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founding

Excellent article. Thank you!

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Brian, good thoughts on these linkages between authoritarian regimes. In so many ways this is so obvious. Yet, most in the US do not see or think about those linkages and exchanges of information be they formal or informal. But this kind of information transfer happens much easier and faster in a world of 24 hour news cycles, social media, and increasing international reach of all the above. This makes it easier to spread disinformation and lies to suit the need.

In economics we call these network externalities in that when all people use the same platforms, it makes it easier to work together and transfer information more easily. Hence the reason the prevalence of windows software and applications. Normally we think of these as positive.

But in this case, they are negative...similar platforms make it easier to do harm. Think of it as a “political virus” infecting the software and hardware platform of news and social media.

A solution is a set of continuous patches. In this case changing the rules of the game to prevent or deter the spread of disinformation, gerrymandering, and even changes to legislative bodies such as the Senate being tilted toward a minority of the population in the US. But sometimes governments move slow...too slow to keep up.

In the meantime, sunshine, data, facts, are the best disinfectant we have to these problems. But we are fighting an asymmetric battle in this regard. Those arguing the data and facts need to use the same propaganda techniques used by those spreading disinformation and authoritarian ideas. Fighting fire with fire as it were. But that said seems unwilling to go down that road for reasons I cannot comprehend. That needs to change before it is too late.

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author

All good points. In this instance, though, I think there are two levels to the networks. One is the lower level -- the foot soldiers so to speak. These are more akin to what you speak of with network externalities, I think. At the higher level, though, it's a reasonably small group of people. They're just really influential. You need to combat both to be effective. The US and Western allies can't control authoritarian networks, but they can do a few things: 1) Truly crack down on kleptocracy; 2) Impose serious consequences on Jan. 6th architects; 3) Create strong disincentives for those who facilitate / work closely with authoritarian political movements abroad; and 4) Crack down on lobbyists who work in DC on behalf of authoritarian movements abroad. (These are just a few quick ideas off the top of my head). But virtually nothing is being done to disrupt these networks. It's as predictable as it is depressing.

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I totally agree with all your points. I would add that the foot soldiers network externality is pernicious, but with the small group agitating the foot soldiers, they exploit the network externalities of media to send the message down the chain. These are on one hand distinct networks, but also highly meshed with feedback mechanism that are self-reinforcing like an echo chamber.

I would also add not just kleptocracy, which is an enormous problem even in the US, but also an economic structure that is increasingly concentrated and oligarchic in an economic sense. So in addition to your listed solutions, I would add a robust anti-trust enforcement to break up industries much like happened under Teddy Roosevelt and later in the New Deal era. Make the economy more competitive, reduces concentration of money and thus reduces the influence of money in the political system. Also, in this thinking, overturn Citizens United about money being speech, and seriously limit political contributions and spending and shorten the campaign cycles. This makes political speech more competitive as well.

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