New democratic movements (II). New technologies, social networks, and democracy

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

New technologies, social networks, and democracy
Introduced by David Karpf

We are living in a period of deep deep inequality of democratic exercise. Yes, one man has one vote, but not everyone has the same means to influence politics.

If you build it… they will not come. It is extremely difficult to make people participate. New media do not create our preferences, but just help in revealing our preferences. This is after an (institutional) effort to make politics unattractive to people, that they should not participate in politics. So, it’s not enough building things for participation, but we need to engage people.


Jane Mansbridge: what if everyone — especially parties and politicians — use the same tools as activists?

Ismael Peña-López: it’s the ethos behind that changes the landscape. Parties have been using the Internet and doing “politics 2.0”, which is but traditional politics with a digital support. While citizens are doing “technopolitics”, which is something brand new, decentralized, distributed.

Mayo Fuster: one of he difference between Occupy Wall Street and the 15M Spanish Indignados is the ability to create confluences of movements. In Spain, there has been some degree of success when it comes to come together, join forces, including connections with the free culture and the free software movement. This has been very successful in Spain while in the US fragmentation has stood.

Ismael Peña-López: it is true that power is still unevenly distributed, but the tools are more and more evenly distributed. It may be only a matter of time that things change and become more balanced. On the issue of participation, it is true that people do not want to participate (Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2002), but also that it is provided that institutions work (Font et al., 2012). If they do not work, people will participate to fix them.

Marianne Maeckeberg: there has been a deep difference between the Spanish Indignados movement and Occupy Wall Street. While the former tried to tame technology so that it did what they wanted to sere their purposes of achieving a higher level of democracy quality, OWS was obsessed with “having the spotlight back”, of appearing on the news. And when media came back not, they were disappointed. In the meanwhile, the Indignados organized and even got to the local and regional governments.

Can Kurban: information is the core of politics, of democracy, of decision-making. And it still is important if some people get more informed, even if not more people get more informed. This can be crucial to spread the information.

Q: what happens if people do not want to be bothered with political information? how do we engage them?

Ismael Peña-López: we begin to have evidence that the “Daily Me” is ceasing to be true (if it ever was) and that people that use the Internet and especially social networking sites are more exposed to political information even if they are not looking for it. This is due to the fact that political content is easily created and spread on the Net, and it comes to you through people you trust.

Q: what was the role of youth unemployment in the success of the 15M Spanish Indignados movement?

Mariona Ferrer: of course it had a major role. But not only. Also the quality of the employments of the most qualified people, the precarious employment of a big majority, the previous movements for free culture, etc.

José Luís Martí: what was the role of technologies?

David Karpf: I don’t think technologies made the institutions irrelevant. But they did make them more vulnerable. And this provides new opportunities for new activism.

José Luís Martí: you could o a lot of stuff to influence politics in the past, but now you can much more and much easier.

Mayo Fuster: the use of technology is becoming organic. It’s not about a quantitative change — more people using these tools — but a qualitative one, with increasingly people using in a different way these tools and for different purposes and thus changing the system, probably forever. As Benkler said, these tools are making it possible to reduce the costs of transaction and, thus, change behaviours and organizations. And this is changing everything. And these changes are not only more democratic, but also more efficient.

Adolfo Estalella: these movements, and especially coders, are challenging the way we understand code itself and legal and social code in general, challenging how we understand politics, etc.

Ismael Peña-López: more than the profile of who used the technology, it is more relevant to look whom the technology reached. Or, even better, whom benefited from the use (maybe by others) of the technology for political or civic purposes. And it did reach many people, and many disconnected from the net, or from political networks. Indeed, this is the point of interest in the connections that technology brought: not only the coordination of synchronous action, but sharing information and protocols so that they could be applied in place, and free from the network.

Jane Mansbridge: the collective intelligence is just that, gathering scattered information from remote corners and putting it together for anyone to make use of it.

New democratic movements (2015)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “New democratic movements (II). New technologies, social networks, and democracy” In ICTlogy, #141, June 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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