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Democracy and a Digitalized World


The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device, April 25, 2022, in San Diego.

Technology either advances our democracies or undermines them; and that the only hope of accomplishing the former is by like-minded countries working together.

Democracy and a Digitalized World
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At the recent U.S.-German Futures Forum, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock participated in a conversation on the values of a democratic society in an increasingly digitalized world.

Both agreed, as Secretary Blinken stated, that technology “either advances our democracies or undermines them;” and that the only hope of accomplishing the former is by like-minded countries working together.

“The post-Cold War era is over,” said Secretary Blinken. “There is a competition on how to shape what comes next, and technology is at the heart of that competition.”

“It’s going to retool our economies, it’s going to reform our militaries, it’s going to quite literally reshape our lives.”

The United States and Germany together “have a positive, affirmative vision” for what that reshaping looks like, he said:

“It’s about new ways to cure diseases. It’s about using technology to make sure that we can actually deal with climate change. It’s about using technology to make sure that we can have our society powered in ways that don’t rely on fossil fuels. It’s about making sure that we have sustainable, healthy supplies of food around the world.”

But technology can also be “profoundly misused” against people, said Secretary Blinken.

“To undermine their privacy, to repress their human rights, to literally harass people online, particularly women and minorities…It’s used profoundly for misinformation and disinformation, which is, along with corruption, I think the two most corrosive things of any democracy. And of course there are profound questions of security.”

No single country can meet these challenges alone, Secretary Blinken said. Cooperation and coordination are needed, most importantly in setting standards and infusing democratic values in the technological and digital space - in creating, in his words, “a race to the top, not to the bottom, when it comes to the way technology is deployed.”

Secretary Blinken noted that the U.S.-German Futures Forum took place in the city of Muenster, which was part of the famous Hanseatic League, founded in the 14th century. The League was an effort to create trading routes throughout Europe, “connecting people, connecting products, connecting ideas. And at its best, that’s also what the digital world is about,” Secretary Blinken said. “Technology is neither inherently good nor bad. What we make of it is, and that’s our challenge together.”

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