Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Many Tech Experts Say Digital Disruption Will Hurt Democracy

About this canvassing of experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of digital technologies on key aspects of democracy and democratic representation came in response to a set of questions asked by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between July 3, 2019, and Aug. 5, 2019. This is the 11th “Future of the Internet” canvassing the two organizations have conducted together. More than 10,000 experts and members of the interested public were invited to share their opinions on two questions: 1) the impact on democracy and democratic representation of uses of networked technologies in the next decade, and 2) the potential for significant social and civic digital innovation in the next decade accomplished in some significant way due to the application of technology. This report includes only the data tied to the first question. A second report that includes results from the second question will be released in the spring of 2020.

The results published here come from a nonscientific canvassing. They cover respondents’ answers the following:

Technology’s impact on democratic institutions/representation: People’s uses of technology can impact the effectiveness of democratic institutions and processes. For instance, digital tools and platforms might contribute to users’ political knowledge and ability to vote, speak and assemble. The way technology is used could also affect the actions of executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the enforcement of the rule of law, the role of the press and the basic recognition of human rights. The Question: Between now and 2030 how will use of technology by citizens, civil society groups and governments affect core aspects of democracy and democratic representation? (Please choose only one answer):

    • Mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation.
    • Mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation
    • Not much change core aspects of democracy and democratic representation

Participants were further asked:

Please explain: What do you expect democracy to look like in 2030 from the perspective of citizens? What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? What role will technology play in whatever changes take place? If you believe democratic institutions and processes are unlikely to be significantly affected in new ways by technology or other forces in the next decade, what do you think that means for society?

Answers of the 979 total responses to the quantitative question showed the following:

    • 49% said use of technology will mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation in the next decade
    • 33% said use of technology will mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation
    • 18% said there will be no significant change in the next decade

The web-based instrument was first sent directly to a list of targeted an international set of experts (primarily U.S-based) identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during previous “Future of the Internet” studies, as well as those identified in an earlier study of people who made predictions about the likely future of the internet between 1990 to 1995. Additional experts with proven interest in digital government, governance, social and civic innovation and other aspects of this particular research topic were also added to the list.

We invited a large number of professionals and policy people from government bodies and technology businesses, think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in law, political science, economics, social and civic innovation, anthropology, sociology, psychology and communications); globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; technologists and innovators; top universities’ engineering/computer science and business/entrepreneurship faculty, graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus many who are active in civil society organizations such as Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Access Now; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining the impacts of digital life.

Among those invited were researchers, developers and business leaders from leading global organizations, including Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities; Google, Microsoft, Akamai, BT and Cloudflare; leaders active in global internet governance and internet research activities, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Invitees were encouraged to share the survey link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there may have been somewhat of a “snowball” effect as some invitees invited others to weigh in.

Since the data is based on a nonrandom sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample.

The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise.

A large number of the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted, when available, in this report.

In this canvassing, 640 respondents answered the demographic questions. Some 75% identified themselves as being based in North America, while 25% hail from other corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of interest,” 33% identified themselves as professor/teacher; 14% as research scientists; 13% as futurists or consultants; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 6% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 4% as pioneers or originators; and 15% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

Following is a list noting a selection of the key respondents who took credit for their responses in this canvassing. Workplaces are included to show expertise; they reflect the respondents’ job titles and locations at the time of this canvassing.

Carlos Afonso, internet pioneer and digital rights leader based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Adams, 24-year veteran of IBM now senior research scientist in artificial intelligence for RTI International; Jeffrey Alexander, senior manager for innovation policy at RTI; Karl Auerbach, chief technology officer, InterWorking Labs; Satish Babu, founding director, International Centre for Free and Open Source Software; Fred Baker, board member of the Internet Systems Consortium; John Battelle, cofounder and CEO, Recount Media, and editor-in-chief and CEO, NewCo.; Ellery Biddle, advocacy director for Global Voices expert in protection of online speech and fundamental digital rights; Bruce Bimber, professor of political science, University of California-Santa Barbara; danah boyd, principal researcher, Microsoft Research, and founder of Data & Society; Stowe Boyd, consulting futurist expert in technological evolution; Richard Bennett, founder of the High-Tech Forum; Philippe Blanchard, founder of Futurous, an innovation consultancy based in Switzerland; Daniel Berleant, author of “The Human Race to the Future”; David Bray, executive director for the People-Centered Internet coalition; Tim Bray, well-known technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems; Scott Burleigh, principal engineer at a major U.S. agency; Nigel Cameron, president emeritus, Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies; Angela Campbell, professor of law and co-director, Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University; Robert Cannon, senior counsel for a U.S. government agency and founder of Cybertelecom; Kathleen M. Carley, director, Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems, Carnegie Mellon University; John Carr, a leading global expert on young people’s use of digital technologies and former vice president of MySpace; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Carol Chetkovich, professor emeritus of public policy at Mills College; Eline Chivot, a public-policy researcher at the Center for Data Innovation; Alexander Cho, digital media anthropologist and postdoctoral scholar expert in youth and social media at the University of California-Irvine; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research; Julie Cohen, professor of law and technology, Georgetown University; Sasha Costanza-Chock, associate professor of civic media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Kenneth Cukier, senior editor at The Economist and coauthor of “Big Data”; Judith Donath, fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and founder of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab; Stephen Downes, senior research officer for digital technologies, National Research Council of Canada; Esther Dyson, internet pioneer, journalist, entrepreneur and executive founder of Way to Wellville; David Eaves, public policy entrepreneur expert in information technology and government at Harvard’s Kennedy School; Emmanuel Edet, legal adviser, National Information Technology Development Agency, Nigeria; Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist, American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology; Daniel Estrada, digital humanities and ethics lecturer, New Jersey Institute of Technology; Susan Etlinger, industry analyst for Altimeter Group; Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge; Ayden Férdeline, technology policy fellow, Mozilla Foundation; Stephanie Fierman, partner, Futureproof Strategies; Seth Finkelstein, consulting programmer and EFF Pioneer Award winner; Charlie Firestone, executive director and vice president, Aspen Institute Communications and Society program; Richard Forno, director, Center for Cybersecurity, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Marcus Foth, professor of urban informatics, Queensland University of Technology; Juan Ortiz Freuler, policy fellow, World Wide Web Foundation; Thomas Frey, founder and senior futurist, DaVinci Institute; Rob Frieden, professor of telecommunications law at Penn State, previously worked with Motorola and held senior policy positions at the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Oscar Gandy, professor emeritus of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; James Gannon, cybersecurity and internet governance expert based in Europe; Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer in public policy, Harvard University; Thierry Gaudin, cofounder and president, France 2100 Foundation; Dan Gillmor, co-founder of the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and professor of practice in digital media literacy; Herbert Gintis, external professor, Santa Fe Institute; Gina Glantz, political strategist and founder of GenderAvenger; Eric Goldman, professor and director, High-Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law; Neal Gorenflo, cofounder, chief editor and executive director at Shareable; Kenneth Grady, futurist, founding author of The Algorithmic Society blog; Erhardt Graeff, researcher expert in the design and use of technology for civic and political engagement, Olin College of Engineering; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher, Microsoft; Bulbul Gupta, founding adviser, Socos Labs, a think tank designing artificial intelligence to maximize human potential; John Harlow, smart-city research specialist, Engagement Lab, Emerson College; Gry Hasselbalch, cofounder, DataEthicsEU; Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute; Jason Hong, professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University; Terri Horton, workforce futurist, FuturePath LLC; Christian Huitema, president, Private Octopus; Alan Inouye, senior director for public policy and government, American Library Association; Shel Israel, Forbes columnist and author of many books on disruptive technologies; Mark Jamison, professor at the University of Florida and visiting scholar at American Enterprise Institute, previously manager of regulatory policy at Sprint; Jeff Jarvis, director, Tow-Knight Center, City University of New York; Bryan Johnson, founder and CEO, Kernel (developer of advanced neural interfaces) and at OS Fund; Jeff Johnson, professor of computer science, University of San Francisco, previously worked at Xerox, HP Labs and Sun Microsystems; Kevin Doyle Jones, cofounder, GatherLab; Rey Junco, director of research, CIRCLE, Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University; Gabriel Kahn, former bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal; Michael Kleeman, senior fellow, University of California, San Diego, and board member, Institute for the Future; Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, George Mason University; Jon Lebkowsky, CEO, founder and digital strategist, Polycot Associates; Henry Lieberman, research scientist, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab; Leah Lievrouw, professor of information studies, University of California-Los Angeles; Isaac Mao, director, Sharism Lab; Larry Masinter, internet pioneer formerly with Adobe, ATT Labs, Xerox PARC; Yves Mathieu, co-director, Missions Publiques, Paris, France; Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, Higher Education Initiative, New America; Filippo Menczer, grantee, Knight Foundation Democracy Project, and professor of informatics and computer science, Indiana University; Jerry Michalski, founder, Relationship Economy eXpedition (REX); Melissa Michelson, professor of political science, Menlo College; Steven Miller, vice provost and professor of information systems, Singapore Management University; Christopher Mondini, vice president of business engagement, ICANN; Mario Morino, chairman, Morino Institute, and cofounder, Venture Philanthropy Partners; Alan Mutter, consultant and former Silicon Valley CEO; Andrew Nachison, chief marketing officer, National Community Reinvestment Coalition; Gina Neff, senior research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, studying innovation and digital transformation; Joshua New, senior policy analyst, Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Mutale Nkonde, adviser on artificial intelligence, Data & Society, and fellow, Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society; David Noelle, professor and researcher into computational cognitive neuroscience, University of California-Merced; Beth Noveck, director, New York University Governance Lab; Zizi Papacharissi, professor of communication and political science, University of Illinois-Chicago; Tony Patt, professor of climate policy, ETH Zurich, and author of “Transforming Energy: Solving Climate Change with Technology Policy”; John Pike, director and founder of GlobalSecurity.org; Michael Pilos, chief marketing officer, FirePro; Alejandro Pisanty, professor, the National University of Mexico, and activist in multistakeholder internet governance; Paola Ricaurte, fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Michael M. Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and first president and CEO of ICANN; Srinivasan Ramani, Internet Hall of Fame member and pioneer of the internet in India; David P. Reed, pioneering architect of the internet expert in networking, spectrum and internet policy; Marc Rotenberg, director of a major digital civil rights organization; Daniel Rogers, cofounder of the Global Disinformation Initiative; Eileen Ruddin, cofounder and board chair, LearnLaunch Inc.; Douglas Rushkoff, writer, documentarian and professor of media, City University of New York; Jean Russell, co-director, Commons Engine; Paul Saffo, chair for futures studies and forecasting, Singularity University; Rich Salz, senior architect, Akamai Technologies; Hans J. Scholl, professor, The Information School, University of Washington; Loren DeJonge Schulman, deputy director of studies and senior fellow, Center for a New American Security; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member, co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE and professor at Columbia University; Doc Searls, internet pioneer and editor-in-chief of Linux Journal; Artur Serra, deputy director, i2CQT Foundation and Research Director of Citilab, Catalonia, Spain; Gretchen Steenstra, technology consultant for associations and nonprofit organizations; Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology; Ben Shneiderman, distinguished professor of computer science and founder of Human Computer Interaction Lab, University of Maryland; Barbara Simons, past president of the Association for Computing Machinery; Peter W. Singer, founding director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, The Brookings Institution; Deb Socia, executive director, Next Century Cities; Sharon Sputz, executive director, strategic programs, Columbia University Data Science Institute; Mark Surman, executive director, Mozilla Foundation, and cofounder, Commons Group; Jonathan Taplin, author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy”; Brad Templeton, internet pioneer, futurist and activist, a former president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Charis Thompson, professor of sociology, London School of Economics, and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Council on Technology, Values and Policy; Lokman Tsui, activist scholar, School of Journalism and Communication of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, formerly Google’s Head of Free Expression in Asia and the Pacific; Joseph Turow, professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania; Stuart A. Umpleby, professor and director of the research program in social and organizational learning at George Washington University; Amy Webb, founder, Future Today Institute, and professor of strategic foresight, New York University; David Weinberger, senior researcher, Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Russ White, infrastructure architect and internet pioneer; Lawrence Wilkinson, chairman at Heminge & Condell and founding president of Global Business Network, the pioneering scenario-planning futures group; Warren Yoder, longtime director at Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach; Ethan Zuckerman, director, MIT’s Center for Civic Media, and cofounder, Global Voices; Cliff Zukin, professor of public policy and political science, School for Planning and Public Policy and the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.

A selection of institutions at which some of the respondents work or have affiliations:

Access Now; Akamai Technologies; Altimeter Group; American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology; American Library Association; Anticipatory Futures Group; Appropedia Foundation; Arizona State University; Aspen Institute; AT&T; Australian National University; Bloomberg Businessweek; Brookings Institution; BT Group; Carnegie Mellon University; Center for a New American Security; Center for Data Innovation; Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University; Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; Chinese University of Hong Kong; Cisco Systems; Cloudflare; Columbia University; Cornell University; Corporation for National Research Initiatives; Council of Europe; Agency for Electronic Government and Information Society in Uruguay; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Electronic Privacy Information Center; Foresight Alliance; Future Today Institute; Futuremade; Futurous; FuturePath; Futureproof Strategies; General Electric; Georgetown University, Georgia Tech; Global Business Network; Global Voices; Google; Harvard University; Hokkaido University, Japan; IBM; Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); Ignite Social Media; Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Institute for the Future; Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal; Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; International Centre for Free and Open Source Software; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); Internet Society; Johns Hopkins University; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); InterWorking Labs; Kernel; Leading Futurists; Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Menlo College, Microsoft Research; Millennium Project; Missions Publiques; Mozilla Foundation; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; National Chengchi University, Taiwan; NetLab; The New School; New York University; Next Century Cities; Ontario College of Art and Design; Open the Future; Oxford Internet Institute; Packet Clearing House; People-Centered Internet; Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics; Politecnico di Milano; Princeton University; Privacy International; PROSOCIAL; RAD Data Communications; Rochester Institute of Technology; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; RTI International; SRI International; Sharism Lab; Singularity University; Singapore Management University; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Södertörn University, Sweden; Social Science Research Council; Soco Labs; South China University of Technology; Stanford University MediaX; Tufts University; United Nations; Universidad Central de Venezuela; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University College London; University of Granada, Spain; the Universities of Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Southern California, Utah and Vermont; the Universities of Calcutta, Cambridge, Cologne, Cyprus, Edinburgh, Groningen, Oklahoma; UNESCO; U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; Venture Philanthropy Partners; Virginia Tech; Vision2Lead ;World Wide Web Foundation; Wellville; Wikimedia Foundation; Witness; World Economic Forum; Yale Law School Information Society Project.

Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses can be found here:

https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/surveys/future-of-democracy-2020/credit/

https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/surveys/future-of-democracy-2020/anonymous/

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