Astroturfing, computational propaganda and the case for “digital disarmament”

During the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments of 1932, a motion for ‘moral disarmament’ emerged, calling for States to cease ‘bellicose or aggressive propaganda’. Ever since, the legal notion of propaganda has remained confined to war and hatred; means for propaganda have instead changed and so have the risks connected to it. Current communicative practices based on combined use of algorithms, automation and human curation are widely understood to destabilise democracies and foster hostile narratives at the global level. The paper seeks to reframe the notions of propaganda, on one hand, to reconsider its restrictions in a way attuned to the times, akin to the development of the principle of human security and its focus on the security of citizens in their daily activities through the 1990s; and national information sovereignty on the other hand, as a rationale for the regulation of digital means to counter the spread of malicious propaganda.