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The amount of information available to citizens due to global digitization and new technologies is unprecedented. However, in established democracies where access to alternative sources of information is guaranteed and educational levels are high, we witness a rise in attitudes and actions that threaten democratic foundations. Some citizens succumb to misinformation that has led them down the path of radicalization and violence; others withdraw completely from political life. How do we explain these developments? Building on democratic theory and the concepts of informational learned helplessness and selective exposure, we introduce a theoretical framework that connects digitization and digital technologies to attitudes and behaviour that threaten democracy even before democratic decay manifests. We argue that AI-assisted digital technologies expose societies to an abundance of contradictory information, limit citizens’ ability to assess their trustworthiness, and reinforce the tailored dissemination of misinformation. We present the US and Germany as empirical plausibility probes that show how these features drive some citizens towards informational agnosticism, which results in de-politicization and political apathy. Others might become misbelievers who display negative attitudes towards democracy and/or engage in anti-democratic actions. Our probe offers an initial empirical illustration that provides a basis for further systematic investigations of digital technology’s effects on democracy.
Ahmed Maati, Mirjam Edel, Koray Saglam, Oliver Schlumberger & Chonlawit Sirikupt (2023) Information, doubt, and democracy: how digitization spurs democratic decay, Democratization, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2023.2234831