The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance

May 26, 2021
11:00 am - 12:00 pm


about the event

Amid the global proliferation of digital technology, state and local actors have more tools at their disposal to exert influence in their communities. For anti-democratic leaders, emerging technologies offer additional means to stifle dissent, deepen repression, and tighten their grip on state institutions. As citizens increasingly rely on online platforms for information, authoritarian regimes have managed to coopt digital technology to advance their own self-serving agendas.

As authoritarian regimes exploit technological capabilities for their own malign ends, these developments have major implications for democracy and global governance. Civil society and democracy-support organizations must learn to counter repression and respond to creeping authoritarianism. The International Forum for Democratic Studies hosted a discussion with Steven Feldstein and Eileen Donahoe on Feldstein’s book titled The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance, which analyzes the challenges digital repression poses to the integrity of democratic systems globally.



Steven Feldstein, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Eileen Donahoe, Stanford University


moderated by

Christopher Walker, National Endowment for Democracy


about the book

In The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance, Steven Feldstein documents how the emergence of advanced digital tools bring new dimensions to political repression. Presenting field research from Thailand, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, he investigates the goals, motivations, and drivers of these digital tactics. Feldstein further examines digital repression through a variety of lenses: ongoing levels of repression, political leadership, state capacity, and technological development. The international community, he argues, has already glimpsed the emerging frontiers of authoritarianism.


about the participants

Steven Feldstein is a senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, where he focuses on issues of democracy, technology, human rights, U.S. foreign policy, and sub-Saharan Africa. He previously served as the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs and an associate professor at Boise State University. Previously, he served as a deputy assistant secretary in the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau in the U.S. Department of State as well as the director of policy at the U.S. Agency for International Development and as counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Eileen Donahoe is executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, where she works to develop global digital policies that address human rights, security, and governance challenges. She served as the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during the Obama Administration. After leaving government, she was Director of Global Affairs at Human Rights Watch where she represented the organization worldwide on human rights foreign policy. Donahoe is a member of NED’s board of directors.

Christopher Walker is vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. He is an expert on authoritarian regimes and has been at the forefront of the discussion on authoritarian influence on open systems. He is co-editor (with Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner) of the edited volume Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), and co-editor (with Jessica Ludwig) of the report Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence (NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, 2017).


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