company, and my insurance becomes more expensive? If I get sick, and they know in advance it is not worth treating me, then what happens to me?” Prior to reading this week’s articles, I believed my Mom to be paranoid, taking the attitude described in the Schulson article that all of our information is already out there, what difference does it make? Who is really interested in our personal data and information?

    But I understand my Mom’s concerns a little bit more now. Coupled with the pieces on social media, it makes sense. I don’t usually say this, but she may be right! Her paranoia may be justified. For the majority of her lived experience, social media did not exist. Personal data was not so freely shared and exchanged. Privacy was more of a valued cornerstone of democracy. Meanwhile, my siblings and I grew up on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter; we shop online, our credit card information and personal preferences locked in our browsers to facilitate easy consumption. All of my healthcare information is on my doctor’s app connected to an online portal. And I don’t think twice about it, only when I’m appreciating the efficiency. I agree with the Washington Post article that says, at least in regards to social media, that this type of technology is not inherently democratic or undemocratic. It is the way we regulate it and use the information that the social media amasses that can be deemed democratic or undemocratic. I haven’t really thought about privacy as being democratic—as protecting privacy being a key responsibility of a democracy. I’m curious as to what others in the class think.

    1. You actually brought up something with data that I had not thought of. Generations. Older generations are scared to put any of their information out there that could be used. Our generation is used to our information being out there–it is part of who we are.

      It brings another interesting level when we talk about the future of data governance and surveillance.

    2. The genetic DNA topic this week really floored me. I have always wanted to do something like ancestry.com because it seemed like a very cool thing to learn about. I’m a history teacher so what better than learning about my own family lineage. But even I’ve said many times before concerning other topics, it’s always about money. “For direct-to-consumer companies, selling access to genetic information is a major source of profit.” They are sharing medical information and aren’t subject to HIPAA or other health and insurance regulations. I don’t want that information flying out there like some commodity or product. But information is today’s gold. It’s almost priceless. Remember when telemarketers, door-to-door salesmen and in-person surveys were the only true ways to gather this type of personal information? People HATED participating in those types of meetings/conversations; no one wanted to just volunteer that type of information. Now, people give it out like it’s nothing. We have social media and now, everyone wants to hand out their genetic information. “Family Tree DNA’s eight-page-long privacy policy informs users that if the company is sold or dismantled, ‘Personal Information including test results will, as a matter of course, be one of the transferred assets.’” They’ve essentially monetized all aspects of the individual. Somewhere, someone is willing to pay for everything that makes you who you are from the inside on out. What makes it worse, these companies are developing this faster than the government or federal agencies can regulate it.

    3. Rachael, I think your mom’s fear is rationale and possible. User data is sold or shared quite often. Even among otherwise reputable companies, the sale of consumer data has taken place (https://www.engadget.com/2018/06/08/facebook-reportedly-sold-user-data-to-businesses-in-secret-deals/). Other times user data it is a trade, shared under the guise of product improvement, or perhaps a company entrusts the wrong third-party with their data.

      EULAs are so long and complex consumers rarely know what they are consenting to. And while GDPR in Europe hopes to tackle some of this, the reality is that there will be no way to effectively police this. Corporate lawyers cover themselves to do almost whatever they want with your data. When business is good they will act ethically, but when facing bankruptcy many companies will sell their assets to stay afloat and this includes user data.

    4. I am glad you decided to explore this notion of privacy as it relates to the collection of genetic data. This is new and uncharted territory in our world. While this shows how far we have come technologically to be able to send off a cotton swab and have our entire genealogy, heritage, and ancestry sent to us in an envelope a few weeks later. It really is a marvel. Unfortunately, this poses a slew of other questions and concerns. How does this impact our privacy? This information is unique to each of us and considered personal identifying information. This information also has value in this free market capitalist society. our genetic information can be auctioned off to the highest bidder and without any obstacle. If even our own genetic information is not protected as personal and private, where might we expect to be several decades from now? The protection of individual rights and privacy are imperative to democracy; how will evolving technologies in our everchanging world impact our country, our democracy?

  7. Is the United States democracy equipped to handle the rapid evolution of information technology? From interviews with Edward Snowden and the supporting PRISM slide deck that he was responsible for leaking back in 2013, to the continued debate surrounding network neutrality, the answer seems to be no, the United States is not equipped to handle the change the microprocessor and the internet have brought about.

    The public’s reaction to the PRISM leaks was both shock and sigh. Many suspected the three letter United States agencies were capable and actively pursuing such surveillance, but it is unsettling to have those suspicions—which, when discussed at a bar, always had before required a conspiratorial smile and sideways glance—confirmed. The whistleblower, or spy, or both, Edward Snowden was instantly vilified by the United States government. The focus always on Snowden, not the bombshell announcement that was and is PRISM. Snowden of course would flee to Hong Kong and later Russia, where he remains today.

    Fast-forward to 2018 and Russia comes up again. Did Russia meddle in the United States election? Yes. Did it have a large enough impact to change the outcome? Maybe. Can the elections be trusted? We think so. Is what you read on Facebook or Twitter real or fake? Depends. Are news networks real or fake? Real, though they are run by humans. The ideals and freedom of information and communication that the internet was founded on have been weaponized against the United States people from both external and internal groups and no one seems to know what to do about it.

    Meanwhile a large percentage of Americans are still effectively cut-off from the internet. Broadband penetration and speeds lag behind that of other developed countries, with many United States residents unable to access broadband internet at all. Those who can access the internet are increasingly siloed into groups on social media with like-minded individuals creating an echo-chamber effect. We can see it in today’s politics. The right is moving further right, the left is moving further left, policy and legislation have stagnated.

    The microchip and internet super highway have finally opened to the masses of America, in large part thanks to Facebook and other social networking websites, but I am not sure if everyone is a great driver yet. To be fair, the signage is unclear, and the lanes for most are a little narrow, and no one is a great driver their first time out, but like driving, the mistakes can be fatal, if not for the individual, then for society.

    1. One point in particular that you made about the weaponization of information I believe to be especially important. What really frightens me about the future is the pushing of individuals to extremes; we’re seeing the left moving further left and the right moving further right. The “news” agencies on both sides are guilty of pushing propaganda. Who started it? I have no idea, but if one is doing it then the other will follow suit and therein lies the problem. We need to be capable of seeing through the surface value of stories and make informed decisions that will help our democracy thrive. It feels as if our government just isn’t getting anything done, and too many individuals are acting like sheep. In the defense of the media and our government, we’re allowing ourselves to get taken advantage of…that’s something that needs to change.

    2. Ben, I’ve been struggling with the question you posed about the impact of Russia’s meddling in our election, or at least quantifying that impact in a meaningful way. We can’t really measure the influence that Russia’s misinformation campaign had on the 2016 presidential election, at least in terms of votes. That said, what we do know is that we have profound social, cultural and political divides in this country, arguably more so than any other time in our history… at least that we’ve lived through. These divisions have intensified over the last few years and have been identified as one of the most pressing challenges to the strength of our democracy (The 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report and 2018 Carnegie Endowment report identified this polarization as one of the trends undermining democracy today). This polarization, coupled with how the rapid evolution of communication technology has changed the way that news and information are produced, accessed, and trusted, makes us more vulnerable to the deliberate efforts to spread disinformation and stir mistrust. In the assigned readings this week, Dr. Quirk posed the question, “is our willingness to be duped is a symptom of our political divisions, more than being duped is a cause of our divisions?” And I think the answer is a resounding yes. Russia’s campaign sought to exploit and amplify divisive social issues and it succeeded at that. They just poured fuel on a fire that was already burning – hot. Advances in technology have connected us more than ever before but also allowed misinformation to spread more rapidly. Because of the divisions in our society people segregate themselves according to their values and beliefs online into the “echo chambers” you mentioned. These closed communities only reinforce existing viewpoints, rather than challenge existing biases resulting in confirmation bias. What does this mean? According to the Carnegie report, “the evidence suggests a real possibility that public opinion can be intentionally distorted by exploiting information overload and confirmation bias, with significant political, social and economic consequences.” Although we can’t measure the impact that Russia had on the outcome of the election, we know that manipulating public opinion absolutely will affect voting behavior.

    3. Hey Ben! I am so glad you reiterated the concerns around the ways we silo ourselves on social media platforms. I wrote a bit about my concerns with Facebook this weekend, and I think this is part of the same problem of Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/etc. failing to fully understand and regulate their platforms as they exist now – not in the idealized form they seem to think exists. The filter bubbles we live in are constructed based which users/pages/organizations we choose to follow, what we click on/like/share, and they are self-perpetuating, even though we may not be actively shaping them. So, we become ensconced in layers of similar data and anything that doesn’t fit with our bubble has a hard time breaking through. We live like this in the real world – people tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods, workplaces, social groups where they can identify closely with the other folks around them – but we also can opt-in to more diversity in all types of ways – moving to a different neighborhood, changing career paths, picking up a new hobby, etc. I think we fail to take that action when it comes to our online lives, and so we never pop the bubble. Something worth thinking about – and hopefully acting on – to reclaim a small measure of control over what lands in your feed.

  8. This week, I found the readings on democracy in the Middle East and Muslim-majority states particularly interesting. In combination with our work last week around the process of democratization, I feel like I have a more comprehensive understanding of why democracy has been successful in some states, but not in others. Ross’s piece on the resource curse made clear to me, along with Stepan and Robinson’s research, that there is not one clear road to democracy, nor is there to economic growth and prosperity.
    Ross wrote convincingly about the connections between petroleum – the resource at the center of the supposed “curse” – and the fragility of democracy in states where it is found. His assertion that the presence of petroleum facilitates more autocratic government, specific types of corruption, and more conflict is informative to the understanding that there is no “one size fits all” model of democratization. The regimes of such states, largely found on the Arabian Peninsula, face different conditions than democracies of western Europe, South America, or former Soviet bloc states faced at their inception. Stepan and Robinson’s research to determine why there was such a chasm between successfully democracies and autocratic regimes that both exist in Muslim-majority states was also illuminating. Challenging the broad, inaccurate conceptions around Muslim nations’ autocratic leanings, they reached the conclusion that in fact, some Muslim-majority states are among the most successful democratic in the world, and have been for several decades. (This affirmed for me an understanding that some or all of the blurring of Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, etc. is because we see the world from an ethnocentric perspective that demands centering of Western ideas and undermines the value of anything “other” – and therefore, we are not careful to make distinctions that do make a big difference!)
    The most interesting connection from these readings back to those which we read last week was that Ross and Stepan & Robinson both included in their research the strengthening factor of ethnolinguistic and cultural identity and unity in the process of democratization. I believe Samuel Huntington would be inclined to agree – all three point to overlapping and related causal factors for democratization – though admittedly, he would weigh such a factor much more heavily than did the other researchers. Stepan and Robinson write that Arab-majority identity is more typically where the divide between democratic and other regime types can be found, rather than Muslim identity. But, they’re also careful to note that this Arab identity cannot be implicated as the sole reason for failure to democratize – geopolitical concerns around Israel and the West; ambiguous post-colonial borders that do not indemnify long-term national identities; and unique economic circumstances are also at play. Ross would add, to Stepan and Robinson’s note regarding the share of GDP in Arab countries devoted to security, that the prevalence of oil is certainly not helping to foster democratization.
    All of this brought together had me wondering if democratization in Arab states will require a seismic shift in the democratic world order’s understanding of how the process must take place. The (geo)political, economic, ethnolinguistic, cultural, and religious conditions of two societies are almost never identical – why should it be expected that their paths to democracy look anything alike? I wonder if the fourth wave of democratization – to recall Huntington’s framing – will encompass a new process, and thereby new understanding of who democracy is for – i.e. non-Christian, non-Western peoples – and how it can be fostered.

  9. There were quite a few topics I wanted to write about from our readings this week, but the Freedom House analysis really synthesized a lot of the issues and topics we’ve been discussing… so that’s where I’ll focus my response this week.
    We’ve well established that liberal democracies and the values they represent are under attack around the world, from external forces and from within well-established democracies themselves. According to Freedom House’s analysis, 2017 marked the 12th consecutive year of decline of global freedom with seventy-one countries suffering net declines in political rights and civil liberties (including the United States), and only 35 registering gains. Over the last 12 years of decline, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement. It’s clear that in this time of democratic recession the world needs a champion for freedom. Instead, the United States continues to retreat from its leadership role in supporting democracies and democratic values abroad while the leading autocracies, Russia and China, are strengthening and attempting to export their brand of government to other countries. Corrupt and repressive states are also threatening regional and global stability – the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and Turkey’s political purge are just a few examples. And at the same time, the United States and Western Europe are facing unprecedented problems internally – high levels of partisan polarization, escalating socioeconomic inequality, voter apathy and cynicism toward mainstream political parties, rising distrust in democratic institutions and the electoral process, support for anti-establishment parties and deepening social and cultural polarization. Add to this list of issues the profound changes in the way that news and information is produced and consumed, a post-truth political debate where voters no longer agree on a common set of facts, deliberate efforts by foreign actors to misinform and manipulate public opinion through social media networks, mounting right to privacy concerns and threats to civil liberties via executive overreach and government surveillance in attempt to thwart terrorism.
    Considering these challenges, it may seem like the worst set of circumstances under which the United States should turn our attention back to the world stage, but it’s imperative we do. We need to show an ability, willingness, and interest in influencing world events again or the backsliding we’ve seen over the last decade could turn into the third major reverse wave of democratization. We’re already seeing many of the factors Huntington outlined as preconditions for producing this third wave: the weakness of democratic values among key elite groups and the public; severe economic setbacks, social and political polarization, the exclusion of groups from political power, the breakdown of law and order, intervention or conquest by nondemocratic foreign powers, and reverse snowballing.
    Huntington posed this question in 1991, “Democratic movements around the world have been inspired by and have borrowed from the American example. What might happen, however, if the American model ceases to embody strength and success, no longer seems to be the winning model?” I think we’re starting to see the answer to his question play out. America’s power and influence in the world is waning, the strength of our democracy at home is beleaguered. And the Trump administration has only exacerbated these issues by attacking American institutions and weakening our international credibility. Trump’s nationalist “America First” foreign policy is a return to pre-WWII isolationism and has proved disastrous for our reputation abroad – he’s eroded long-term allies, aligned himself with dictators, praised anti-EU insurgents and the Brexit vote, criticized our NATO partners, pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement and Iran deal, and begun a trade war with Canada, Europe, and Mexico. Trump has also ignored and subverted all political and ethical norms of his office, subverted accountability and transparency practices when it comes to his business empire and personal finances, criticized our principal institutions, undermined the rule of law, attacked the media and journalists, filled positions with lobbyists, and has openly persecuted religious and ethnic minorities. The Trump administration’s domestic and foreign policies have threatened the legitimacy of America’s democracy as the winning model and consequently, the stability of other democratic states, while leaving the door open for Russia and China to influence countries with their authoritarian approach to government.

    1. In one word: yes. Although electing Trump was not the start of a democratic decline in the United States, he is definitely a product of the beginnings of that backsliding and is propelling us, and the world, farther and farther backwards. Unfortunately, his supporters don’t see it, and that concerns me just as much as Trump himself. I have a coworker who is an avid Trump supporter and we talk politics fairly often, but this person says some extent of the same thing: the media is lying and Trump would never deny help to anyone who asked and the democrats are threatening the safety of the country. This person doesn’t see the danger in Trump’s words or actions and that itself is dangerous, because it means that he or someone like him could be in office again in 2020, leading us farther away from stable democracy. So, what do we do? How can we change the downward spiral we seem to be in if his solid base is actually unwilling to understand the significance of his words and actions? While it is clear that an ebb and flow is…normal(?), Trump brings new significance and concern to the future of democracy in the United States and by extension the rest of the world. So what now? We see the trends, but they would be brushed aside by the president and his supporters. I am struggling to understand how to have a conversation with one person who is unwilling to question or critique the sitting president, and by extension, I am struggling to understand how the United States could begin to move back towards a more stable democracy.

    2. Genna I agree with you.

      I think President Trump and his “Make America Great Again” slogan come from a fear that America is in decline. I think there are a whole lot of reasons that go into this sentiment. Some inaccurate, some prejudice, some rose-tinted, but a lot of it comes from a country without a clear purpose or trajectory. I am not sure I agree with the sentiment that America is on the decline, but it is probably beginning to plateau in terms of economic power, influence, and military strength. There is no easily identifiable enemy for the United States to win a war against, nor any large civic project or mission.

      The decline of freedom in the United States outlined by the Freedom House Analysis has come about from a fear of losing power. Even though it is that very freedom which gives the United States as democracy real influence. When we pull back on it, even rhetorically, it has consequences. The real fear should be that we stop innovating, stop inventing, building or creating.

      America has grown to the power and influence it is today, yes, because of our military and manufacturing prowess, but also because we openly accept new ideas and cultures and have spread our culture around the globe. By isolating ourselves we limit our influence, and our ideals for what a country can and should be.

  10. Our readings this week shed much light on key aspects on the state of affairs in our current political climate, domestic and global. As we look to the global capacity for democratization and the impact of resource wealth on this potential, it astounds me to see the correlative relationship between a nation’s resources such as oil and the capacity for a country to sustain a democratic system. Numerous points were highlighted around issue including the impact resource wealth has not only on the citizens of said country but also the economics of the country and the geopolitical position of the country in the global community. Not only do these resource cause issues for these countries insofar as the inhibition of political and social development, but also the dissemination to citizens of the financial wealth that ensues from the sale or trade of these resources. Though the United States promotes the spread of democracy, and barring the fact of the failure of countries wealthy in resources to sustain a democracy occurs, one may argue that the United States selectively promotes democracy globally. In our own interest, we may refrain from heavily promoting democracy in certain regions or countries due to the resource they hold and not to impact the flow of these resources to our country thus deviating from a primary objective in our foreign policy, to promote the spread of democracy.

    We also took a look at “Freedom in the World”. I find this notion of defining levels of freedom in the world to raise several question and concerns. To simply freedom into three levels of measurement seems not only to be reductive and arguably specious. Furthermore, such studies, if presenting skewed or incomplete data, or even qualitative data that is misrepresented as it is quantified, have the potential to be used as propaganda for pollical gain or motive. Reservations aside, it is interesting to see the orientation of free nations in the world. Trends quickly present themselves by region, cultural correlatives, and resource availability. This reinforces many of the claims made in the analysis of resource wealth and the geopolitical and civil/social impact of resources on countries that have an abundance of these resources. Many of the countries described as being wealthy in resources are labeled as Not Free or Partly Free.

    What does this tell us about what is going on today? Assuming a relationship between freedom and democracy, we observe an expansion of democracy globally. Key factors in this grow are in fact the resources of nations. There may be reservations when spreading democracy to countries that have extensive resources due to the potential impact this could have on global economics and trade. With resource wealth being a factor in global democratization, we must begin to ask ourselves what will this look like in the decades to come as resources begin to deplete. Will this break down obstacles to democracy or will it pose ore problems for these countries, for the global community. Furthermore, we must ask if a country must be democratic to be free and what does it actually me for a country to be free. Perhaps we will see that freedom is more than democracy and that there are other roads to freedom, other systems that allow for this.

    1. @Travis I, too, was struck by the correlation. But the more I reflected, the more I realized: a resource, an inanimate object, cannot be inherently democratic or undemocratic. Oil does not threaten democracy. What people do with oil, how they value oil, is what counts. I think you’re right to say the U.S. is selective in promoting democracy, prioritizing business interests over freedom for all people. A quick look at Latin America and United Fruit Company tells us as much. In that region, it’s not as if bananas or sugar or other raw goods cause the struggle of democracy there. It is the way we do business with countries that produce such goods that impacts the stability of their democracies. To blame bananas or oil is to offset responsibility.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.