Bringing Truth to the Internet

Article by Karen Kornbluh and Ellen P. Goodman: “The first volume of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report notes that “sweeping” and “systemic” social media disinformation was a key element of Russian interference in the 2016 election. No sooner were Mueller’s findings public than Twitter suspended a host of bots who had been promoting a “Russiagate hoax.”

Since at least 2016, conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon have flourished online and bled into mainstream debate. Earlier this year, a British member of Parliament called social media companies “accessories to radicalization” for their role in hosting and amplifying radical hate groups after the New Zealand mosque shooter cited and attempted to fuel more of these groups. In Myanmar, anti-Rohingya forces used Facebook to spread rumors that spurred ethnic cleansing, according to a UN special rapporteur. These platforms are vulnerable to those who aim to prey on intolerance, peer pressure, and social disaffection. Our democracies are being compromised. They work only if the information ecosystem has integrity—if it privileges truth and channels difference into nonviolent discourse. But the ecosystem is increasingly polluted.

Around the world, a growing sense of urgency about the need to address online radicalization is leading countries to embrace ever more draconian solutions: After the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, the government shut down access to Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms. And a number of countries are considering adopting laws requiring social media companies to remove unlawful hate speech or face hefty penalties. According to Freedom House, “In the past year, at least 17 countries approved or proposed laws that would restrict online media in the name of fighting ‘fake news’ and online manipulation.”

The flaw with these censorious remedies is this: They focus on the content that the user sees—hate speech, violent videos, conspiracy theories—and not on the structural characteristics of social media design that create vulnerabilities. Content moderation requirements that cannot scale are not only doomed to be ineffective exercises in whack-a-mole, but they also create free expression concerns, by turning either governments or platforms into arbiters of acceptable speech. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, content moderation has become justification for shutting down dissident speech.

When countries pressure platforms to root out vaguely defined harmful content and disregard the design vulnerabilities that promote that content’s amplification, they are treating a symptom and ignoring the disease. The question isn’t “How do we moderate?” Instead, it is “How do we promote design change that optimizes for citizen control, transparency, and privacy online?”—exactly the values that the early Internet promised to embody….(More)”.

From Planning to Prototypes: New Ways of Seeing Like a State

Fleur Johns at Modern Law Review: “All states have pursued what James C. Scott characterised as modernist projects of legibility and simplification: maps, censuses, national economic plans and related legislative programs. Many, including Scott, have pointed out blindspots embedded in these tools. As such criticism persists, however, the synoptic style of law and development has changed. Governments, NGOs and international agencies now aspire to draw upon immense repositories of digital data. Modes of analysis too have changed. No longer is legibility a precondition for action. Law‐ and policy‐making are being informed by business development methods that prefer prototypes over plans. States and international institutions continue to plan, but also seek insight from the release of minimally viable policy mock‐ups. Familiar critiques of law and development work, and arguments for its reform, have limited purchase on these practices, Scott’s included. Effective critical intervention in this field today requires careful attention to be paid to these emergent patterns of practice…(More)”.

How not to conduct a consultation – and why asking the public is not always such a great idea

Agnes Batory & Sara Svensson at Policy and Politics: “Involving people in policy-making is generally a good thing. Policy-makers themselves often pay at least lip-service to the importance of giving citizens a say. In the academic literature, participatory governance has been, with some exaggeration, almost universally hailed as a panacea to all ills in Western democracies. In particular, it is advocated as a way to remedy the alienation of voters from politicians who seem to be oblivious to the concerns of the common man and woman, with an ensuing decline in public trust in government. Representation by political parties is ridden with problems, so the argument goes, and in any case it is overly focused on the act of voting in elections – a one-off event once every few years which limits citizens’ ability to control the policy agenda. On the other hand, various forms of public participation are expected to educate citizens, help develop a civic culture, and boost the legitimacy of decision-making. Consequently, practices to ensure that citizens can provide direct input into policy-making are to be welcomed on both pragmatic and normative grounds.  

I do not disagree with these generally positive expectations. However, the main objective of my recent article in Policy and Politics, co-authored with Sara Svensson, is to inject a dose of healthy scepticism into the debate or, more precisely, to show that there are circumstances in which public consultations will achieve anything but greater legitimacy and better policy-outcomes. We do this partly by discussing the more questionable assumptions in the participatory governance literature, and partly by examining a recent, glaring example of the misuse, and abuse, of popular input….(More)”.

How Organizations with Data and Technology Skills Can Play a Critical Role in the 2020 Census

Blog Post by Kathryn L.S. Pettit and Olivia Arena: “The 2020 Census is less than a year away, and it’s facing new challenges that could result in an inaccurate count. The proposed inclusion of a citizenship question, the lack of comprehensive and unified messaging, and the new internet-response option could worsen the undercount of vulnerable and marginalized communities and deprive these groups of critical resources.

The US Census Bureau aims to count every US resident. But some groups are more likely to be missed than others. Communities of color, immigrants, young children, renters, people experiencing homelessness, and people living in rural areas have long been undercounted in the census. Because the census count is used to apportion federal funding and draw legislative districts for political seats, an inaccurate count means that these populations receive less than their fair share of resources and representation.

Local governments and community-based organizations have begun forming Complete Count Committees, coalitions of trusted community voices established to encourage census responses, to achieve a more accurate count in 2020. Local organizations with data and technology skills—like civic tech groups, libraries, technology training organizations, and data intermediaries—can harness their expertise to help these coalitions achieve a complete count.

As the coordinator of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), we are learning about 2020 Census mobilization in communities across the country. We have found that data and technology groups are natural partners in this work; they understand what is at risk in 2020, are embedded in communities as trusted data providers, and can amplify the importance of the census.

Threats to a complete count

The proposed citizenship question, currently being challenged in court, would likely suppress the count of immigrants and households in immigrant communities in the US. Though federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from disclosing individual-level data, even to other agencies, people may still be skeptical about the confidentiality of the data or generally distrust the government. Acknowledging these fears is important for organizations partnering in outreach to vulnerable communities.

Another potential hurdle is that, for the first time, the Census Bureau will encourage people to complete their census forms online (though answering by mail or phone will still be options). Though a high tech census could be more cost-effective, the digital divide compounded by the underfunding of the Census Bureau that limited initial testing of new methods and outreach could worsen the undercount….(More)”.

Hacking Corruption

Paper by Tamar Ziff and Maria Fernanda Pérez Argüello: “Across the Americas, corruption scandals have eroded citizens’ trust in their governing officials and institutions, leading elected leaders to promise they will root out graft. Against this backdrop of a growing citizen backlash against corruption, the Peruvian government designated “Democratic Governance against Corruption” as the central theme of the 2018 Summit of the Americas—the triennial meeting of heads of state from countries in the Americas. The Summit produced a Lima Declaration with 57 concrete actions to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Americas, including one–Commitment 17–specifically dedicated to promoting the use of new technologies to promote transparency and government accountability.

A new report by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program and the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council aims to advance Commitment 17 by examining the promise of tech solutions to assist the fight against corruption, specifically in public procurement. The report provides examples of a number of such solutions, as well as identifying obstacles to their more widespread adoption and proposing appropriate policy responses….(More)”

The Future of Democracy

Book by Ronald M. Glassman: “…This book focuses on the processes that help stabilize democracy. It provides a socio-historical analysis of the future prospects of democracy.

The link between advanced capitalism and democracy is emphasized, focusing on contract law and the separation of the economy from the state. The book also emphasizes the positive effects of the scientific world view on legal- rational authority. Aristotle’s theory of the majority middle class and its stabilizing effect on democracy is highlighted.

This book describes the face to face democracies of the past in order to give us a better perspective on the high tech democracies of the future, making it appealing to students and academics in the political and social sciences….(More)”.

Here’s a prediction: In the future, predictions will only get worse

Allison Schrager at Quartz: “Forecasts rely on data from the past, and while we now have better data than ever—and better techniques and technology with which to measure them—when it comes to forecasting, in many ways, data has never been more useless. And as data become more integral to our lives and the technology we rely upon, we must take a harder look at the past before we assume it tells us anything about the future.

To some extent, the weaknesses of data has always existed. Data are, by definition, information about what has happened in the past. Because populations and technology are constantly changing, they alter how we respond to incentives, policy, opportunities available to us, and even social cues. This undermines the accuracy of everything we try to forecast: elections, financial markets, even how long it will take to get to the airport.

But there is reason to believe we are experiencing more change than before. The economy is undergoing a major structural change by becoming more globally integrated, which increases some risks while reducing others, while technology has changed how we transact and communicate. I’ve written before how it’s now impossible for the movie industry to forecast hit films. Review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes undermines traditional marketing plans and the rise of the Chinese market means film makers must account for different tastes. Meanwhile streaming has changed how movies are consumed and who watches them. All these changes mean data from 10, or even five, years ago tell producers almost nothing about movie-going today.

We are in the age of big data that offers to promise of more accurate predictions. But it seems in some of the most critical aspects of our lives, data has never been more wrong….(More)”.

Democracy (Re)Imagined

Chapter by Oldrich Bubak and Henry Jacek in Trivialization and Public Opinion: “Democracy (Re)Imagined begins with a brief review of opinion surveys, which, over the recent decades, indicate steady increases in the levels of mistrust of the media, skepticism of the government’s effectiveness, and the public’s antipathy toward politics. It thus continues to explore the realities and the logic behind these perspectives. What can be done to institute good governance and renew the faith in the democratic system? It is becoming evident that rather than relying on the idea of more democracy, governance for the new age is smart, bringing in people where they are most capable and engaged. Here, the focus is primarily on the United States providing an extreme case in the evolution of democratic systems and a rationale for revisiting the tenets of governance.

Earlier, we have identified some deep lapses in public discourse and alluded to a number of negative political and policy outcomes across the globe. It may thus not be a revelation that the past several decades have seen a disturbing trend apparent in the views and choices of people throughout the democratic world—a declining political confidence and trust in government. These have been observed in European nations, Canada as well as the United States, countries different in their political and social histories (Dalton 2017). Consider some numbers from a recent US poll, the 2016 Survey of American Political Culture. The survey found, for example, that 64% of the American public had little or no confidence in the federal government’s capacity to solve problems (up from 60% in 1996), while 56% believed “the government in Washington threatens the freedom of ordinary Americans.” About 88% of respondents thought “political events these days seem more like theater or entertainment than like something to be taken seriously” (up from 79% in 1996). As well, 75% of surveyed individuals thought that one cannot “believe much” the mainstream media content (Hunter and Bowman 2016). As in other countries, such numbers, consistent across polls, tell a story much different than responses collected half a century ago.

Some, unsurprised, argue citizens have always had a level of skepticism and mistrust toward their government but appreciated their regime legitimacy, a democratic capacity to exercise their will and choose a new government. However, other scholars are arriving at a more pessimistic conclusion: People have begun questioning the very foundations of their systems of government—the legitimacy of liberal democratic regimes. Foa and Mounk, for example, examined responses from three waves of cross-national surveys (1995–2014) focusing on indicators of regime legitimacy: “citizens’ express support for the system as a whole; the degree to which they support key institutions of liberal democracy, such as civil rights; their willingness to advance their political causes within the existing political system; and their openness to authoritarian alternatives such as military rule” (2016, 6). They find citizens to be not only progressively critical of their government but also “cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives” (2016, 7). The authors point out that in 2011, 24% of those born in the 1980s thought democracy 1 was a “bad” system for the US, while 26% of the same cohort believed it is unimportant 2 for people to “choose their leaders in free elections.” Also in 2011, 32% of respondents of all ages reported a preference for a “strong leader” who need not “bother with parliament and elections” (up from 24% in 1995). As well, Foa and Mounk (2016) observe a decrease in interest and participation in conventional (including voting and political party membership) and non-conventional political activities (such as participation in protests or social movement).

These responses only beckon more questions, particularly as some scholars believe that “[t]he changing values and skills of Western publics encourage a new type of assertive or engaged citizen who is skeptical about political elites and the institutions of representative democracy” (Dalton 2017, 391). In this and the next chapter, we explore the realities and the logic behind these perspectives. Is the current system working as intended? What can be done to renew the faith in government and citizenship? What can we learn from how public comes to their opinions? We focus primarily on the developments in the United States, providing an extreme case in an evolution of a democratic system and a rationale for revisiting the tenets of governance. We will begin to discern the roots of many of the above stances and see that regaining effectiveness and legitimacy in modern governance demands more than just “more democracy.” Governance for the new age is smart, bringing in citizens where they are most capable and engaged. But change will demand a proper understanding of the underlying problems and a collective awareness of the solutions. And getting there requires us to cope with trivialization….(More)”

A crisis of legitimacy

Blair Sheppard and Ceri-Ann Droog at Strategy and Business: “For the last 70 years the world has done remarkably well. According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty today is less than it was in 1820, even though the world population is seven times as large. This is a truly remarkable achievement, and it goes hand in hand with equally remarkable overall advances in wealth, scientific progress, human longevity, and quality of life.

But the organizations that created these triumphs — the most prominent businesses, governments, and multilateral institutions of the post–World War II era — have failed to keep their implicit promises. As a result, today’s leading organizations face a global crisis of legitimacy. For the first time in decades, their influence, and even their right to exist, are being questioned.

Businesses are also being held accountable in new ways for the welfare, prosperity, and health of the communities around them and of the general public. Our own global firm, PwC, is among these businesses. The accusations facing any individual enterprise may or may not be justified, but the broader attitudes underlying them must be taken seriously.

The causes of this crisis of legitimacy have to do with five basic challenges affecting every part of the world:

  • Asymmetry: Wealth disparity and the erosion of the middle class
  • Disruption: Abrupt technological changes and their destructive effects
  • Age: Demographic pressures as the average life span of human beings increases and the birth rate falls
  • Populism: Growing populism and rejection of the status quo, with associated nationalism and global fracturing
  • Trust: Declining confidence in the prevailing institutions that make our systems work.

(We use the acronym ADAPT to list these challenges because it evokes the inherent change in our time and the need for institutions to respond with new attitudes and behaviors.)


A few other challenges, such as climate change and human rights issues, may occur to you as equally important. They are not included in this list because they are not at the forefront of this particular crisis of legitimacy in the same way. But they are affected by it; if leading businesses and global institutions lose their perceived value, it will be harder to address every other issue affecting the world today.

Ignoring the crisis of legitimacy is not an option — not even for business leaders who feel their primary responsibility is to their shareholders. If we postpone solutions too long, we could go past the point of no return: The cost of solving these problems will be too high. Brexit could be a test case. The costs and difficulties of withdrawal could be echoed in other political breakdowns around the world. And if you don’t believe that widespread economic and political disruption is possible right now, then consider the other revolutions and abrupt, dramatic changes in sovereignty that have occurred in the last 250 years, often with technological shifts and widespread dissatisfaction as key factors….(More)”.

What if government was a game?

TedX Talk by Gianluca Sgueo: “How does gaming link people in today society? In business, companies use gamification as a marketing tool to attract customer; while government and non-governmental organizations deploy it to connect citizens and public powers. Gianluca Sgueo, a global professor major in public law and policy analyst, tells us how a gamified government facilitates and engages the citizens in the policy-making process; as well as its inconspicuous but important impacts brought to our lives. Gianluca Sgueo is Global Media Professor at New York University in Florence, Visiting Professor at HEC Paris and Research Associate at the Center of Social Studies of the University of Coimbra. His area of expertise is the public sector, to which he provides professional services. His academic work focuses on participatory democracy, lobbying and globalization and he is author of a recent work about Games, Powers & Democracies….(More)