About the Series

The Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series aims to contextualize the nature of sharp power, inventory key authoritarian efforts and domains, and illuminate ideas for non-governmental action that are essential to strengthening democratic resilience.

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About the Author

Edward Lucas is a writer and consultant specializing in European and transatlantic security. Formerly a senior editor at The Economist, he is now a senior vice president at the Center for European Policy Analysis and writes a weekly column in The Times. His latest book is Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security, and the Internet.

This report explores how the leading authoritarian regimes have exploited democratic norms and transformed the market for information into a dangerous tool to exert antidemocratic sharp power. Under enormous economic and political pressures, independent media are struggling to respond. News outlets face wrenching changes in their business models, driven by technological revolution. And features of the media system once seen only as strengths—such as competition, openness, and fair-mindedness—have also turned out to be weaknesses.

In a world where hostile state actors enjoy great market power and no accountability, free speech is too important to be left to the free market.

key ideas

  • Unfettered or “faux-commercial” competition, openness to financial intimidation, fair-mindedness, and newsworthiness are features of the modern media ecosystem that can be exploited by malign actors.
  • Russia disrupts and subverts the information systems of targeted countries through state media outlets and applying pressure through covert financing. China’s sharp power strategy involves, in part, buying up or collaborating with mainstream outlets while gaining influence over key content dissemination infrastructure.
  • A blueprint for action on norm-building is overdue. Allowing commercial pressure alone to dictate information flows effectively sells political decision-making to the highest bidder.
  • No single or simple solution will blunt the impact of sharp power on the information systems of democracies. An effective response to authoritarian media influence requires an array of normative, legal, and practical changes.


Download the report

Firming up Democracy’s Soft Underbelly: Authoritarian Influence and Media Vulnerability [PDF]