International Courts Help Diffuse Interests: Examples from Internet Regulation

Mancur Olson famously argued that in conflicts between the diffuse interests of most of society and small interest groups, small interest groups will triumph. But a new book by Gunnar Trumbull, “Strength in Numbers”, challenges Olson's theory. Trumbull argues that diffuse interests can succeed in affluent democracies because no major policy debate can be won in these democracies without recruiting at least two out of three policy actors: state policymakers, industry, and social activists. To cement a coalition between two such actors, a legitimating narrative isneeded. When they adjudicate information technology disputes, international courts, primarily the CJEU, promote a narrative of protecting the privacy of people and their right to accurate information. This judicial intervention can break the coalition between industry and state and instead form a new coalition between social activists and the state, giving diffuse interests a chance to win.