Date of Graduation

Spring 5-15-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS)


College of Arts and Sciences


International Studies

First Advisor

Nora Fisher Onar


With the advent of artificial intelligence and the resurgence of populism, in particular right-wing populism, we see nationalist parties that were once on the fringes of mainstream politics gain power around the world. Putting under the limelight the recent electoral victories of world leaders riding this new wave of populism, we recognize a troubling new reality: the confluence of artificial intelligence and populism allows for election interference through the spread of disinformation, propaganda, and emotionally charged populist rhetoric on social media. This tectonic shift in election tactics used by extreme nationalists presents an existential threat to democracy, with the potential to lead to a dystopian society where the will of the people is replaced by the will of algorithms. The victory of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during the 2018 election and his subsequent presidency brought into focus this new dynamism of political forces: emotionally charged populist rhetoric and AI-manipulated social media. In order to combat this new danger posed by digital populists, such as the danger posed by Bolsonaro to Brazil’s democracy, new policies on artificial intelligence (AI) must be implemented to protect elections. To shape policy on this new emerging technology, it is imperative that governments understand the nature of AI and in particular, the different ways it can be weaponized during election campaigns. However, it is even more critical to inform society as a whole about the consequences AI can cause as despots can use its power to keep the people under draconian control.