Finalist for the 2023 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts, sponsored by the American Bar Association.
A look inside the weaponization of social media, and an innovative proposal for protecting Western democracies from information warfare.
When Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram were first introduced to the public, their mission was simple: they were designed to help people become more connected to each other. Social media became a thriving digital space by giving its users the freedom to share whatever they wanted with their friends and followers. Unfortunately, these same digital tools are also easy to manipulate. As exemplified by Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, authoritarian states can exploit social media to interfere with democratic governance in open societies.
Tyrants on Twitter is the first detailed analysis of how Chinese and Russian agents weaponize Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to subvert the liberal international order. In addition to examining the 2016 U.S. election, David L. Sloss explores Russia's use of foreign influence operations to threaten democracies in Europe, as well as China's use of social media and other digital tools to meddle in Western democracies and buttress autocratic rulers around the world.
Sloss calls for cooperation among democratic governments to create a new transnational system for regulating social media to protect Western democracies from information warfare. Drawing on his professional experience as an arms control negotiator, he outlines a novel system of transnational governance that Western democracies can enforce by harmonizing their domestic regulations. And drawing on his academic expertise in constitutional law, he explains why that system—if implemented by legislation in the United States—would be constitutionally defensible, despite likely First Amendment objections. With its critical examination of information warfare and its proposal for practical legislative solutions to fight back, this book is essential reading in a time when disinformation campaigns threaten to undermine democracy.
About the author
David L. Sloss is the John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Professor of Law at Santa Clara University. He is the author of The Death of Treaty Supremacy: An Invisible Constitutional Change (2016). Before entering academia, he worked for the U.S. government on drafting and negotiating arms control treaties.
"Tyrants may have Twitter, but democracies have David Sloss. He has written a pathbreaking book that does more than just identify a troubling trend of modern elections. It also boldly proposes a transnational solution, including his innovative Alliance for Democracy. His contribution will endure long after the Age of Tyrants fades away."
—Jens David Ohlin, Cornell Law School
"This is a detailed and extremely informative analysis of the threat of Chinese and Russian information warfare, and the related export of digital authoritarianism. Sloss's technical approach to addressing external threats while balancing the protection of free speech, personal privacy, and data security will be an important reference and source of ideas for policymakers and analysts grappling with these critical issues."
—Fiona Hill, Brookings Institution
"It is no hyperbole to say that the future of democracy depends on dealing with the issues raised in this book. Sloss masterfully lays out the problem and goes on to propose a novel, workable solution. This book is sure to stimulate debate, and hopefully action as well."
—Tom Ginsburg, The University of Chicago Law School
"Sloss's book is a timely and original contribution that draws a comprehensive picture of foreign states' interference with democratic governance on social media. Not only does Sloss provide a thorough analysis of the phenomenon, he also offers substantial proposals for transnational legislation. A must-read for all interested in the challenges that the international liberal order currently faces."
—Heike Krieger, Freie Universität Berlin
"Based on [Sloss's] training in law and experience drafting treatises for the US government, the book is well researched and argued, particularly regarding the legal feasibility of taming Twitter as a hotspot for foreign bad actors.... Highly recommended."
—M. S. Gorham, CHOICE
"Tyrants on Twitter offers an informative look into the IW landscape of today and a potential path toward reinforcing safeguards against foreign media manipulation from outside aggressors and rivals through transnational legislative efforts."
—Joshua Nieubuurt, H-Sci-Med-Tech