Forum Focus: June 2024

Regular news from the National Endowment for Democracy‘s International Forum for Democratic Studies on global challenges facing democracy around the world.


Power 3.0 Podcast | Lessons Learned from Georgian Civil Society’s Response to a Repressive “Foreign Agents” Law: A Conversation with Tinatin Khidasheli 

Last year, the Georgian parliament withdrew proposed legislation targeting so-called “foreign agents” that was strikingly similar to such stifling legislation in Russia. However, on April 3, 2024, the Georgian ruling party reintroduced the widely unpopular law that ultimately passed. On March 29, 2024, Tinatin Khidasheli, chairperson of the Tbilisi-based NGO Civic IDEA, joined Christopher Walker on the Power 3.0 podcast to discuss laws and narratives that ostensibly combat “foreign influence” but, in practice, have the effect of restricting fundamental freedoms—and how civil society can push back. Listen here.

Power 3.0 Blog Post | Caught Between Two Giants: How Mongolia’s Democracy Can Counter Authoritarian Propaganda 

In 2024, nearly half the world’s population will cast their ballots in various national elections. In vulnerable democratic societies like Mongolia, where parliamentary elections will be held June 28, Russia and China have exploited their significant political and economic influence more broadly to undermine social movements and religious communities that publicly criticize authoritarian modes of governance. In this latest post for the Power 3.0 blog, Batsugar Tsedendamba explores how Russia and China influence Mongolian democracy through media exchange programs as well as propaganda, and outlines what Mongolian civil society can do to counter these malign influence operations. Read here.

Report | Manufacturing Deceit: How Generative AI Supercharges Information Manipulation 

Authoritarian actors have long worked to undermine democracy at a global scale by manipulating the information space, but the recent emergence of faster, more expansive, and potentially more potent “generative AI” technologies is creating new risks. With more than fifty national elections around the globe taking place in 2024, the stakes this year are particularly high. Given these challenges, a new Forum report by Beatriz Saab explores the following questions: how is generative AI helping authoritarians tip the scales against democracy and accelerate harmful narratives in a wide variety of country contexts? And how are civil society organizations using the same set of tools to push back? Read here.

Big Question | Borrowing Boats: How are Key Influencers in Latin America Amplifying CCP Narratives about Authoritarian Models?

Under Xi Jinping’s direction, the People’s Republic of China is undertaking a campaign to export authoritarian tools and erode civil society and the nongovernmental sector in Latin America. In the latest Big Question, the International Forum asked Sascha Hannig NuñezArmando ChaguacedaJulio Martinez Ellsberg, and Hernan Alberro how key influencers in Latin America are amplifying CCP narratives about authoritarian models. Read here.

In Latin America—as in the West—the academic community has an important impact on the education of political leaders, officials, journalists, and social activists. For Beijing, indoctrination and malign influence operations emanate from state- and Party-run institutions and penetrate Latin American academia. – Armando Chaguaceda

Forum Q&A | Ethan Tu and Billion Lee on How Taiwan’s Civil Society Collaborates to Address Information Integrity Challenges from Beijing

Earlier this year, Beijing launched sophisticated, AI-enabled information operations to undermine Taiwan’s elections. Taiwan’s civil society, tech community, and government responded with collaborative and innovative strategies that countered, in many ways, this malign influence campaign successfully. In a new Forum Q&A, John K. Glenn and Kevin Sheives spoke with Ethan Tu, founder of Taiwan AI Labs, and Billion Lee, co-founder of Cofacts, to unpack Beijing’s efforts to undermine Taiwan’s information space and better understand why civil society’s response was so effective. Read here.

Big Question | How Does Digital Privacy Matter for Democracy and its Advocates?Amid a rapidly changing landscape, authoritarian actors like China are exporting surveillance technologies that enable mass data collection and processing to democracies and autocracies alike, impacting the work and safety of democratic activists and creating risks for everyday citizens. Given these challenges, the International Forum asked Adrian ShahbazAndrej PetrovskiLindsay GormanThobekile Matimbe, and Elizabeth Donkervoort to consider the following questions: How does digital privacy matter for democracy and its advocates? And in what ways does the collection of digital data create risks to your own work or that of other democratic activists? Read their answers here.

Power 3.0 Podcast | Digital IDs and Coercion in China and Venezuela: A Conversation with Iria Puyosa and Valentin Weber

Globally, democratic activists are confronting novel forms of digital repression pioneered by autocrats who increasingly share software, hardware, and knowledge across borders. At a joint, private workshop co-organized by the International Forum, Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator, and the Hoover Institution’s China’s Global Sharp Power ProjectIria Puyosa and Valentin Weber joined the Forum’s Christopher Walker and Beth Kerley to discuss the emerging threat from autocrats leveraging digital ID and digital information collection to incentivize compliance with regime models of “normal” behavior.  Listen here.

Video | Understanding Transnational Kleptocracy’s Threat to Democracy

Kleptocracy, or “rule by thieves,” refers to systems in which political elites steal state resources, capture governance institutions, and exploit the global financial system to launder their ill-gotten gains. This wealth is subsequently used to enrich malign actors, fund patronage networks, and prop up the ruling regime. Democracy supporters across regions and sectors must therefore develop locally tailored responses to combat transnational kleptocracy and other emerging challenges. To learn more about the cross-cutting threat of transnational kleptocracy, and how civil society can forge an effective response, watch the International Forum’s new informative video and check out our Combatting Kleptocracy research hub.

As millions of voters cast their ballots in a string of elections across the globe, International Forum director John K. Glenn examines how democracy is faring at the midyear point and outlines three emerging trends in an online exclusive for the Journal of Democracy.

In an article for The Diplomat, International Forum deputy director Kevin Sheives examines the CCP’s totalitarian vision for civil society and how democracies can ultimately “de-risk” their nongovernmental sectors in light of China’s global impact.

The International Forum’s Abigail Skalka recently published an article in AMERICAN PURPOSE, explaining the distinctions between antidemocratic “foreign agent” laws that seek to muzzle civil society and laws meant to curb authoritarian influence in democracies.

During this year of elections, the Sharp Power Research Portal is tracking instances of sharp power in countries going to the polls through our “Election Watches,” such as IndonesiaIran, and the Solomon Islands.

The Democracy Resource Center has compiled materials on Emerging Technology and Democracy from the International Forum, Journal of Democracy, and CIMA.