Forum Focus: October 2021

A monthly newsletter of activities, publications, and news from the National Endowment for Democracy‘s International Forum for Democratic Studies

Interested in subscribing to the International Forum’s specialized newsletters, “Pandemic Ploys” and “Digital Directions”? Update your subscription preferences on our website, or if you are new to our work, subscribe here.


The Journal of Democracy released the October 2021 issue, featuring an essay from Michael McFaul entitled “Russia’s Road to Autocracy” that analyzes the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and how Russia has turned toward authoritarianism. Also in this issue, Journal of Democracy founding coeditor Marc F. Plattner reflects on the legacy of former National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and the history of the organization as well as Gershman’s contributions to the global fight for democracy in his article entitled “Carl Gershman and the Struggle for Democracy.” The issue is available free of charge until November 19 on Project Muse.


The International Forum’s Daniel Cebul authored a Power 3.0 blog post entitled “The Information Manipulation Risk from Audio-Based Group Chat Apps.” The article details how antidemocratic actors exploit audio-based social media apps such as Clubhouse or Discord to disseminate disinformation and hate speech, including but not limited to state propaganda and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, tech platforms and civil society can take steps to strengthen content moderation tools and strategies in such a way as to address the unique vulnerabilities inherent to audio-based social media.


Elizabeth Kerley and Ryan Arick analyze how governments have utilized the COVID-19 pandemic to manipulate “fake news” laws to stifle criticism and dismiss unfavorable narratives in a new Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “Misgoverning Online Speech: COVID-19, Cybersovereignty, and ‘Fake News’ Laws.” The authors discuss how the changing relationship between governments, social media platforms, and online speech has created openings for autocrats—and even some democratically elected leaders—to meddle in the promulgation of news and narratives and exploit them for their own gain. These trends are likely to continue to evolve beyond the end of the pandemic. As democracies navigate how to confront these challenges, they must work to promote a pluralistic digital realm while encouraging platforms and governments alike to be transparent and accountable to citizens.

Connect with Us!

  • For additional coverage of these issues, update your subscription preferences to receive our biweekly newsletters, including “Pandemic Ploys” and “Digital Directions,” as well as our monthly update, the “Forum Focus.”
  • The Forum’s Power 3.0 blog and its related podcast reflect on modern authoritarianism and other challenges to democracy around the world.
  • For insights from the International Forum related to democracy and civil society, check out our recent resources and newsletters.
  • The Journal of Democracy is a leading publication on the scholarly analysis on the theory and practice of democracy.
  • The International Forum regularly hosts democracy activists, scholars, and journalists from around the world as part of its Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship Program.
  • The Forum also houses the Democracy Resource Center, which is dedicated to the study and practice of democracy around the world.
  • NED also regularly hosts online events and discussions — register and attend upcoming sessions.


Spotlight: Report on “THE SPECTER OF AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES IS HAUNTING EUROPE” from Hungary’s Political Capital Institute

The Political Capital Institute released a report in July 2021 based on a two-year research project entitled “The Specter of Authoritarian Regimes is Haunting Europe.” The report reviews how authoritarian influence, an especially effective tool for Russia and China, targets individual European Union (EU) states in order to break EU solidarity and manipulate European foreign policy. For the report’s launch, the Political Capital Institute held an event entitled “Human Rights or Economic Ties: What Does the EU Want from China?” which analyzed how the European Union’s relationship with the PRC and Russia has shifted amid Russia’s ongoing efforts to undermine the EU solidarity and Beijing’s decision to impose sanctions on EU institutions. The event featured the International Forum’s Associate Director, Kevin Sheives, who provided introductory remarks.


In a recent Power 3.0 blog post entitled “Democracy in Lockdown: Election Manipulation During the COVID-19 Lockdown,” Ariane Gottlieb explains how illiberal state actors have sought to undermine free and fair elections during the pandemic. Under the guise of mitigating the virus’ transmission, governments around the world have manipulated election calendars, curtailed free expression for opponents, stifled opportunities for civic participation, and limited election observation missions. In addition, illiberal regimes have “exploited emergency powers and responses” for their own gain, allowing leaders to suppress civic participation and democracy. If left unchecked, such measures could result in the long-term entrenchment of undemocratic norms and practices within global governance.

What We’re Reading

Thanks for reading the Forum Focus, a monthly newsletter from the International Forum
Sign up for more newsletters, or manage your subscription here!