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.

Discussion

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.

Challenges:

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

Successes

  • 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.

Discussion

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.

Discussion

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:

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English:
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.
logo of PDF file
Català:
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
Castellano:
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.

Defining and promoting new intermediaries in citizen engagement

The shift towards a technopolitical paradigm has brought a new set of actors with a new set of spaces and instruments into the political arena.

In his book The Rise of Nerd Politics, John Postill defines a new breed of citizens that engage in politics neither by joining democratic institutions (political parties, unions, civil society organizations, etc.) nor by hacking these institutions, but by “clamping”, that is, by using a new set of skills consisting on a mix of computer science, law, arts and culture, media and journalism, and formal politics.

These citizens are a global democracy buffer that is not happy with being a “passive victim” of politics gone wrong. The produce public knowledge at the very heart of the civil society operating in the intersection of technology and politics and caring a lot about the fate of democracy. These political nerds usually work in small groups and often partner with non-nerds for their political actions establishing ‘strategic part-NERDships’. Not all of them are libertarians, but anti-authoritarian, an anti-authoritarianism that comes in different kinds and from many different backgrounds. notwithstanding, they are not cyber-utopians, but look for short-term political impact. On the other hand, they are not rooted on cyberspace, but on local communities strongly linked with other movements at the international level. Nerd politics usually operate in four different but connected fields: data activism, digital rights, social protest, and formal politics.

There have been some other authors that have identified new actors, new spaces and new instruments of political engagement. And, for better or for worse, these new actors, spaces and instruments are increasing in number and in influence. And, I would add, in general they are a positive influence: some of them might just seize the power, but most of them genuinely aim for the power to be applied upon them in a fairer way. That is, they want to improve democracy and its quality.

In my theory of change of citizen participation I included a whole section or “program” devoted to these new intermediaries, as I believe that if their contribution is good, society (and especially governments) should promote them and their activities — as they usually do with other institutionalized actors of liberal democracies.

But defining and promoting are two completely different things. To define something (or someone, or someone’s actions) you focus on the how. To promote them, you need to focus on the why, because this is what you are actually promoting: a cause — and, indirectly, its consequences.

So, what is exactly what one would like to promote by fostering new intermediaries in citizen engagement?

In my opinion, what follows is what make new intermediaries interesting and, thus, worth promoting:

  • They work with informal and non-formal instruments and spaces. That is, they work extra-institutionally, meaning that they are not institutionalized (e.g. a political party) and most of the times they do not work or even circumvent institutions in their activities.
  • They work for the common good. That is, they pursue the benefit of the whole community, not individual benefit — not to speak about individual profit. Obvious of this may sound, it leaves aside some lobbies that work for a specific collective, which is not the whole society. E.g. working for cleaner air is not the same as working for bike riders, even if the latter still is a non-profit aspiration. So, we are looking for people with the whole society in their minds.
  • They increase or improve the commons. This is a precision of the former statement. There are many ways to work for the common good, as advocacy, for instance. But in my opinion one of the main strengths — and differences from former political approaches — of technopolitics is that it creates democratic infrastructure. Of course, infrastructure does not necessarily means a new parliament or a new civic equipment. Citizen democratic infraestructures, in a broad sense, can of course be spaces (physical or virtual) but other devices that can be used and appropriated by citizens to engage politically — with institutions or among themselves: digital platforms and software for deliberation and voting, handbooks and guides, toolkits and procedures… but also other knowledge-intensive devices such as facilitation services, open data, training, visibility or public diffusion, conceptual frameworks, de facto standards and protocols, etc.
  • They work for the improvement of governance. That is, the purpose of these infrastructures is specifically to better rule our collective goals, including a better definition of needs or diagnosis, a better deliberation for an improvement of the political instruments, more inclusive policies by not leaving any actor out, better assessment of impacts and evaluation of outcomes.

Summing up, what we are looking to promote is actors that fly under the radar of institutions (and are, thus, invisible to them), but that pursue they very same goals (the benefit of the whole society), and do it creating things (for the commons) that any citizen can use to improve the way we make collective decisions (governance).

I think this is an operational and functional approach to the new phenomenon of intermediaries and how to publicly contribute to unfold their potential to collectively leverage their work.