A Strong Democracy Is a Digital Democracy


 Audrey Tang in the New York Times: “Democracy improves as more people participate. And digital technology remains one of the best ways to improve participation — as long as the focus is on finding common ground and creating consensus, not division.

These are lessons Taiwan has taken to heart in recent years, with the government and the tech community partnering to create online platforms and other digital initiatives that allow everyday citizens to propose and express their opinion on policy reforms. Today, Taiwan is crowdsourcing democracy to create a more responsive government.

Fittingly, this movement, which today aims to increase government transparency, was born in a moment of national outrage over a lack of openness and accountability in politics.

On March 18, 2014, hundreds of young activists, most of them college students, occupied Taiwan’s legislature to express their profound opposition to a new trade pact with Beijing then under consideration, as well as the secretive manner in which it was being pushed through Parliament by the Kuomintang, the ruling party.

Catalyzing what came to be known as the Sunflower Movement, the protesters demanded that the pact be scrapped and that the government institute a more transparent ratification process.

The occupation, which drew widespread public support, ended a little more than three weeks later, after the government promised greater legislative oversight of the trade pact. (To this day, the pact has yet to be approved by Taiwan’s legislature.) A poll released after the occupation, however, showed that 76 percent of the nation remained dissatisfied with the Kuomintang government, illustrating the crisis of trust caused by the trade deal dispute.

To heal this rift and communicate better with everyday citizens, the administration reached out to a group of civic-minded hackers and coders, known as g0v (pronounced “gov-zero”), who had been seeking to improve government transparency through the creation of open-source tools. The organization had come to the attention of the government during the Sunflower occupation, when g0v hackers had worked closely with the protesters.

In December 2014, Jaclyn Tsai, a government minister focused on digital technology, attended a g0v-sponsored hackathon and proposed the establishment of a neutral platform where various online communities could exchange policy ideas.

Several contributors from g0v responded by partnering with the government to start the vTaiwan platform in 2015. VTaiwan (which stands for “virtual Taiwan”) brings together representatives from the public, private and social sectors to debate policy solutions to problems primarily related to the digital economy. Since it began, vTaiwan has tackled 30 issues, relying on a mix of online debate and face-to-face discussions with stakeholders. Though the government is not obligated to follow vTaiwan’s recommendations (a policy that may soon change), the group’s work often leads to concrete action….(More)”.

Digital dystopia: how algorithms punish the poor


Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: “All around the world, from small-town Illinois in the US to Rochdale in England, from Perth, Australia, to Dumka in northern India, a revolution is under way in how governments treat the poor.

You can’t see it happening, and may have heard nothing about it. It’s being planned by engineers and coders behind closed doors, in secure government locations far from public view.

Only mathematicians and computer scientists fully understand the sea change, powered as it is by artificial intelligence (AI), predictive algorithms, risk modeling and biometrics. But if you are one of the millions of vulnerable people at the receiving end of the radical reshaping of welfare benefits, you know it is real and that its consequences can be serious – even deadly.

The Guardian has spent the past three months investigating how billions are being poured into AI innovations that are explosively recasting how low-income people interact with the state. Together, our reporters in the US, Britain, India and Australia have explored what amounts to the birth of the digital welfare state.

Their dispatches reveal how unemployment benefits, child support, housing and food subsidies and much more are being scrambled online. Vast sums are being spent by governments across the industrialized and developing worlds on automating poverty and in the process, turning the needs of vulnerable citizens into numbers, replacing the judgment of human caseworkers with the cold, bloodless decision-making of machines.

At its most forbidding, Guardian reporters paint a picture of a 21st-century Dickensian dystopia that is taking shape with breakneck speed…(More)”.

Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It


Book by Richard Stengel: “Disinformation is as old as humanity. When Satan told Eve nothing would happen if she bit the apple, that was disinformation. But the rise of social media has made disinformation even more pervasive and pernicious in our current era. In a disturbing turn of events, governments are increasingly using disinformation to create their own false narratives, and democracies are proving not to be very good at fighting it.

During the final three years of the Obama administration, Richard Stengel, the former editor of Time and an Under Secretary of State, was on the front lines of this new global information war. At the time, he was the single person in government tasked with unpacking, disproving, and combating both ISIS’s messaging and Russian disinformation. Then, in 2016, as the presidential election unfolded, Stengel watched as Donald Trump used disinformation himself, weaponizing the grievances of Americans who felt left out by modernism. In fact, Stengel quickly came to see how all three players had used the same playbook: ISIS sought to make Islam great again; Putin tried to make Russia great again; and we all know about Trump.

In a narrative that is by turns dramatic and eye-opening, Information Wars walks readers through of this often frustrating battle. Stengel moves through Russia and Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and introduces characters from Putin to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mohamed bin Salman to show how disinformation is impacting our global society. He illustrates how ISIS terrorized the world using social media, and how the Russians launched a tsunami of disinformation around the annexation of Crimea – a scheme that became the model for their interference with the 2016 presidential election. An urgent book for our times, Information Wars stresses that we must find a way to combat this ever growing threat to democracy….(More)”.

Urban Slums in a Datafying Milieu: Challenges for Data-Driven Research Practice


Paper by Bijal Brahmbhatt et al: “With the ongoing trend of urban datafication and growing use of data/evidence to shape developmental initiatives by state as well as non-state actors, this exploratory case study engages with the complex and often contested domains of data use. This study uses on-the-ground experience of working with informal settlements in Indian cities to examine how information value chains work in practice and the contours of their power to intervene in building an agenda of social justice into governance regimes. Using illustrative examples from ongoing action-oriented projects of Mahila Housing Trust in India such as the Energy Audit Project, Slum Mapping Exercise and women-led climate resilience building under the Global Resilience Partnership, it raises questions about challenges of making effective linkages between data, knowledge and action in and for slum communities in the global South by focussing on two issues.

First, it reveals dilemmas of achieving data accuracy when working with slum communities in developing cities where populations are dynamically changing, and where digitisation and use of ICT has limited operational currency. The second issue focuses on data ownership. It foregrounds the need for complementary inputs and the heavy requirement for support systems in informal settlements in order to translate data-driven knowledge into actionable forms. Absence of these will blunt the edge of data-driven community participation in local politics. Through these intersecting streams, the study attempts to address how entanglements between southern urbanism, datafication, governance and social justice diversify the discourse on data justice. It highlights existing hurdles and structural hierarchies within a data-heavy developmental register emergent across multiple cities in the global South where data-driven governmental regimes interact with convoluted urban forms and realities….(More)”.

The Promise of Data-Driven Drug Development


Report by the Center for Data Innovation: “From screening chemical compounds to optimizing clinical trials to improving post-market surveillance of drugs, the increased use of data and better analytical tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) hold the potential to transform drug development, leading to new treatments, improved patient outcomes, and lower costs. However, achieving the full promise of data-driven drug development will require the U.S. federal government to address a number of obstacles. This should be a priority for policymakers for two main reasons. First, enabling data-driven drug development will accelerate access to more effective and affordable treatments. Second, the competitiveness of the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry is at risk so long as these obstacles exist. As other nations, particularly China, pursue data-driven innovation, especially greater use of AI, foreign life sciences firms could become more competitive at drug development….(More)”.

‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech


Jacqueline Hicks at the Conversation: “There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.

With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.

Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.

Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online….(More)”.

Digital Media and Wireless Communication in Developing Nations: Agriculture, Education, and the Economic Sector


Book by Megh R. Goyal and Emmanuel Eilu: “… explores how digital media and wireless communication, especially mobile phones and social media platforms, offer concrete opportunities for developing countries to transform different sectors of their economies. The volume focuses on the agricultural, economic, and education sectors. The chapter authors, mostly from Africa and India, provide a wealth of information on recent innovations, the opportunities they provide, challenges faced, and the direction of future research in digital media and wireless communication to leverage transformation in developing countries….(More)”.

How cities can leverage citizen data while protecting privacy


MIT News: “India is on a path with dual — and potentially conflicting — goals related to the use of citizen data.

To improve the efficiency their municipal services, many Indian cities have started enabling government-service requests, which involves collecting and sharing citizen data with government officials and, potentially, the public. But there’s also a national push to protect citizen privacy, potentially restricting data usage. Cities are now beginning to question how much citizen data, if any, they can use to track government operations.

In a new study, MIT researchers find that there is, in fact, a way for Indian cities to preserve citizen privacy while using their data to improve efficiency.

The researchers obtained and analyzed data from more than 380,000 government service requests by citizens across 112 cities in one Indian state for an entire year. They used the dataset to measure each city government’s efficiency based on how quickly they completed each service request. Based on field research in three of these cities, they also identified the citizen data that’s necessary, useful (but not critical), or unnecessary for improving efficiency when delivering the requested service.

In doing so, they identified “model” cities that performed very well in both categories, meaning they maximized privacy and efficiency. Cities worldwide could use similar methodologies to evaluate their own government services, the researchers say. …(More)”.

The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation


Report by Philip Howard and Samantha Bradshaw: “…The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, typically government agencies and political parties, to influence public opinion in 70 countries.

Key findings include:

  • Organized social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017, with 70 countries using computational propaganda to manipulate public opinion.
  • In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support.
  • In 26 authoritarian states, government entities have used computational propaganda as a tool of information control to suppress public opinion and press freedom, discredit criticism and oppositional voices, and drown out political dissent.
  • Foreign influence operations, primarily over Facebook and Twitter, have been attributed to cyber troop activities in seven countries: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
  • China has now emerged as a major player in the global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.
  • 25 countries are working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.
  • Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation, with evidence of formally organised campaigns taking place in 56 countries….

The report explores the tools and techniques of computational propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, humans, cyborgs and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. The report finds:

  • 87% of countries used human accounts
  • 80% of countries used bot accounts
  • 11% of countries used cyborg accounts
  • 7% of countries used hacked or stolen accounts…(More)”.

Great Policy Successes


Book by Mallory Compton and Edited by Paul ‘t Hart: “With so much media and political criticism of their shortcomings and failures, it is easy to overlook the fact that many governments work pretty well much of the time. Great Policy Successes turns the spotlight on instances of public policy that are remarkably successful. It develops a framework for identifying and assessing policy successes, paying attention not just to their programmatic outcomes but also to the quality of the processes by which policies are designed and delivered, the level of support and legitimacy they attain, and the extent to which successful performance endures over time. The bulk of the book is then devoted to 15 detailed case studies of striking policy successes from around the world, including Singapore’s public health system, Copenhagen and Melbourne’s rise from stilted backwaters to the highly liveable and dynamic urban centres they are today, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia poverty relief scheme, the US’s GI Bill, and Germany’s breakthrough labour market reforms of the 2000s. Each case is set in context, its main actors are introduced, key events and decisions are described, the assessment framework is applied to gauge the nature and level of its success, key contributing factors to success are identified, and potential lessons and future challenges are identified. Purposefully avoiding the kind of heavy theorizing that characterizes many accounts of public policy processes, each case is written in an accessible and narrative style ideally suited for classroom use in conjunction with mainstream textbooks on public policy design, implementation, and evaluation….(More)”.