Government vs. governance

  • Governance – ways rules norms and actions are structured sustained regulated and held accountable
  • Government – a body whose sole responsibility and authority is to make binding decisions in a given geopolitical context by establishing laws

How is cyber related to governance?

As advancements in technology have brought the cybersecurity realm into everyday life, the impact it has on governance, social movements, and regulation has become apparent. Threats to democracy such as hacking electoral systems, deep fakes, disinformation campaigns, and internet regulation are often found hand in hand with positive advancements such as fact checking, best practices of digital diplomacy, and the advent of progressing social movements online. However, the fact remains, cybersecurity can be used as a tool to advance or disrupt democracy and governance. 

Threats to Society

Technology and Cybersecurity have become everyday tools in the hands of governments, politicians, and non-state actors to push agendas. In the process of this, the threat to democracies and governance issues is growing. For example, in 2016 when the Russians hacked the DNC email serves and distributed the data to Wikileaks,[1] or the rise of consolidated social media campaigns from government and non-state actors spreading disinformation for political gain.[2] These examples are not necessarily unprecedented, given the rise of cyber in daily lives, the increased globalization, and the rapid developments in technology. However the fact that consolidated disinformation and hacking related in foreign government manipulation of a democratic election shows the long-term consequences of using these tactics. Additionally, with the advent of further ways to spread misinformation, such as Deep Fakes (or edited false and misleading videos), this type of meddling will only increase.[3]

Disinformation campaigns are not solely used by foreign governments to influence public views. These campaigns utilizing details such as fake news are also huge threats to democracy and can result in tangible consequences. For example, articles with exaggerated images or article titles meant to catch peoples’ eyes (i.e. clickbait) can turn malignant quickly when unsuspecting individuals click on the links and allow individuals to access their personal information.[4] However, the social and political consequences of reading or sharing clickbait articles is the vast dissemination of fake news that occurs on social media.[5] When individuals in positions of power share and give credibility to false information, whether knowingly for their own gain or unknowingly, it causes issues in governance. Additionally, this type of disinformation can discredit actual activists and those who are doing true work in this realm (especially regarding women and gender activists).[6]

Censorship, Regulation, and Social Movements

In addition to disinformation, deep fakes, and political issues with cybersecurity, complications in this area arise with government control of the internet, censorship, and regulation, as well as conflict between governments and social movements.

Government control of the internet is one of the most effective tools of authoritarian leaders to manage the people in their countries. There are positive examples of virtual social campaigns that raise awareness towards important issues such as racism, misogyny, authoritarian regimes, and other important issues.[7] In the cyber realm there are always those who seek to discredit activists, and all too often governments seek to censor these individuals online as well. For example, activists and journalists who seek to share the truth can suffer extreme consequences such as jail time for their work.[8]

Additionally, in order to control what individuals see and can act upon, some countries, such as North Korea, Vietnam, China, and Cuba highly restrict internet access, especially access to certain international sites or forums.[9] This is dangerous in many ways, and these restrictions of information and privileges are clearly used to control the flow of information. For example, in Syria, it is extremely dangerous to share information contrary to the current president, and some journalists and activists have been jailed or even killed by doing so.[10] This is a clear example of cyber monitoring by a government leading to real-world consequences. Another example of this type of monitoring is Tajikistan, which used censorship tactics in response to global protests against authoritarian governments that could specifically harm the Tajik regime legitimacy.[11][12]

The Arab Spring is an interesting example when it comes to the use of technology to mobilize against control of or restrictions on the digital realm.[13] For example, in Egypt, the protests in Tahrir Square started as the result of internet shutdowns, leading to marches in the streets.[14] Social media was essential for carrying the message throughout the Middle East. The protests and videos from Tahrir Square spread online, as did images from the protests in Tunisia.[15] These images did not just spread around the Middle East, but all over the world

COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with the world, and especially with the digital world. Issues such as the emergence of ‘digital diplomacy’,[16] a rise in phishing scams[17] and fake news,[18] and online sexual harassment[19] have become more prevalent and dangerous the past few months, as have instances of governments or political leaders regulating information.[20] As we look forward, it is clear that governance and cybersecurity relate to each other in vital areas, and these issues are ongoing. The question for the future is clear: will governments use cybersecurity to prompt or control democratic processes?

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. Is fake news a cybersecurity threat?
  2. What can be gained by incorporating a gender perspective in the realm of governance and cyber?
  3. What will the cyber/governance world look like post-COVID-19?
  4. How can individuals incorporate cybersecurity practices into their daily lives?
  5. Does society have an impact on governments via the digital realm? Or is it the other way around?

Gender Component

The gender dynamics of politics and governance are clear to see and understand. The convergence of politics, societies, and the cyber realm creates a unique area in desperate need of a gender perspective.

Regarding the social side of governance, women politicians and activists are typically targeted for disinformation campaigns and fake news more than men.[1] In addition, women public figures are not only targeted more, but are also uniquely exploited by, for example, publicizing sexualized images of them in the public realm[2], online sexual harassment, and intimidation.[3] It is important to clarify that these are typically targeted attacks meant to inform a political agenda. An example of this type of online attack is of a woman activist in Tajikistan who, in January 2020, was the center of an online smear campaign and an explicit video was released online in an attempt to discredit her.[4]

Some other ways a gendered analysis can inform this area is in social movements and government regulation. Government regulation of gendered topics is unique. For example, in many places, gendered political or social issues, such as reproductive rights, are often the focus of digital misinformation campaigns which are then used as justification for certain restrictions.[5] In addition to governments using their influence in the digital realm to maintain power over their people, gender dynamics and equal rights are frequently overlooked and underrepresented by these leaders.[6] This is done in a few ways, most frequently by blocking access to information on gender rights outside of their countries, or by pushing a specific gender role that society must maintain over digital channels the leaders control.[7]

However, sometimes in areas where gender issues are not addressed by the government or leaders, some women and gender activists take to social media to voice their activism.[8] Across the globe, social media driven movements like #BlackLivesMatter, are forcing people to grapple with racism and police brutality. Other movements like #MeToo, the Turkish #ChallengeAccepted,[9] and South American #NiUnaMenos[10] movements all call attention to femicide and expose the impacts of gender based violence and misogyny.

Just these few examples illustrate that governance issues need a gendered perspective, and the cyber realm of governance and social issues is no different.


  1. Resources
    1. Meet the young people using Instagram to fight Italy’s racism
    2. ‘Girls Takeover’: Teen is Finnish PM for a day to raise awareness
    3. The Rise of Technonationalism and Consequences for International Order
    4. A Misinformation Test for Social Media
    5. How Technology is Shaping Creative Activism in the 21st Century
    6. Technology governance – OECD
    7. Digital democracy Is the future of civic engagement online? – European Parliament
    8. Many Tech Experts Say Digital Disruption Will Hurt Democracy
    9. Will Technology Kill Democracy—Or Reinvent It?
    10. Technology for Governance, Politics, and Democracy
    11. COVID and Digital Diplomacy aka “Inter-net-national Relations”
      1. https://www.passblue.com/2020/09/24/the-dos-and-donts-of-digital-diplomacy-in-the-covid-19-world/
      2. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/covid19-sexual-harassment-work-online/
      3. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/six-digital-tactics-conservatives-use-undermine-reproductive-rights/ ?
    12. Silicon Valley
      1. Google’s Monopoly
        1. U.S. Accuses Google of Illegally Protecting Monopoly
        2. Why it’s so hard to dethrone Google
      2. Social Media: News or Entertainment?
        1. Social Media Finds New Role as News and Entertainment Curator
        2. Podcasts
          1. Post No Evil
          2. War of the Worlds
          3. Breaking News
          4. Breaking Bongo
          5. American Shadows
        3. Facebook and media accountability: a tale of power, politics and ignorant entrepreneurs
        4. Facebook’s Bias Is Built-In, and Bears Watching
    13. Election Meddling/Social Media Manipulation
      1. Podcasts
        1. The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory
        2. Tweak the Vote
        3. Bit Flip
        4. Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics
      2. Videos
        1. The Perfect Weapon
    14. Control
      1. The Police Can Probably Break Into Your Phone
      2. The Great Online Convergence: Digital Authoritarianism Comes to Democracies
      3. The Digital Dictators: How Technology Strengthens Autocracy
      4. Covid-19 is Proving a Boon for Digital Authoritarianism
      5. Exporting digital authoritarianism
      6. When it Comes to Digital Authoritarianism, China is a Challenge — But Not the Only Challenge
      7. Podcasts
        1. Eye in the Sky
    15. Misc
      1. The Social Dilemma


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