Digital Governance: Political Institutions, Democracy, Demagoguery and Revolution

Class Summary for 23.11.16

by Celina Prosch, Frederik Radvan, Masooma and Sindi Nexhipi

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The use of big data is becoming more prominent not only in economy, but also in society and politics. Companies are amassing data from customers and store them in order to perform analyses and benefit from the gained knowledge in their business. From the perspective of a company, the collection of huge data masses may be helpful to adapt their markets to the demand and the economy to the social needs of the individuals. For the individuals the offered services can be improved and thus result in higher satisfaction. Nowadays, governments make use of the internet´s potential to generally become more efficient in terms of better adapting services for the population, which is the actual instance choosing the representatives forming the government.

Demagogue:a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people” [1].

E-Governance

The general idea of governance reflects the ways a government works. This includes the internal and external working spheres of all the officials and organizations within a government. It also involves how the government shares its information with the citizens. Sharing of information means that the citizens know the latest decisions taken by the government with regards to infrastructure, defense, politics, business, economy etc. The citizens have the opportunity to become aware of government actions and then react to them accordingly. The aim of passing this information is to give access about government affairs to not only highly educated people, but also to all the citizens living in rural and impoverished areas. There have been constant efforts to improve this system of transferring information to the general public. One of these, and seemingly the most efficient one, is E-governance. This involves use of information and communication technology (ICT).

E-governance allows people in the general public, having access to internet, to get informed about general government policies and gives them the chance to also contribute their opinion by just commenting on different web-sites. It makes it easier for government officials to put information on the internet to be seen by the wider public. On behalf of government, this has direct influence on fulfilling the needs of citizens because they can track easily what is being done for them in terms of catering to their basic necessities. It involves information from different levels of government which may or may not be entirely accurate. The highly secret information of government might still be protected as they can choose what to show to the public. Generally, all the different levels have different needs and targets and according to that, they have the option to leak out as much governmental data as they want to and keep the rest out of reach of the citizens. As for the citizens side, the information provided has different effects. It can be targeted to different clusters of citizens for serving different purposes. For example, one purpose could be to target groups for participating better in the society once they know about what is happening at the governmental level. The citizens have a right to access such information as they are the true owners of the society. They work for the society, they pay taxes from which the country runs and they own the data the government uses for decision making. Therefore, they undoubtedly have a clear mandate for getting transparent information about how their money through taxes is being used for the development of their country. In developed countries the right to ownership of the data has been implemented since 15 years now. To sum up, the basic goal of E-governance is to match the interests of both parties: government and citizens, at a low cost and high efficiency and productivity.

Moreover, there are five different models sketching how E-governance operates. The first model is called the Wider dissemination model. This model basically focuses on switching the transfer of information from general public domain to a wider public domain. It aims at giving access to every citizen so there is equal treatment of all the interested people. It also promotes transparency in terms of the information the government gives to them, for example about government budgets.

The second model is called the Critical flow model in which the information that was previously kept in the private domain of the government is also now exposed for the general public. This is because, although not many people might take a look at it, some citizens who are more involved in government affairs may be interested to have this information. The private domain mainly contains information about government agencies, companies’ green ratings, new government laws etc.

The third model is the Comparative analysis model which involves combining the public and private domain in which information from private and public domains of government is made available to the wider public. The main idea of this is to generate records on the worst and the best practices happening at different governmental level and show-casing them in a specific manner for the citizens to see.

The fourth model is called the Mobilization and Lobbying model which focuses on the idea of creating a virtual community that is linked and connected together. The aim is to promote the community to share information with other members of the community and interacts with them in a healthy way. This is expected to increase the impact of providing information to the public as the citizens are allowed to comment and give their opinions on social media for example. The data gained from these comments for instance, can be very helpful for the government in order to improve its services. This model ideally is expected to align all the forces in the virtual community for the benefit of both the government and the citizens.

The final model is the Service delivery model in which the government aims to provide services to the citizens via E-governance. Using this model, the citizens can easily find out information regarding electronic debates, voting, ballot casting etc. and look up the requirements and facilities offered being related to these services. The development of these services may however, be a challenge for the government along with spreading awareness about these services to people who do not know that services of these kind exist.

sevice-delivery

Figure 1: Service delivery model identifying the citizens as a central entity of service delivery [2]

Political Transformation

Better interconnectedness could be used to either transform a political system or to increase its efficiency. The dependence of the government on the economic value of user groups and vice versa of the user groups on the availability of services provided by the government indicates that only if both entities are given the right conditions they can function.

Bruce Bimber, University of California questioned in 1998 whether the changes brought by the expansion of the internet can result in qualitatively different political systems and thus transform politics. As a respond to this two claims were formulated:

Populist Claim:

“The internet erodes the influence of organized groups and political elites”

Individuals being responsible for their own data to be produced and monitored have an increasing influence on the society and the government. In terms of a fully progressing globalization since years stepping from the competition of country in the old days over the competition of multinational companies as primary driver before the commence of the 21st to the contemporary competition of individuals. Due to the fast process of development in technology and therefore also change in people´s life, the communication between individuals.

all over the globe increased tremendously. Empowered by every individual this world-wide interconnection bares potential for fast spread of opinions and ideas.

“Improvements in the media do not alter human limits” (Lippmann, 1934).

According to Lippman the improved transmission of information and the flow of knowledge from the media to the human individual does not suffice to alter the limits of a human. Gathering knowledge is facilitated by numerous potential input sources at any time of the day, but is mainly limited by the capability of an individual to process a certain amount of data. In order to overcome this issue there would be “omnicompetent” individuals, which have an infinite capability of processing data and acquiring knowledge at every moment. Since, this is simply impossible in practice, the media has a high responsibility for the transmitted data. An individual is only able to process a limited amount of input and to store an even more limited amount of data, meaning the capability of accessing pre-knowledge s finite. Consequently, the influence of an individual cannot be increased by the internet [3].

Community-Building Claim:

“The internet enables societal structures to be altered, as well as influence politics”.

As the society consists of numerous individuals with different opinions and status of relatedness, people of the same opinion are not necessarily in direct contact. Due to high numbers of individuals it is hard to find distinguish somebody among the crowd who is having a common way of thinking as another in the real life environment e.g. school, workplace, club. The limiting step is the communication, which is required to determine whether someone else fits to the own type of opinion making. Additionally, for many humans initiating direct conversations with strangers is a misery. This step of interaction can be simplified by the use of the internet. Reaching from official organization or political party websites over to portals and social media, the opportunity to interact with strangers without the challenge of direct personal interaction is helped significantly. As a result people not having found many supporters of their own opinion in their limited space of acquaintances, they may decide to share these in social media as public post. By this not only a number of people limited by a “friend-list” can read this opinion, but anyone who is being connected to the platform. Consequently, people find others which are actually random strangers, but share a common way of thinking and experience an enforcement of their own opinion independent of the appropriateness. Generally, a single individual does not feel heard in a large society if it has no special rank and would act intuitively cautious without support by others. However, if the latter is present ideas are enforced and shared. Therefore, the internet leads to an enhanced citizen-citizen interaction. Gathering people of a common opinion strengthens the opinion and the resulting citizen-government interaction leans more towards the citizen as the individual is supported by other citizens. Obviously, a single voice is not heard as much as thousands. Such an amplification of an opinion or idea is also referred to as accelerated pluralism, which finally yields more powerful individuals when finding enough support. With respect to the stated question of Bruce Bimber this means that the internet is capable of altering social structures and as a result potentially also political structure.

E-Voting – Estonia

Estonia was the first government to allow for parliament elections, in which the voters were given the chance to vote in the traditional way or alternatively using E-voting. A study in 2007 dedicated to how this new opportunity affects the elections demonstrated that generally there is no higher turnout at the elections when having the chance of online voting. Nevertheless, individuals who normally participated in the elections tended to prefer the way of online voting indicating a shift from the traditional polls to a more convenient and faster method [4].

e-voting-table-1

Note: Table taken from Kitsing, 2014 [5]

As observed in Table 1, in Estonia the relative use of E-voting has increased tremendously between the elections of 2005 and those of 2014. Despite the fluctuations in the election turnout, the E-votes were calculated relative to the overall turnout. The latest elections experienced the highest use rate of the online voting systems with nearly one third of the votes for the respective year turnout. Consequently, when assessing the question whether the E-voting yields more participation in the elections, it is hard to infer a trend due to the alternating turnout rates. Nonetheless, this showed that the usage of the online voting systems has become more attractive and thus plays a significant role in elections.

In-Class Discussion

Related to the prior topic the in-class discussion was dedicated to issue of whether the development of the internet has led to a more populist society and whether this can be considered good or bad. Preferentially not leaning towards a clear affirmation or opposition of either statement, the class generally pointed out the different way of how individuals deal with the shared information. Be it from the media pretending to deliver unbiased information or from social media, many people have lost their capability of self-reflection due to increased anonymity and to reflect about information, which were not self-acquired. The missing contemplation results in potentially inappropriate and biased, thus incorrect information. Faster spread of individual thoughts and opinions bares the risk of influencing other individuals in their own opinion making negatively if it lacks required pre-knowledge to fully understand an issue. Education is seen as a measure to prevent this, but can be biased if there is not sufficient control. Generally, it is hard to define appropriate education and adequate values of a society because of strong cultural influence. Thus, it is hard to conclude whether the spread of an opinion is considered good or bad for a society, it is simply part of the development.

The importance that social media and network have on the politics is as strong as other life aspects in the modern days. In class two cases were shortly discussed showing two different aspects on how social networks aid the causes of political influence.

Trump’s Twitter Bots

The use of social media is now largely expanded everywhere in the world and it is quite frequently the way to achieve a goal that in some cases can be even as big as winning an election. In the particular case, Twitter was the social media platform used cleverly by Donald Trump’s supporters during these recent elections. It was noticed that the pro-Trump hash tags got five times as much traffic from automated accounts as hash tags that were pro-Hillary Clinton.

Bot tactics are a cheap tool that seem to prove successfully at muddying things up, spreading confusion, and making life unpleasant for political opponents. Thus, the use of automated accounts was deliberate and strategic throughout the election, mostly with Pro-Trump campaigners. After the election day, all the automated activities were disabled and  significant bot activity drop off was noticed.

Twitter does not agree with the idea that the bot activity during elections influenced the voters decision.  However, the discussion of coordinated bot campaigns fits into the post-election theme that social media companies need to re-examine their role in amplifying abusive or misleading political messages. Thus, Twitter has introduced a new filtering tool that allows people to mute certain words in an attempt to clamp down harassment. Facebook has also been forced into some soul-searching Ing over its approach towards fake news on its platform [6].

Arab Spring

Social media has also become important during modern-day activism. Such a case, is the Arab Spring taking place in 2011. Most of the activists who were crucial during the Arab Spring revolution used social networking in order to express their thoughts regarding unjust acts committed by the government. Originally, the Arab Spring started in  Tunisia and then continued in Egypt, Yemen and several other Arabic countries, where several protests involving thousands of people were organized through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. One of the activists also announced that they used Facebook to schedule, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world. This clearly shows the strong role that social media has in allowing distribution of information and tenths influence to even lead in government change. Arab Spring was essential in establishing democratic movement and it was enabled by the opportunity that social network offer in helping many to connect and share information, while breaking the physiological barrier of fear that prevents people on acting. It is necessary to be said that social networks were not the only reason why the Arab Spring took place, however they played a crucial role in communication that helped the revolution run [7].

arab-spring Figure 2: Demonstration during the Arab Spring [8]

References

  1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/demagogue (retrieved 18.11.16)
  2. http://216.197.119.113/artman/images/participatory.gif (retrieved 27.11.16)
  3. Bimber B, (1998). The Internet and Political Transformation: Populism, Community and Accelerated Pluralism, Polity, Vol.31, No.1, Palgrave Macmillan Journals.                              URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235370?seq=7#page_scan_tab_contents (retrieved 24.11.16)
  4. Bochsler D, (2010). Can Internet voting increase political participation?, Centre for the Study of Imperfections in Democracies, Central European University. URL:http://www.eui.eu/Projects/EuDO-PublicOpinion/Documents/bochslere-voteeui2010.pdf (retrieved 28.11.16)
  5. Kitsing M, (2014). Rationality of Internet Voting. Estonian Business School, Estonia. URL:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266087756_Rationality_of_Internet_Voting_in_Estonia (retrieved 28.11.16)
  6. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-17/trump-s-twitter-bots-turned-out-on-election-day (retrieved 24.11.16)
  7. https://mic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media (retrieved 24.11.16)
  8. http://all-len-all.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/arab-spring-2.jpg (retrieved 26.11.16)
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