On democracy

Sophie in ‘t Veld (European Parliament) in a Special Issue of Internet Policy Review on Political micro-targeting edited by Balazs Bodo, Natali Helberger and Claes de Vreese: Democracy is valuable and vulnerable, which is reason enough to remain alert for new developments that can undermine her. In recent months, we have seen enough examples of the growing impact of personal data in campaigns and elections. It is important and urgent for us to publicly debate this development. It is easy to see why we should take action against extremist propaganda of hatemongers aiming to recruit young people for violent acts. But we euphemistically speak of ‘fake news’ when lies, ‘half-truths’, conspiracy theories, and sedition creepily poison public opinion.

The literal meaning of democracy is ‘the power of the people’. ‘Power’ presupposes freedom. Freedom to choose and to decide. Freedom from coercion and pressure. Freedom from manipulation. ‘Power’ also presupposes knowledge. Knowledge of all facts, aspects, and options. And knowing how to balance them against each other. When freedom and knowledge are restricted, there can be no power.

In a democracy, every individual choice influences society as a whole. Therefore, the common interest is served with everyone’s ability to make their choices in complete freedom, and with complete knowledge.

The interests of parties and political candidates who compete for citizen’s votes may differ from that higher interest. They want citizens to see their political advertising, and only theirs, not that of their competitors. Not only do parties and candidates compete for the voter’s favour. They contend for his exclusive time and attention as well.


No laws dictate what kind of information a voter should rely on to be able to make the right consideration. For lamb chops, toothpaste, mortgages or cars, for example, it’s mandatory for producers to mention the origin and properties. This enables consumers to make a responsible decision. Providing false information is illegal. All ingredients, properties, and risks have to be mentioned on the label.

Political communication, however, is protected by freedom of speech. Political parties are allowed to use all kinds of sales tricks.

And, of course, campaigns do their utmost and continuously test the limits of the socially acceptable….(More)”.