Working towards a digitised democracy

By Namita Kambli

It is clear that there is a mismatch between how our public institutions and our democracies work and the rate at which technology evolves. Our democracies have so far been overwhelmingly analogue, modelled largely on a system of representation [1] . This comprises, but is not limited to, a sovereign authority that functions effectively, a healthy political culture, a strong civil society, elections that people trust, and active citizens who can make informed judgements. Digital technology has the potential to undermine all of these aspects of democracy through misinformation, microtargeting, election manipulation, etc., thereby putting analogue democracy at odds with digital transformation.

Unless we find a compromise between digital technology and democracy – as we currently experience it – people will eventually conclude that democracy does not work and will arguably replace it with “a gentle, benevolent data dictatorship” [2]. The time is ripe to upgrade our democracies.

And yet, despite the many issues – and opportunities – that digital technology brings, current models of digital transformation continue to be discussed in terms of market-led frameworks or policy-led consumer models. There is a distinct lack of a citizen-driven democratic environment model.

Whereas e-democracy, or digital democracy, aims to use digital technology to boost political engagement, a digitised democracy model would be defined by a citizen-centric agenda: such a model would explore why the public narrative around digital transformation is increasingly negative and explore the principles and set of actions that citizens desire with respect to a more positive digital transformation. Such an exercise would also define the markers of what constitutes a good digitised democratic (online) environment and the means by which these could be validated. Part of this exercise would also entail the framing of a new vocabulary with which to discuss citizen-centric digital transformation. Our organisation, The Democratic Society, is interested in exploring what the model of a digitised democracy would look like and the forms that our institutions, our checks and balances, and our political discourse should take in a technologically-mediated 21st century.

 

[1] Bartlett, J. (2018). The war between technology and democracy. See: https://medium.com/@jamie.bartlett/the-war-between-technology-democracy-5ca57292956a

[2] Ibid.

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