Algorithms, Manipulation, and Democracy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Algorithmic communications pose several challenges to democracy. The three phenomena of filtering, hypernudging, and microtargeting can have the effect of polarizing an electorate and thus undermine the deliberative potential of a democratic society. Algorithms can spread fake news throughout the society, undermining the epistemic potential that broad participation in democracy is meant to offer. They can pose a threat to political equality in that some people may have the means to make use of algorithmic communications and the sophistication to be immune from attempts at manipulation, while other people are vulnerable to manipulation by those who use these means. My concern here is with the danger that algorithmic communications can pose to political equality, which arises because most citizens must make decisions about what and who to support in democratic politics with only a sparse budget of time, money, and energy. Algorithmic communications such as hypernudging and microtargeting can be a threat to democratic participation when persons are operating in environments that do not conduce to political sophistication. This constitutes a deepening of political inequality. The political sophistication necessary to counter this vulnerability is rooted for many in economic life and it can and ought to be enhanced by changing the terms of economic life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-124
Number of pages16
JournalCanadian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2022


  • Algorithms
  • Democracy
  • Informational power
  • Low-information rationality
  • Manipulation
  • Nudge
  • Political equality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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