The crisis of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is having an unequal impact on people, thus worsening the also unequal impact of globalization and the transition into the Information Society.
It is not only that wealthier and healthier people have more resources to face the crisis, but also that the way society is being reshaped (new relationships of production, experience and power) is also making more evident where we are facing as a society and what is becoming more obsolete. And the coronavirus crisis is especially hitting hard those tasks and institutions becoming obsolete.
But not only.
While two worlds overlap —the aging Industrial Era and the upcoming Information Era— there are also several views overlapping, and casting shadows that distort reality. There are some production sectors that are seen as obsolete by those in the Information Era, but that is becase positive externalities of their functions are not being taken into account.
This reflection has just been published as a book chapter, where I describe the uneven impact of the COVID-19, and why some social functions are really obsolete, but why some others should be revalued so that they do not disappear —and, on the contrary, should be treated with care.
The full book is called Comunicación política en tiempos de crisis (Political communication in times of crisis), coordinated by Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí and Carles Pont Sorribes, to whom I am really thankful for putting together the book in such short time and by quickly inviting me to part of it.
My book chapter is entitled El impacto diferencial de las crisis en la Sociedad del Conocimiento (The differential impact of crisis in the Information Society) and can be downloaded below. All texts are in Spanish.
Current challenges of online participation
We are in the middle of an interesting perfect storm. Firstly, citizen participation is clearly on the rise, with more citizens demanding being listened to, and more public (and also private) institutions responding to these demands. Secondly, a call for that citizen participation to be accessible, flexible and inclusive, which is boosting online citizen participation as a complement to traditional participation channels and methodologies, thus enabling not only other means different than face-to-face, but also disclosing informal spaces for participation. Thirdly, the appearance or improvement of different kinds of technologies that come to enable or strengthen online communication (P2P networks, distributed ID systems, decentralized ledger technologies, etc.).
In this perfect storm, notwithstanding, we still often see “solutions looking for a problem”. That is, technologies that appear to fill a demand for more participation and more online participation, but that sometimes do not seem to fix the real problems that the online participation arena is having.
On a recent talk about the possibilities of Blockchain I came up not with what could Blockchain do for participation, but what were the main challenges that citizen participation in general, and online participation in particular was facing. And then ask whether technologies could be of any help in the list of challenges.
I here present these challenges by following what in marketing is called a customer journey. I draw an imaginary complete cycle of citizen participation, along which I present the different challenges that this citizen or the whole process finds in its way.
A citizen wants to have their say on a given issue. But, who are they? A clear identity of this citizen may be necessary to know whether they belong to a given demos. It is true that some participation processes, especially those based on deliberation —provide as much insights as we can, regardless of representativeness—, may not require identity. But we can also look at identity from the other point of view: not as in “who am I” but no “where do I belong to”, “where do my rights lay” or “who grants me citizen rights”. Identity, thus, is not about voting or paying taxes (only) but about knowing whether I am a citizen with full citizenship.
With some interests
A citizen does not necessary need to be interested in absolutely everything. It may just seem right not to invite him to participate in absolutely everything —some decisions we may think are of their interest despite their own preferences or tastes, like electing representatives: voting is even compulsory in some places—.
Knowing what are someone’s interests, and linking them to their identity may be useful either to explicitly invite a given collective to speak out their opinion, or for a given citizen to filter out what are the options available to speak out.
Individual or Collective
This citizen with some interests, is acting as an individual or as a collective? Is she a single person, or is it an organization? This question is not related with whether a citizen represents someone, but about what different legal frameworks allow to do to e.g. natural persons or to legal persons.
Knowing this difference —not a trivial issue— may be crucial to be able to participate in a given process. People may participate personally within an association, but most of the times only legal persons may be able to participate in a federation of associations.
But, of course, legal persons cannot perform actions, physically speaking: someone, a flesh and bones individual has to perform for them: has to represent them.
And sometimes different people can perform different actions in representation of a collective. That is, the collective can grant different powers to different people. For instance, many can give an opinion, but only one of them can cast a vote or make a binding decision.
So, knowing one’s identity is not enough: we may need to know whether they are representing a collective and, if they are, what can they do on its behalf.
In relationship with someone
This citizen, now that we can tell whether they are an individual or a collective, and which are their interests, it may be useful to know what are their relationships with other citizens.
A first approach to this is whether they are affiliated, formally or informally, to some other collectives, and what of affiliation or relationship they have with them. Besides the aforementioned issue of representation, the degree or intensity of relationships may be interesting to tell whether a citizen is a leader in their respective sector, and thus consider their participation in a different way.
A second approach, and most relevant here, is whether this relationship is with the Administration: that is, we want to record what kind of exchanges or transactions a given citizen has had with public bodies. This is important at many levels, among them treating the citizen consistently, recording their potential impact on public policies, identify valid interlocutors, publicise these relationships, etc.
Says or does something
Now that we know who the citizen is, what are their interests, whether they are a person or a collective, what kind of powers to represent this collective they have and what have been their relationships with other collectives (especially the Administration), now citizens want to say or do something.
In face-to-face participation — and most especially in formal meetings— minutes are taken or there are at least records of what is being said or done. Same should happen online. This is nevertheless much more complex in the online world: not only, as we have been saying, identity, etc. is more blurry and/or fluid, but there are also different degrees of formality and informality, usually a high diversity of channels which have to be coordinated or at least be made coherent and consistent and provide a comprehensive explanation of what is going on.
What is being said and done online has to be accompanied by the context in which it is being said and done, in the same way as in formal channels, where conversations and performances already follow a given protocol. This means not, of course, having to approve a formal protocol for everything happening online: hence the difficulty of this issue.
Delegates or is endorsed
When saying or doing these things, are citizens acting on their own? Or are they being endorsed by someone? Are they being delegated some other’s opinions or votes? How should we be taking into account this acting individually or collectivelly? Mind that this is a little bit different to representing someone or having been granted some powers. Representation and powers is more about the legal aspects of being empowered to do something. That is: who are you and what can you do on the behalf of someone else. By delegation or endorsement we look at the phenomenon from the other end: how should I, Administration, take into account this acting on behalf of someone? e.g. Representation is how you choose your elected representatives; delegation is how you will take into account their votes at the Parliament. It is a slight difference, but and important one.
But, beyond how you take it into account, we want to know whether this representation is permanent or temporary. Liquid democracy or proxy voting, changes in representation are much more easy in the online world but need being cleverly articulated. There is an increasing way to solve this technologically, but we are far from the best system —if there is such a thing.
Delegating one’s vote will involve identity, what powers am I granting and to say or do what.
In multiple instances and levels
Things that citizens can or want to do or say things. And they want to do or say things to the Administration (or to any other kind of collective), so that they are taken into account and public policies are put to work.
But quite often —and this is especially true with Public Administrations— collectives of people follow a hierarchy: e.g. your municipality’s health system depends on your region’s health system that depends on your state’s health system.
Or, depending on your interests (e.g. the environment and Global Warming), you may want to do or say things on Global Warming to your city council, to your regional government and to your national government. Different things, at different levels, but on a similar issue.
Or. As a public body, you may want to infer the macro policy from the micro policies put at work or suggested at lower Administration levels. For instance, the local strategy on urban mobility will necessarily shape —or will be determined— by the national strategy on mobility.
Can we, by means of technology, make easy the granularization of macro-level policies into micro-level ones? Can we, by means of technology, make easy the inference of micro-level policies into macro-level ones?
This will, in part, depend on who you are and what can you do (powers) at different Administration levels. That is, what are your citizen rights depending on your citizenship considering different demos belong to or different governments that rule your life.
With different weights
We have considered, so far, “one individual, one vote”. But in many cases there this rule could be changed and, instead, grant the citizen with more “votes”, that is, that their voice or decisions or actions have more influence, more weight than de voices or decisions or actions than other citizens’.
The evident application of this differential weighting is, of course, representation and delegation. It may be just common sense that someone representing a organization can have an influence proportional to the people that they are representing, that is, the people that delegated their voice or vote to their representative. Thus, two people representing a huge and a tiny collective, respectively, would have a higher or lesser influence when they participate e.g. in a public consultation.
But we can go one step further. We may want to grant different power of influence to different actors. Some people are directly affected by public decisions while others are only indirectly or partially affected, or even not affected at all. E.g. when considering issuing a new regulation on diabetes, citizens with diabetes will surely be more affected than citizens with no diabetes: weighting their decisions might be taken into consideration.
Or we might even want to weight citizens’ opinions depending on their position in society (e.g. a renowned scholar in the field), what they have done and said before, what people have thought of what they have done or said before, etc. Technologies can not only be helpful in the mere weighting, but in calculating the most appropriate weights.
Revisits or checks actions
So, citizens do or say things, depending on many factors, etc. Once it is done or said, and time goes by, can people, citizens or Administrations, go back and see who said what and why? Can they trace and see the relationships between all the transactions (interactions, exchanges, etc.) done in the past?
Being able to follow the steps being taken is crucial for assessment and evaluation. Policy footprints are important, but they become essential, when complexity increases. And we are not talking here about the complexity of the issue, but about the complexity of the solution and, more specifically, the complexity with which the policy instrument was designed —in our case, with a plurality and diversity of actors, contributions and channels.
And checks how it fits within the overall plan
Even more, can this traceability be put in context and see what was the impact (not the mere aggregated result) of one single contribution? Can one make this inference from the micro to the macro level?
This aspect is, in my opinion, much more than —I insist— a mere aggregation of individual wills and says.
Checking how each and every piece of opinion, issued in formal or informal ways, scattered across a great diversity of channels and formats, is about finding where are the critical masses what, what are the behavioural patterns are which are the main trends. Which is not a minor thing.
By identifying critical masses, behavioural patterns and main trends we are able to both focus and forecast. By focusing and forecasting, we can become more effective and become more efficient.
Checks for accountability
Beyond fitness in the overall plan, we want to know: what happens afterwards? Can citizens and Administrations follow-up and monitor what use is being made by the ones taking into account (or not) their acts and voices? Can one see the evolution of the progressive triage, acceptance or rejection of proposals, adoption, transformation or improvement, etc. that end up in a final decision or policy? Who ended up doing what? Who took responsibilities?
Accountability brings us back to assessment and evaluation. In this case, not only about how the policy instrument was designed, but how was implemented and put into practice. And, most important, what results did it have and which were the impacts of such results.
Accountability closes the cycle of policy-making, and we can begin again with the diagnosis of the issue or the situation, which brings us back to the who, and back to identity, here taken as a target: who did we impact with our policy and how.
Summing up: current challenges of online citizen participation
As it can be seen, all these issues are very deeply related among them. In my believe, one should not address a single issue (e.g. identity) without addressing the whole journey of a citizen participation process. Identity is defined, also, by representation or delegation, and representation implies taking into consideration weighting or accuntability. An so on.
Thus, the question
Will [fill with the name of a technology] contribute or solve the problem of citizen participation? may not be the correct approach. It may be more useful to ask what specific issues of the process can it contribute to improve and within what mix of other tecnologies. And how will they be merged and inter-operate among them. Which may be the question.
Keynote speech. Chairs: Pere Fabra
Céline Deswarte. Policy Officer, European Commission. Directorate General for Communication, Networks, Content and Technology.
Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe
EU legal framework for Digital Privacy: General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679/EU + ePrivacy Directive 2002/57/EC.
When you are surfing online you produce key information on time of connection, browsing history, location, etc. which can be retrieved. Telecom providers must anonymize or delete traffic and location data of their users and subscribers. When it is stored in hour own computer (e.g. cookies) the user must have given their prior consent after having been duly informed.
But is it consent strong enough? It is difficult to understand that consent is given “freely” if data subject has no genuine or free choice or unable to withdraw consent without detriment.
Protecting your personal data, when e.g. buying online. Companies must rely on a legal basis to process personal data, and respect principles of data processing.
On the specific issue of profiling, sharing personal data with a third party implies the right to be informed about it. Profiling is lawful unless it is equivalent to a decision with legal effects that is significantly harmful to the individual (e.g. one can lose one’s own job). Besides, there has to be a respect for the individual’s rights, e.g. the right to object at any time including profiling, and then data processing must stop.
Member states shall ensure the confidentiality of one’s electronic communications and related traffic data. So, it is not only about privacy in the sense of what you do, but also in the sense of what you say and to whom.
The big problem here is to whom applies all this regulation, as actors are many and different. So far, these principles only apply to telecom providers, while new market players like Voice IP or instant messaging, etc. do not need to respect this. In other words, social networking sites provide communication services but do not fall into the category of telecommunications providers.
12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)
Communications on New Media, Citizens & Public Opinion
Chairs: Joan Balcells
Fragmented audiences, fragmented voters?
Carolina Galais González, Postdoctoral researcher, UOC; Ana Sofia Cardenal Izquierdo, Full professor, UOC.
Does digital media exposure benefit small parties?
Equalization hypothesis: low cost, lower barriers, no gatekeepers.
Fragmentation hypothesis: small parties offer specialized, issue-oriented interests, fragmenting audiences, eroding big parties’ niches.
The undecided have higher chance of switching to small parties after exposed to online propaganda?
TV usually plays a role in favour of big parties, while websites does it for smaller ones.
As satisfaction with government decreases, the impact of websites increases.
Old media have a concentration effect, while online media reinforces options for smaller parties.
Dissatisfaction increases the effect of Internet.
Trust in political institutions: Stability of measurement model in Europe.
Lluis Coromina, University of Girona; Edurne Bartolomé Peral, University of Deusto.
To what extent has the economic crisis changed the levels of trust in institutions? Is trust in institutions relying on the same factors prior and during the crisis? Are there differences across countries and time on the effects of those factors?
H1: political trust is expected to decrease in countries more affected by the crisis.
H2: There is no longer a trend over time for the predictive factors of political trust.
Structural equations model where political trust is related with satisfaction with or trust in the Parliament, the legal system and politicians.
Most long term predictor for political trust tend to be stable across time, even in the countries where the crisis has been more acute. The strongest predictors for political trust are generalized trust, interest in politics, satisfaction with economy, with government, age and education.
Audience brokers and news discoverers: the role of new media in the digital news domain.
Sílvia Majó-Vázquez, Ana S. Cardenal, UOC–IN3; Oleguer Sagarra, Pol Colomer, Facultat de Física, Universitat de Barcelona.
Dire transformations in mainstream traditional media, with strong shifts towards the digital domain. But new digital outlets are being seen as central actors? To what extend new digital outlet control brokerage relation in the audience network? Is media brokerage still held by a handful of outlets?
The research will compare media networks with audience networks. Authorities are node that contain useful information on a topic of interest. Brokers are news providers that have higher control in the flow of news.
There is a clear positive correlation between media reach and the authority score. This is true for both traditional and new digital media. Traditional ones still are placed in the highest positions of authority, but are being quickly contested by new digital media.
Traditional media are still monopolizing the centrality within the audience network, that is, they still are central brokers.
So, native digital media challenge the power monopoly once occupied by traditional media, but these still control the flow of information.
Digital skills and gender gaps in Europe.
José Luis Martínez-Cantos, Postdoctoral Researcher, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
Digital skills are required for handling new ICTs, are multifunctional and complex, and are one of the most important factors of the emergence and persistence of unequal opportunities in the Information Society.
Have there been any significant gender gaps in digital skills in the European Union? Have they reduced?
Yes, there are differences and the gap is bigger in the least generalized (because less people have them) digital skills. That is, the higher the level of digital skills, the bigger the gap. And, indeed, the gap has not varied much along time.
Consistently, the more advanced is a country in digital development, the more advanced are also their men in digital skills and, thus, the bigger the gap with their women.
12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)
Keynote speech. Chairs: Rosa Borge.
Prof. Lance Bennett. Professor of Political Science and Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties
(Keynote co-authored with Alexandra Segerberg and Curd Knüpfer).
The democratic interface: the capacity of electoral communication and organization processes to engage citizens and produce equal democratic representation. Does the interface work equally well for everyone? Is it working better for the right? Why? Has a change in participation logic disrupted the traditional party interface with voter on the left?
40 years of neoliberal globalization, resulting in a breaking up of common social institutions (unions, schools, media, health care, etc.) and more political polarization.
Power has moved from states to businesses and markets. Most parties are embracing neoliberal policies and parties have hollowed themselves as spaces for citizen engagement (Mair). There is a legitimacy crissi of liberal representative democracy (Della Porta), a relocation of politics in the everyday (Band) and a personalization of politics (Bennett).
Does the reactionary right have increasing electoral advantage? Those who identify on the right are more likely to follow rules, respect traditions and customs and, in general, to follow what constitutes the model of a political party in neoliberal democracies: hierarchy, leadership, command, etc. So the right may have more electoral success because their voters have preferences for authority, strong leadership, rules, common traditions, etc.
Why the deficits on the left? There are fewer angry citizens on the radical left than on the radical right? there is more trust or confidence in politicians and parties on the left? Both hypothesis are not validated. Same happens with satisfaction with democracy, the economy, etc. And same with participation: the left participates as much or even higher than the right.
So it has to be a different logic of participation on the left.
The connective party: communication and organization for participatory democracy. There is a discontent with neoliberal globalization since 90s, leading to flexible identities and multiple issues, “meta ideologies” of diversity and inclusiveness, mistrust of parties and leaders and the representative process, and a preference for direct or participatory or deliberative democracy.
There is a shift in participation logic at the left interface. And this may be the reason why left parties are having issues to connect with their partisans and sympathisers.
Can parties on the left mobilize more voters with connective action?
Requirement for a connective party:
- Central party open to feedback from peripheral networks.
- Peripheral networks deliberate and share positions across networks and with central organization.
- Scale requires digital platforms.
Podemos was initially more decentralized, but went under a process of centralization and strong leadership, quite abandoning the círculos. This left aside many people that were in for the participation.
Barcelona en Comú created a whole participatory network with different spaces, times, tools. It is by far the least centralized in Barcelona municipality.
Alternativet (Denmark). Founded in 2013, entered parliament in 2015 with 5% vote. Called itself both a party and a political movement, socially open, networked online platform, living everyday democracy, organized through communication between citizen “labs” and party leadership.
Can socially mediated participation be coordinated? Can it scale? Can such organization be sustained? Can party leadership share power? Can technology developers design participatory and deliberative platforms in collaboration with core leaders and local activists who may undervalue technology?
Modern democracies are over. They were done when neoliberalism replaced Keynesianism as a way to manage society and public issues.
Can Kurban: does right and left still explain the state of politics? Bennett: it is true that it is increasingly difficult to explain things using these axes, but they still somewhat work, especially for the right that still cluster well.
Juan Roch: what is the role of technology, of digital platforms? Bennett: they are only instrumental, but they are definitely very important. But it is worth noting that there still is a lot of doubts about intensive use of technology, and even refusal to see technology replacing face-to-face meetings.
12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)
Communications on New Political Parties & Cyber-activism
Chairs: Joan Balcells
Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties.
Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC.
Is there something like “new politics”? There are certainly recent social movements (15M, Occupy Wall Street) that look like what people like Lebkowsk (1997) called technopolitics. It seems that citizen deliberation is what lies at the core of these movements and the political parties that came after them.
Deliberative democracy is a form of communication to come to consensus-based decision that serve the public good.
Barcelona En Comú (BComú) is analysed to see whether it fits in this definition of new politics or deliberative democracy. What opportunities have the citizens to participate? What are the challenges these spaces are facing?
Four aspects or dimensions:
- Structure and functionality.
- Accessibility and transparency.
- Hybridity and coordination.
- Outcome and accountability.
What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age.
Can Kurban, Doctoral Student, New School for Social Research, New York; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC; Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC.
What is the relationship between ICTs and democracy? Is it about online vs. offline? About Politics 2.0? The literature is not clear about what we understand by technopolitics:
- “constitutional integrity” (Lebkowski, 1997)
- “hybridity” (Hecht, 2001)
- contingency and multiplicity of actors (Kellner, 2001)
- contesting conceptions of citizenship, rights, and the polity (Hughes, 2006)
- the closed vs. the open (Rasmussen, 2007)
- power and strategy (Toret et al. 2015)
Two main origins of antagonism: the organizing role of communication (and Internet governance) and the value of information (big/pubic data). So, in the latest years we either see ICTs strengthening the status quo, making it more efficient, or as an antagonism of the status quo, empowering citizens with new tools and protocols. And since 2008, the acceleration of the antagonist approach has been quite evident.
- Context: we are in contentious politics, in a new digital media environment, living an organizational change.
- Actors: new and plural actors.
- Scale: we go from individuals, to organizations, to contentious networks.
- Directions: contentious politics moving from outside to inside the institutional politics.
- Synchronization: new spaces for activism, spaces that are not isolated but overlapping layers, and that synchronize through several practices.
- Purpose: taking back politics in the short term, hacking the political system in the long term.
Are we witnessing a new constitutional process?
Online primaries and intra-party democracy: candidate selection processes in Podemos and the Five Star movement. Bálint Mikola, PhD Candidate, Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations, Central European University (CEU), Budapest.
To what extent do online primaries empower party members and supporters vis-a-vis the other faces of party organization?
- Who can be selected: from all citizens to only some specific party members.
- Who selects: from all the electorate to only the party leader.
- Is the process decentralized: functional and territorial.
- Voting/appointment systems.
Comparison between Movimento 5 Stelle (Italy) and Podemos (Spain).
Primaries are much more regulated in Podemos, but on the contrary they are more inclusive and open to the outside of the party.
In Podemos, block voting was possible and the result was a certain skewness towards the party leader’s preferences. Indeed, party leadership can control candidate selection through block voting and licensing of candidates. On the other hand, coalition agreements dilute members’ influence.
Europeanization and left-wing populism in southern Europe: the case of Podemos.
Juan Roch González, Phd Candidate in Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin.
What are the discursive formation represented by Podemos around EU issues? What is the role of the EU, in relation to Spanish politics, facilitating or constraining framing opportunities to the Spanish political agents?
The issue of Europe has been crucial for Spanish politics, especially since Spain became part of the EU but most especially in the latest years when European politics have been quite hard on budget issues for the member states, even more for southern states like Greece, Portugal or Spain. This has put the European issue in the very centre of Spanish Politics, affecting budget policies, employment policies and, all in all, leading to a Europeanization of the economic policy area in Spain.
During this period of Europeanization (2010-2012) the Spanish government generated framing opportunities mediated by national (the context of crisis in Spain), the lack of political culture about European issues, etcl.), and agential factors (the new social movements, etc.).
It seems that Podemos has not entirely grasped these opportunities, they are perceived as risky opportunities.
Rosa Borge: are participation rates of 15% really low? Mikola: it is true that they are not “that low” in relationship with other parties, but it is also true that, in general, Internet-based parties are usually much more mobilized and one would expect much higher degrees of participation, circa 50%, as it happens in other tasks.
Rosa Borge: is Podemos becoming more hierarchical? Mikola: maybe not hierarchical, but certainly more oligarchical in order to become more electoral.
Q: how does participation changes participants? how does participation changes their own views? Haberer: it is true that participation usually precedes deliberation, but our analysis is more about what makes possible deliberation, and not what happens with it or with the citizen. The crucial thing here is, beyond normative approaches about deliberation, what makes it possible and how is it deployed within the party.
12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)