By Jacob Mchangama

2024 is a pivotal year for the future of global democracy, as some two billion—about half the adult population of the globe—will have the chance to vote.

Even though more people will cast a ballot in 2024 than any previous year, the prevailing mood seems more fearful than celebratory. In the words of Darrell M. West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the combination of online influence campaigns and artificial intelligence has created a “perfect storm of disinformation” that threatens free and fair elections. This type of pessimism has led several open societies—including those of the European Union—to adopt illiberal measures such as banning foreign media outlets and cracking down on social media platforms. The rise of generative artificial intelligence has only heightened the sense of emergency.

Yet little attention has been paid to the fact that Team Democracy triumphed in one of 2024’s most decisive battles by staying true to its liberal values.

Taiwan is an instructive example of a young and vibrant democracy that views freedom of expression as a competitive advantage against authoritarian censorship and propaganda. In large part, Taiwan’s response to China’s aggressive disinformation campaigns has relied on a model where organic and civil society-led initiatives serve as first responders and heavy-handed government intervention is treated with great skepticism. Taiwan’s success provides a proof of concept that should prompt a change of course in European democracies, which increasingly believe that preserving their open societies requires sacrificing free expression.

Taiwan: A Model to Follow

Taiwan lives with constant Chinese saber-rattling, but without the security guarantees of NATO that many European democracies can rely on vis-à-vis Russia. Taiwan has been the largest target of foreign disinformation for the last ten years. Regardless, the January 2024 presidential election did not go the way that China wanted. The pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party, which promotes a national identity separate from China, won an unprecedented third presidential term as Lai Ching-te swept to power replacing the term-limited Tsai Ing-wen, also of the DPP.

Despite deep concerns about Chinese disinformation, the election was carried out with minimal efforts to censor the island state’s vibrant public square.

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