To make new technologies work for democracy, we need to democratise them first. Whenever new technologies appear – be it the internet or the printing press -, they empower those with the capacity to use them. Often enough, these people already have the resources to exercise power within society, be it money or high quality education. One of democracy’s great ideals however is that power ought to be shared and exercised equally by all citizens: One person, one vote.
The recent debate around foreign meddling in recent elections has underlined the importance of public deliberations around elections and the platforms and institutions in which political debates are held. After all, the attempts at manipulation – whether successful or not – did not target the technical dimension of voting, but the public debate ahead of it. That the ability to distinguish “fake” news from actual news coverage is correlated to age – with older voters more likely to share such items – should alert us to the necessity of ensuring higher levels of digital literacy across all groups in society. If elections are to be meaningful, public debate on and offline must become more meaningful, too. As more and more political deliberation is bound to happen online, the necessary skills for online participation have to become more widely acquired, too. Only then can online platforms be a meaningful extension to liberal democracy’s existing institution.
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