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Artificial intelligence and democracy

The third lecture in the lecture series Digital Media in Politics and Society is online. It is available here and wherever you get your podcasts.

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We encounter AIs daily, be it in the voice assistants in our homes and phones, through automation in our workplace, or as the drivers of policing or credit decisions. In this and the following episodes, we focus on the impact of AI on democracy.

AI is a largely invisible feature of our daily lives with clear consequences for us as citizens and consumers. Examining the workings and real-world consequences of actually existing artificial intelligence is important. To do so, we first start with a discussion of what artificial intellence is and is not.


00:00 – Introduction
00:21 – Artificial intelligence and democracy
04:52 – What is artificial intelligence?
12:46 – Narrow artificial intelligence versus artificial general intelligence
24:51 – Conclusion

In this episode, we will be talking about the conditions for the successful application of artificial intelligence across different areas.

Going forward, we will be focusing on the uses and effects of narrow AI on politics and democracy. To do so, we first need to figure out what it is exactly that AI changes in these areas. In other words, what is AI good at? What becomes cheaper or easier to do? And, for which types of problems does this work?


00:00 – Introduction
00:56 – Predictions
08:08 – Machine readable
11:30 – Abundant outcomes
15:45 – Stability over time
19:58 – Reinforcing structural inequalities
23:55 – Conclusion

In this and the following episode, we will be talking about artificial intelligence and its impact on democracy. In this episode, we will start by discussing AI’s role in elections and its impact on people’s informational autonomy.

AI raises questions with regard to the integrity of elections as an adjudication process for the conflict between political factions. In the age of the perceived predictability of people’s political attitudes and behavior, can there be free and fair elections in which each faction conceivably might rise to power?

Is it still plausible that people are able to make political and societal decisions? For one, are information environments shaped by artificial intelligence based on the preferences of people still adequate to the task of creating informed publics able to form political opinions according to their interests? Going further, are scenarios provided by AI to experts about the future of complex issues not better decision makers than the people following their passions and their interests? How does democratic decision making hold up against this new environment.


00:00 – Introduction
04:46 – Artificial intelligence and elections
14:09 – Artificial intelligence and people’s informational autonomy
15:45 – Free expression
19:02 – Access to information
21:28 – Manipulation
23:30 – Expert rule
26:49 – Conclusion

We continue our discussion about artificial intelligence and its impact on democracy. In this episode, we focus on AI’s impact on equality and the competition between societies, some democratic, some not.

Can we still meaningfully speak of equality of rights and representation among people, if AI-based systems discriminate against minorities or the underprivileged? How do the known biases inherent in AI systems translate to democratic politics?

Even more fundamentally, what does equality even mean when AI contributes to massive power imbalances between the companies running and developing AI and everyone else, including the government?

To some commentators AI might also provide an opportunity for autocracies to get a leg up on democracies in the detection and solution to societal and political challenges. Traditionally, democracies were seen to be better at soliciting information about the state of their societies or the effects of interventions compared to autocracies. This information benefit was seen as one reason for democracies being able to outperform autocracies. AI might offset this benefit and allow autocracies to pass democracies by.


00:00 – Introduction
00:29 – Artificial intelligence and equality
08:31 – Artificial intelligence and power shifts between societies
17:53 – Artificial intelligence and democracy: The road ahead
23:38 – Conclusion

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Digital media in politics and society

The first lecture in the lecture series Digital Media in Politics and Society is online. It is available here and wherever you get your podcasts.

The goal of this lecture series is to help you to make sense of digital media, the changes it brings, and the challenges it presents. In order to do so, we look at some of the biggest controversies about the uses of digital media in politics and society. We look beyond the headlines and see what kind of scientific evidence is available, how this evidence is produced, and what it does tell us about the role of digital media in politics and society. This podcast will introduce you to the best available evidence on ongoing controversies, enable you to ask better questions on the role of digital media in politics and society, and show you the tools that allow you to answer them. Digital media are hear to stay. No matter how much some people might wish, there is no way back to a time and politics before. So, we’d better start figuring out how this works.

Introduction – Defining digital media – Characteristics of digital media – Digitization and Digitalization – Lowered information costs – Interactivity – Networks – A (very) brief history of digital media – Cultures – Housekeeping – Coda

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Book Review: Regina Lawrence reviews Retooling Politics

For an upcoming edition of The International Journal of Press/Politics, Regina Lawrence [@lawrenceregina] reviews our book Retooling Politics: How Digital Media are Shaping Democracy. Gonzalo, Daniel, and I are very grateful for her thoughtful engagement with the book and her kind verdict:

A strength of Retooling Politics is how well and explicitly it combines theoretical perspectives and findings from across the fields of communication and political science. For example, the book offers equally well-developed chapters on digital media’s effects on individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, and political behaviors (Chapter 4) and on political organizations (Chapter 6). Each chapter leverages a broad swath of extant research to examine how fundamentally (or not) digital media are impacting politics. Chapter 4, for example, features an excellent discussion of the empirical hazards in rapidly proliferating research on various subgroups and micro-effects across an expanding array of digital platforms; of the Internet as increasingly a field of accidental, not just purposeful, exposure to political messages; and of misunderstandings about the extent of political polarization and the Internet’s role in it; capping off the chapter is a pages-long examination of the 2016 Cambridge Analytica story to show how fears and hype around psychometric targeting and voter manipulation were overblown.

Overall, Retooling Politics offers a simple and effective model for thinking systematically and cautiously about the effects of digital media on contemporary politics. It would be an excellent addition to advanced seminars in political communication. And it effectively primes the kinds of future research the authors want to see more of: That the fields of communication and political science combined “develop a sustained interest in communicative institutions, organizations, and practices” (p. 67) deeply grounded in decades of previous research from both fields and guided by a common sense and contingent model of the impacts of digital media.

  • Regina Lawrence. (2022) Book Review: Andreas Jungherr / Gonzalo Rivero / Daniel Gayo-Avello (2020): Retooling Politics. How Digital Media are Shaping Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. International Journal of Press/Politics. doi:10.1177/19401612221073994 (Online First).
  • New Book: Digital Transformations of the Public Arena

    Digital Transformations of the Public Arena,” my new book with Ralph Schroeder is live (and free to read for 3 weeks)!

    We present a new framework for thinking through how digital media have changed politics, public discourse, and contestation. To understand these changes, we must focus on the nature, drivers, and effects of digital communication infrastructures that provide the public arena.

    To do this well, we need to compare how structures host and shape discourses in different contexts. We analyze the transformation of the public arena in China, Germany, and the US, three countries with different constellations of media, political, and economic systems.

    The public arena consists of the media infrastructures that enable and constrain the publication, distribution, reception, and contestation of information that allow people to exercise their rights and duties as citizens.

    These infrastructures mediate the relation between citizens or civil society on the one hand and political elites or the state on the other.

    In the past, predominantly print or broadcast media provided societies with the public arena. Today, these traditional structures are challenged in their importance – if not downright replaced – by digital media that have transformed the public arena as we knew it.

    Changes brought about by digital media have led to a set of tensions that actors in the public arena must navigate: Traditional gatekeepers find themselves challenged or replaced. New processes that shape the limited attention space create anxieties and demand for transparency and public negotiation.

    The rules governing the visibility and reach of actors and content in the public arena need to get (re)negotiated or newly developed considering the affordances of new communication infrastructures.

    We also must account for the increasing importance of the geopolitical aspects of companies (most of them based in the US or China) providing digital infrastructures to many different countries with widely diverging cultures, discursive norms and practices, and political systems.

    All of this happens while the legitimacy of structures providing the public arena and actors shaping it is increasingly contested by sizeable minorities.

    Understanding these changes and tensions within the public arena is of great importance. Societies face grave challenges. Causes and solutions to challenges provided by climate change, globalization, or pandemics are all discussed in the public arena.

    Societies’ ability to answer challenges like climate change, globalization, or pandemics depends on the workings and legitimacy of communication infrastructures that provide and shape the public arena and through it discourses.

    We are very excited and humbled to feature and build on prior work by so many amazing scholars. One of the most gratifying features of working on the impact of digital media on society is the vibrant and highly supportive community of researchers sharing these interest and concerns!

    We hope to provide a window to the rich discussion on the impact of digital media and to offer a helpful framework for future work. Understanding the underlying questions is deeply important to positively influence contemporary societies.

    This work has just begun!

    Neue Veröffentlichung: Die Bedeutung digitaler Medien für die Politik

    Für die aktuelle Ausgabe der Zeitschrift “Einsichten und Perspektiven” der Bayerischen Landeszentrale für politische Bildungsarbeit habe ich einen kurzen Überblicksartikel zur Bedeutung digitaler Medien in der Politik beigesteuert. Der Text gibt einen Überblick der aktuellen Debatten und verfügbaren wissenschaftlichen Befunde.

  • Andreas Jungherr. 2021. “Die Bedeutung digitaler Medien für die Politik“. Einsichten und Perspektiven: Bayerische Zeitschrift für Politik und Geschichte (3/2021), pp. 38-47.
  • Diskussionsveranstaltung “Miteinander statt gegeneinander – Diskussionskultur statt Feindbild”

    Gestern nahm ich an einer spannenden Diskussionsrunde der Deutschen Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt zu Thema Diskussionskultur im Netz und der Gesellschaft teil. Die Diskussion mit Holger Stark (DIE ZEIT), Katarina Perani? (Deutschen Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt), Stephanie Reuter (Rudolf Augstein Stiftung), Matthias Schmolz (Deutschen Stiftungszentrums) gibt es auf YouTube zu nachsehen. Tanja Samrotzki moderiert.

    Hier ist der Teaser des Deutschen Stiftungszentrum:

    Verschwörungsmythen, Populismus, Fake News gepaart mit Wissenschaftsskepsis oder gar -leugnung: Erfundene Meldungen und Geschichten haben Hochkonjunktur. Parallel erleben wir, dass die klassischen Medien, wie etwa Zeitungen, TV und Radio, an Bedeutung verlieren. Zunehmend steht der Qualitätsjournalismus in Konkurrenz zu (kostenlosen) Angeboten, die sich journalistischen Standards weniger verpflichtet sehen oder diese sogar unterminieren. Soziale Medien tun ein Übriges: Immer mehr Menschen greifen zur Information auf Inhalte ihrer digitalen Freundeskreise zurück.

    Welche Rolle spielen Medien für den gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt und unsere demokratische Ordnung? Welchen Einfluss hat die Digitalisierung, haben die sozialen Medien auf unser gesellschaftliches Diskursklima und Urteilsvermögen? Und inwiefern sind Stiftungen, Vereine und andere zivilgesellschaftliche Akteure, die sich für das Gemeinwohl einsetzen, jetzt gefragt, im Rahmen ihrer Aktivitäten die Medien mehr in den Blick zu nehmen und neue digitale und analoge Formate mitzugestalten?