DigEnlight2019 (IV). Media and Democracy

Notes from the conference Democracy and Media in the Digital Era, organized by the Digital Enlightenment Forum and the Delegation to the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 November 2019. More notes on this event: digenlight2019

Media and Democracy
Chair: Jo Pierson, VUB

The media are necessary for a good functioning democracy. At the same time the media and certainly also the social media with their massive data collection and use for behaviour predictability, can have negative effects on the democratic processes.

Ulrick Trolle Smed, Member of Cabinet at European Commission

Disinformation campaigns damage democracy as they reduce the ability of citizens to make informed decisions.

Digital platforms are beginning to address the issue of advertising. We have also seen new policies to ensure the integrity of online services.

The area where we can advance more is about empowering consumers. To provide more information to consumers on advertising, to be able to change their preferences, etc.

We also have to be able to empower researchers. That data available can be used for academic purposes in an easy way. Privacy protection and quality research have to go hand in hand.

Platforms should also be more accountable for their actions.

Wout van Wijk (News Media Europe)

Media freedom is the central thing. It has to be defended both from economic and political powers. Media is not an ordinary sector, it deserves especial protection.

The reality is that media are increasingly losing trust and the trust level is already very low.

Ironically, social media has damaged trust in media, but news are being more and more shared through social media.

There is a business, there is people making money putting out false news. And an important problem is that little money is made out of that (for the click) in comparison to the damage being made to media in particular and to democracy in general.

Maintaining pluralism is a means to fight fake news. Resources too. Media literacy is crucial to understand not only what is and what not fake news, but to understand the importance of its impact.

Paying for content —putting more resources that allow for professionalization— is one of the solutions, but not everyone or not all cultures are so prone to paying for content.

Solutions, though, can be replicated elsewhere: we have to be sure that whatever we implement, we do it right.

Ania Helseth (Facebook)

Facebook works to remove fake accounts (one million daily) and fake information. They try to raise awareness on the issue. But Facebook ‘cannot be the judge of the truth’. By raising awareness, it is expected that users themselves will judge and remove bad content or restrain from publishing it.

Facebook has it difficult to totally remove bad content, but can help in reducing its impact.

Facebook also provides data to researchers, to better understand how fake news spread, how to avoid it, etc.

Stefania Milan (Univ Amsterdam)

Social media are increasingly a pathway towards news access. But do not have much data about this.

Media literacy is very low, even within media students! This problem gets worse when socia media intermediate the access to news: people tend not to know the real source of news.

Content curation at social media platforms may not be a good idea: cons could be worse than pros.

We need to find new ways to create algorithmic auditing.

We should be more aware about our information diets. On the one hand, to be aware of our own information diet, but on the other hand on the collective information diet of the population. It is not about discouraging people from social media, but on an informed use.

Mikko Salo (Founder Faktabaari)

Internet is seriously broken and reality in social media is distorted. Information sharing is concentrated in a few platforms, which has an impact on how one gets their information.

Big media will find it easy to find ways to strive, but local media urgently need a new business model, one that is based on trust, or they will disappear.

Most social media platforms actually are not “media” platforms but advertising companies. This contributes to better understand the way the work.

Democracy and Media in the Digital Era (2019)

DigEnlight2019 (III). Andrew Keen: How to fix Democracy

Notes from the conference Democracy and Media in the Digital Era, organized by the Digital Enlightenment Forum and the Delegation to the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 November 2019. More notes on this event: digenlight2019

Andrey Keen
How to fix Democracy

Are we treating the mob as elevated citizens? Can we do that? How can we?

How to marry expertise and democracy?

How can we avoid the role of technocracy, the role of the expert?

We thought that the digital revolution would democratise media, would democratise the ability to start a business, that more information in the hands of everyone would work just great. Is that true?

The truth is that we are witnessing the growth of new huge monopolies, that we are not more savvy, that we have a fragmentation of communities, filter bubbles, echo chambers, a culture of narcissism.

What we are witnessing is not the growth of the common good, but the growth of individualism, of using ICTs to create bigger individualities and individual-centered realities.

The core of democracy is not speaking, is listening.

We need to improve Western Democracies, especially after the ‘Russian face’ and ‘Chinese technocracy’. But technology will not solve the problems of democracy.

Citizens’ assemblies are great because they force people to listen.

Citizens’ assemblies are great because they bring in experts, to explain complex issues. Experts matter. We have to find ways to reintroduce the role of the expert.

Analogue is where the added value is when digital has commoditised everything.

We need leaders, we need political leadership, we need unashamed experts, people that can tell the truth, take risks, and explain why we should take them.

What is scarce today is trust.

People have to be accountable. We spoiled the mob by giving them all kind of free stuff, and they became the product.

Identity has to be brought back to the arena. Anonymity brings in all kinds of trouble as people are not accountable. When you are, many evils of disinformation are dismantled. Anonymity is destroying democracy, because people are no more accountable for what they do, undermining civil rights and political freedom.


Q: why do we separate the ‘experts’ from ‘the people’? Are not experts part of the people? Isn’t it plain wrong to think that people are not knowledgeable at all? Isn’t it a problem that elites behaved against people’s will? Keen: elites need to be more responsible, elites need to reinvent themselves. But we still need them, or we will fall into anarchism.

Keen: most movements burst out and channel people’s energy, which is good, but they vanish out if there is no organisation behind or created after the movement. We have to gather and bottle enthusiasm and bring it inside political parties — and yes, political parties have to be reinvented too.

Democracy and Media in the Digital Era (2019)

DigEnlight2019 (II). Democracy Organisation

Notes from the conference Democracy and Media in the Digital Era, organized by the Digital Enlightenment Forum and the Delegation to the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 November 2019. More notes on this event: digenlight2019

Democracy Organisation
Chair: Jacques Bus, DigEnlight

In various places activities are ongoing or have been done to analyse and strengthen
involvement of citizens in political decision making. This session presents some and gives
the lessons learned.

Marc Esteve del Valle (Univ Groningen, NL)
Platform Politics: Party Organization in the Network Society

Based on article Platform politics: Party organisation in the digital age.

Transformation of modern political parties

  • Weakening of traditional partisan attachment (ideology)
  • Fall of party membership
  • Increase volatility of the electorate

The organizational response: Stratarchy (Eldersveld, 1964): different organizations within the party are hierarchically ranked, but can follow their logic, with a certain degree of independence.

The technological response: development of internal computer-mediated communication networks (Margetts, The cyber-party)

Platform politics: new digital intermediaries into the structure of political parties, to facilitate internal communication, engage in political decision-making, organize political action, and transform the overall experience of participation in political parties (Lioy et al., 2019). They vary depending on who owns the platforms: open or closed platforms. Platform politics ranges from traditional mass-politics parties to movement parties.

General observations:

  • Lack of internet proficiency (PD)
  • Limited participation on the membership base in online votes (M5S)
  • Centralization of the voting processes (Podemos)
  • Technological challenges (PSOE)

How do we measure the impact of such practices? Are we reaching more people? Are we getting more voters?

Clodagh Harris (UCC, IRL)
Doing democracy differently – lessons from Ireland’s Citizen Assembly

What is a citizens’ assembly? People randomly selected to reflect gender, age, education, socio-economic status. It is a deliberative body to learn, discuss and decide.

We the citizens. Speak up for Ireland, 7 regional meetings, with 100 randomly selected citizens, 1 weekend of deliberation (June 2011). It worked particularly to reform programs.

Convention on the Constitution 2012-2014, 66 citizens, 33 political representatives. They looked at 8 topics relevant at the constitutional level. Met for 9 weekends. Historical outcome making legal same-sex marriage, after a popular referendum that came from the assembly.

Citizens’ Assembly, 2016-2018. 99 citizens, 5 topics (abortion, ageing, climate change, fixed term parliaments, Ireland’s referendum process. 1 referendum to amendment the constitution. Oireachats Joint Committee on Climate Action, all government Climate Action Plan.


  • Recruitment and attendance: age, affluence and education correlate positively with participation.
  • Government responsiveness.
  • Ad hoc process.


  • Referendums as a result.
  • Enhanced democratic decision making.
  • Input & throughput legitimacy.
  • Wider and public knowledge and acceptance.

Cato Léonard (GlassRoots, BE)
G1000 Belgian Citizens’summit

Cato Lonard was the Campaing leader of the G1000 Belgian Citizens’summit

In Elections, everybody votes, but nobody speaks. There is a lack of knowledge amongst citizens on the details.

In Polls, we ask people what they know, but not what they do not know.

Can we use another instrument — citizens’ assemblies— to listen, to learn what we do not know and to speak up? Can we organize the shouting into something productive? Can we achieve consensus through debate?

750 citizens:

Take aways:

  • Diversity of participants is key.
  • Participation charter: what will be done with the result? How will you measure success?
  • Let citizens and stakeholders decide on the subjects to be discussed.
  • Have experts to provide insight and specific information.
  • Be transparent on the whole process.
  • Digital tools are excellent to accompany the process, but cannot replace face to face confrontation between opponents.

Ostbelgien model: several citizens’ assemblies, coordinated by a citizen council, and proposals are sent to the Parliament.

Erika Widegren (Re-Imagine Europe)

ICTs have revolutionized how communications take place.

The whole political system is designed to create a divisive society. There are no incentives to create deliberation spaces or instruments. How can we address this?

Parties are trying to change values of people across the world, not only practices. And this is something that is spreading quickly due to social networking sites.

We have built a system that is giving all the attention to the ones that manage to get it, to the ones that game the system to get it, and it is not the ones that have more deep thoughts or ideas on the common good.


Q: how does one recruit people for citizens’ assemblies? Harris: it is made by polling professionals to avoid biases. Léonard: first, you define your target, then you recruit based on demographics, and then you try and “fill in the voids” of the underepresented people, with the help of the organizations that represent them.

Q: do does one remove the incentives of polarizing, if one knows that it will give more votes? Marc Esteve: we have to avoid echo chambers, and we have to raise awareness of the existence of such echo chambers, and we do that by increasing digital and media literacy.

Q: how do you ensure that you do not include a bias when informing/educating participants in citizens’ assemblies? Harris: there always is an advisory group working with experts to make information accessible, as neutral as possible, to provide context to all statements when they are partial, etc.

Q: how do we ensure a healthy debate? Marc Esteve: deliberation requires moderation. Citizen spaces do not need to be “horses without reigns” but should have rules as we find in institutional spaces.

Democracy and Media in the Digital Era (2019)

DigEnlight2019 (I). Anna Asimakopoulou: Democracy and Media in the Digital Era

Notes from the conference Democracy and Media in the Digital Era, organized by the Digital Enlightenment Forum and the Delegation to the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 November 2019. More notes on this event: digenlight2019

Anna Asimakopoulou, Member EU Parliament.
Democracy and Media in the Digital Era

Disinformation has become a global-highly visible phenomenon in the digital age.

There is a need to improve detection, collaborate to eradicate it, work with the industry and raise awareness about the issue.

The European Union is putting ahead some “defensive” strategies to protect institutions and citizens from disinformation and manipulation.

But something else should be done to improve democracy in its very essence, before the damage is done or is attempted.

Awareness raising campaigns about the importance to vote in the European Parliament elections.

Online platforms should be something more than just a place where to get information. They should be agoras for debate, for deliberation.

There is an increasing number of interesting initiatives about e-democracy and online deliberation.


Q: what is the role of digital literacy? Are citizens trained or capable enough to maintain high-level discussions about politics or policies?

Q: what happens when online discussions go wrong and boost populism?

Q: is ‘collective intelligence’ something really useful? Can it be nurtured? Can it interact from the bottom with “upper” institutions?

Anna Asimakopoulou: digital literacy is most probably a highest priority no only for online democracy, but in all areas. There is a fine line between humour and libel, but we sure can agree on what populism is and how to fight it —or, most especially, how not to legitimise it.

When people get involved, when they have the opportunity to engage, then there is a reconciliation between citizens and political institutions.

Democracy and Media in the Digital Era (2019)

Article. Open government in new digital states: which libraries for which citizens?

Open government data in new digital states: which libraries for which citizens?

I just published a short article on the future of libraries.

As the Information Society advances, the need of a dire transformation in what libraries do and their mission —among may other institutions— is becoming more and more urgent. My point in the article is that libraries need to transform themselves to help other institutions in their own transformation. Governments, Administrations and, all in all, all democratic institutions need to rethink themselves almost from scratch. And they will not be able to do it unless they find an active citizenry also rethinking its role as full citizens.

My line of thought, thus, in the article is how libraries can help citizens to become more active and empowered and, at their turn, these active citizens can help democratic institutions to become central in society again.

The article has been published as Open government in new digital states: which libraries for which citizens? in the journal BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació.

Below the article can be downloaded in three languages: English, Catalan (as in the original manuscript) and Spanish.

Full text downloads:

logo of PDF file
Open government in new digital states: which libraries for which citizens?” (2019). In BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, 43. Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
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El govern obert als nous estats digitals. Quines biblioteques per a quina ciutadania?” (2019). A BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, 43. Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
logo of PDF file
El gobierno abierto en los nuevos estados digitales. ¿Qué bibliotecas para qué ciudadanía?” (2019). En BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, 43. Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

Implementing an Open Government Department

Three years ago, I published Open Government: A simplified scheme as a way of presenting the three tiers of open government in a practical, reality-based way:

  • Transparency.
  • Participation.
  • Collaboration.

Two years later, in Open government: where to begin with? A showcase I suggested some ways to initiate the road towards open government, especially at the local level. In that case, I combined the former three tiers of open government with five stages of decision making:

  • Diagnosis.
  • Deliberation.
  • Negotiation.
  • Vote.
  • Assessment.

My experience during the last year is that these initiatives can work, but sooner or later they need to be mainstreamed into the very structure of the organization. That is, that the Department of Open Government becomes the Department of Public Administration and the Department of Public Administration becomes the Department of Open Government. Otherwise, while the Open Government Department only deals with open government stuff, it will hardly prevail and/or hardly have any impact. In fact, open government strategies will find themselves at odds with public administration strategies, especially in those fields where tradition or inertia is strong and people’s mindsets do not embrace (or are against) change and new values — not to speak about specific personal or party interests.

These conflicting strategies between open government and public administration rely on the fact that they talk about very different spheres. On the one hand, open government deals about how, while public administration deals about what to do, which can be summarised as:

  • Planning and monitoring: what do we want to do.
  • Staff and organization: what are the resources that we got.
  • Relations with citizens: what is our relationship with citizens depending on what they need.

How to put implement an Open Government Department that takes into consideration the principles of open government while it adheres to the needs of public administration organization? Let us try and combine the three tiers of open government (transparency, participation, collaboration) and the three tiers of public administration (planning, resources, citizens).

The image above highlights the nine sectors resulting from intersecting open government with public administration. What follows is a list of functions to be performed by an open government department. These functions can be performed by a single body or several ones, not necessarily coinciding with the list of functions. Indeed, some of them can be performed by the same body, while others will be split or developed across different bodies, some of them not even being part of the public administration:

  1. Data: (public) decision-making should be based on evidence. Caring for the gathering and production of evidence begins with caring for the gathering and production of (public) data. Data protection, open data and official statistics should have a common strategy, including creating protocols for anyone producing data at the public sector: hence, data governance.
  2. Planning: strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation and assessment should have the concurrence of all relevant actors. Participation in policy-making should begin at the design level, which at its turn begins with a good diagnosis where everyone can name and frame the issue at stake.
  3. Evaluation and assessment: there is a part of evaluation and (especially) assessment that necessarily needs to be performed outside of the Administration. It can take the form of an independent evaluation agency or not, but at least the Administration should open and facilitate external evaluation from relevant stakeholders and, when possible, establish binding relationships with such external evaluations. Some Administrations already have an independent body for such tasks.
  4. Ethics and accountability: ethics is to public servants (especially top executives) what planning is to policy-making. One should plan how their teams will be, and that plan is ethics. Transparency is how one tells the citizen how policies were designed, executed and evaluated. Accountability is how people did that, which brings us back to ethics. Transparency in open government can only come after a deep commitment with ethics at the people level and vice-versa.
  5. People (and their tools): this is probably the core of implementing an open government department. It is unlikely that any kind of open government strategy takes place without a transformation of how public servants work. For open government to settle and mainstream it is essential to adapt the way people is recruited, the way people work (do their own work and work with others), they way incentives are drawn or the kind of tools people and teams use (including procedures, protocols, a culture of work, etc.). And, of course, nothing of this will happen without the appropriate training and professional development. Open government begins with internal participation by the public servants themselves.
  6. Capacity enhancing:
    • Public procurement: when talent and tools cannot be found inside the organization, they have to be sought outside of it. This can be accepted as an unavoidable externalization, or as an opportunity to establish public-social-private partnerships/networks of collaboration. The kind of ethics applied to these relationships will determine the balance between a mere client-contractor agreement or a real partnership.
    • A skilled pool of public servants: Seems like a good idea that someone, outside the Administration (or just besides it) tries to keep up with the upfront of public administration theory (and practice) through research and training. A School of Public Administration could be such someone.
  7. Talking with the citizen: talking to and talking with the citizen are different things. The second approach requires a lot more empathy. That is what an open government culture should bring. Open Government seen as putting much more mere information in the hands of the citizen is probably not open government, but sheer fulfilment of one’s duty.
  8. Listening to the citizen: we’re told, from our earliest days, that one should listen before speaking. Well, that’s it with participation in open government. It is easier said than done. That is why it should become transversal to all policy-making. That is way it should be mainstreamed in everything public administration does.
  9. Working with the citizen: the last tier of open government, collaboration (co-design of public policies, co-management of initiatives, a devolution of sovereignty, etc.) is hardly possible without the former advancements or transformations in how public administration works. It is about the Administration stepping back from the arena and instead of leading it, facilitating it, making collective decisions possible among citizens without interfering but enriching them.
  10. This list of functions had in mind mainstreaming open government across a whole public administration. And it had in mind how most public administrations are structured nowadays: with a whole department devoted to the internal organization of the Administration (receiving names like department of Interior, of Public Administration, of Governance, of Interior and many other denominations, even Presidency). The goal of this proposal was to put together the values of open government within the usual tasks of an actual department managing public affairs such as strategic planning, personnel and citizens.

    But, to achieve total mainstreaming, the managing offices of all other departments should, to some extension, mimic the same structure. As there is a department that manages the budget (Treasury, Public Economics, Public Finance, etc.) and an office in each department to manage their budget, same should happen when it comes to open government: each managing office of each department should take into account planning and monitoring, staff and organization, and relations with the citizen. And do it with the transversal values of open government as it has been explained above in a coordinated and consistent way with the proposed Open Government Department.