What Is Digital Power?Etudes de l’Ifri, November 2019
Digital power refers to any actor’s ability to exploit digital data to help influence the behavior of other actors on the international stage and to achieve its own ends. It is about understanding how it influences events in the real world, despite its “intangible” nature.
It extends beyond the network where connectivity and flow are valued. Hence, digital power goes beyond the mere conventional state framework and reconfigures the standard categories, since all connected actors are theoretically likely to have a part in it.
It can be exercised for the benefit of conventional activities, but new practices of domination have been imposed on it. The target itself provides the conditions for its control, by asymmetrically revealing its characteristics. This information is transformed into knowledge and power provided it can be processed and enriched. The algorithmic or psychological structure of the target becomes transparent. The exercise of digital power is less an attempt at coercion or seduction than at subjection.
Being powerful in the digital world requires the ability to create a favorable ecosystem, to control data, to control networks’ competitive edges and to coordinate its digital capacities with other forms of power. Nevertheless, the exercise of digital power could deteriorate over time, with increasing influence of the real world on the digital world. States are testing many strategies to weaken the hyperconcentration of power of some actors and rebalance the distribution of wealth and power.
Finally, digital power is a complex and multi-faceted subject. It is a power both conventional and network-based, liberating and controlling, shared and fragmented, asymmetrical and contained, fragile and transient, but that can bypass obstacles. It is continuing to evolve as people invent new practices. Finally, it is like a kaleidoscope, with several aspects whose coordination sometimes generates considerable tension.
This publication is also available in French: «Qu’est-ce que la puissance numérique ?».