U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged democracies around the world to work together to ensure technology is used to promote democratic values and fight efforts by authoritarian regimes to use it to repress, control and divide citizens.
Blinken made the comments as he led a discussion on “Advancing Democracy and Internet Freedom in a Digital Age.” The session was part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy, a largely virtual gathering of leaders taking place this week from the State Department in Washington.
Blinken said the world is at the point where technology is “reorganizing the life of the world” and noted many countries are using these technologies to advance democratic principles and make life better for their citizens.
He pointed to the Maldives, where court hearings are being held online; Malaysia, where the internet was used to register 3 million new voters last year; and Estonia, where government services are delivered faster and more simply.
At the same time, Blinken said the internet is being used more and more to spread disinformation and foment dissent. He said the U.S. and its democratic partners must establish rules and norms to promote an open, free and safe internet.
The secretary of state identified four priorities to help meet this goal, including using technology to improve people’s lives in tangible ways, establishing rights-respecting rules for emerging technologies, investing in innovation, and countering the effects of authoritarian governments’ use of digital tools to abuse citizens and weaken democracies.
Since the summit began earlier the week, the White House has emphasized the desire of the U.S. to make “technology work for and not against democracy.”
On Wednesday, the prime ministers of eight European countries signed an open letter to the chief executives of major social media companies calling for them to be more aggressive in blocking the spread of false information on their platforms. The leaders of Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia signed the letter.
The statement told the companies their tech platforms “have become virtual battlegrounds, and hostile foreign powers are using them to spread false narratives that contradict reporting from fact-based news outlets.”
It went on to say advertisements and artificial amplification on Meta’s platforms, which include Facebook, are often used to call for social unrest, bring violence to the streets and destabilize governments.
About 120 global leaders are participating in the summit. It is seen as Biden’s attempt to bolster the standing of democracies as autocratic governments advance their own agendas, such as Russia’s 13-month invasion of Ukraine, and China’s alliance with Moscow.
In a statement as the summit opened Tuesday, the White House said, “President Biden has called the struggle to bolster democratic governance at home and abroad the defining challenge of our time.”
The statement went on to say, “Democracy — transparent and accountable government of, for, and by the people — remains the best way to realize lasting peace, prosperity, and human dignity.”