July 25, 2017  |  Updated June 20, 2018

Forum Q&A: Philip Howard on Computational Propaganda’s Challenge to Democracy

By Dean Jackson

Philip N. Howard (@pnhoward) is the principal investigator of the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. A professor and writer, Howard has authored numerous academic articles, essays and books on information technology, international affairs, and public life, as well as on the use of digital media for both civic engagement and social control in countries around the world. His projects on digital activism, information access, and modern governance in both democracies and authoritarian regimes have been supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Institute of Peace, and Intel’s People and Practices Group. His most recent book is Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up.

Computational propaganda, or the use of algorithms and automated social media accounts to influence politics and the flow of information, is an emerging challenge to democracy in the digital age. Using automated social media accounts called bots (or, when networked, botnets), a wide array of actors including authoritarian governments and terrorist organizations are able to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing different forms of political content, disinformation, and hate speech.

Dean Jackson of the International Forum for Democratic Studies spoke with Phil Howard to discuss political bots, computational propaganda, and the challenges they pose to democracy. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy.)

Read more

Sign up for more information