Emancipation cannot be programmed: blind spots of algorithmic facilitation in online deliberation


Paper by Nardine Alnemr: “Challenges in attaining deliberative democratic ideals – such as inclusion, authenticity and consequentiality – in wider political systems have driven the development of artificially-designed citizen deliberation. These designed deliberations, however, are expert-driven. Whereas they may achieve ‘deliberativeness’, their design and implementation are undemocratic and limit deliberative democracy’s emancipatory goals. This is relevant in respect to the role of facilitation. In online deliberation, algorithms and artificial actors replace the central role of human facilitators. The detachment of such designed settings from wider contexts is particularly troubling from a democratic perspective. Digital technologies in online deliberation are not developed in a manner consistent with democratic ideals and are not being amenable to scrutiny by citizens. I discuss the theoretical and the practical blind spots of algorithmic facilitation. Based on these, I present recommendations to democratise the design and implementation of online deliberation with a focus on chatbots as facilitators….(More)”.

Digitising Democracy: On Reinventing Democracy in the Digital Era – A Legal, Political and Psychological Perspective


Book by Volker Boehme-Neßler: “This book argues that in the digital era, a reinvention of democracy is urgently necessary. It discusses the mounting evidence showing that digitalisation is pushing classical parliamentary democracy to its limits, offering examples such as how living in a filter bubble and debating with political bots is profoundly changing democratic communication, making it more emotional, hysterical even, and less rational. It also explores how classical democracy involves long, slow thinking and decision processes, which don’t fit to the ever-increasing speed of the digital world, and examines the technical developments some fear will lead to governance by algorithms.In the digitalised world, democracy no longer functions as it has in the past. This does not mean waving goodbye to democracy –  instead we need to reinvent it. How this could work is the central theme of this book….(More)”.

What science can do for democracy: a complexity science approach


Paper by Tina Eliassi-Rad et al: “Political scientists have conventionally assumed that achieving democracy is a one-way ratchet. Only very recently has the question of “democratic backsliding” attracted any research attention. We argue that democratic instability is best understood with tools from complexity science. The explanatory power of complexity science arises from several features of complex systems. Their relevance in the context of democracy is discussed. Several policy recommendations are offered to help (re)stabilize current systems of representative democracy…(More)”.

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate


Letter in Harpers Magazine signed by 153 prominent artists and intellectuals,: “Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us….(More)”.

Trust and its determinants: Evidence from the Trustlab experiment


OECD Working Paper : This paper describes the results of an international initiative on trust (Trustlab) run in six OECD countries between November 2016 and November 2017 (France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Slovenia and the United States). Trustlab combines cutting-edge techniques drawn from behavioural science and experimental economics with an extensive survey on the policy and contextual determinants of trust in others and trust in institutions, administered to representative samples of participants.

The main results are as follows: 1) Self-reported measures of trust in institutions are validated experimentally, 2) Self-reported measures of trust in others capture a belief about trustworthiness (as well as altruistic preferences), whereas experimental measures rather capture willingness to cooperate and one’s own trustworthiness. Therefore, both measures are loosely related, and should be considered complementary rather than substitutes; 3) Perceptions of institutional performance strongly correlate with both trust in government and trust in others; 4) Perceived government integrity is the strongest determinant of trust in government; 5) In addition to indicators associated with social capital, such as neighbourhood connectedness and attitudes towards immigration, perceived satisfaction with public services, social preferences and expectations matter for trust in others; 6) There is a large scope for policy action, as an increase in all significant determinants of trust in government by one standard deviation may be conducive to an increase in trust by 30 to 60%….(More)”.

Data is Dangerous: Comparing the Risks that the United States, Canada and Germany See in Data Troves


Paper by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “Data and national security have a complex relationship. Data is essential to national defense — to understanding and countering adversaries. Data underpins many modern military tools from drones to artificial intelligence. Moreover, to protect their citizens, governments collect lots of data about their constituents. Those same datasets are vulnerable to theft, hacking, and misuse. In 2013, the Department of Defense’s research arm (DARPA) funded a study examining if “ the availability of data provide a determined adversary with the tools necessary to inflict nation-state level damage. The results were not made public. Given the risks to the data of their citizens, defense officials should be vociferous advocates for interoperable data protection rules.

This policy brief uses case studies to show that inadequate governance of personal data can also undermine national security. The case studies represent diverse internet sectors affecting netizens differently. I do not address malware or disinformation, which are also issues of data governance, but have already been widely researched by other scholars. I illuminate how policymakers, technologists, and the public are/were unprepared for how inadequate governance spillovers affected national security. I then makes some specific recommendations about what we can do about this problem….(More)”.

The Computermen


Podcast Episode by Jill Lepore: “In 1966, just as the foundations of the Internet were being imagined, the federal government considered building a National Data Center. It would be a centralized federal facility to hold computer records from each federal agency, in the same way that the Library of Congress holds books and the National Archives holds manuscripts. Proponents argued that it would help regulate and compile the vast quantities of data the government was collecting. Quickly, though, fears about privacy, government conspiracies, and government ineptitude buried the idea. But now, that National Data Center looks like a missed opportunity to create rules about data and privacy before the Internet took off. And in the absence of government action, corporations have made those rules themselves….(More)”.

Experts Predict More Digital Innovation by 2030 Aimed at Enhancing Democracy


Emily A. Vogels, Lee Rainie and Janna Anderson at Pew Research: “A large share of experts and analysts worry that people’s technology use will mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation in the coming decade. Yet they also foresee significant social and civic innovation between now and 2030 to try to address emerging issues.

In this new report, technology experts who shared serious concerns for democracy in a recent Pew Research Center canvassing weigh in with their views about the likely changes and reforms that might occur in the coming years.

Overall, 697 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists responded to the following query:

Social and civic innovation and its impact on the new difficulties of the digital age: As the Industrial Revolution swept through societies, people eventually took steps to mitigate abuses and harms that emerged. For instance, new laws were enacted to make workplaces safer and protect children; standards were created for product safety and effectiveness; new kinds of organizations came into being to help workers (e.g., labor unions) and make urban life more meaningful (e.g., settlement houses, Boys/Girls Clubs); new educational institutions were created (e.g., trade schools); household roles in families were reconfigured.

Today’s “techlash” illuminates the issues that have surfaced in the digital era. We seek your insights as to whether and how reforms to ease these problems and others might unfold.

The question: Will significant social and civic innovation occur between now and 2030? By “social and civic innovation,” we mean the creation of things like new technology tools, legal protections, social norms, new or reconfigured groups and communities, educational efforts and other strategies to address digital-age challenges.

Some 84% of these respondents say there will be significant social and civic innovation between now and 2030, while 16% say there will not be significant social and civic innovation in the timeframe.

Asked a follow-up question about whether humans’ use of technology will lead to or prevent significant social and civic innovation, 69% of these expert respondents said they expect that technology use will help significantly mitigate problems20% predicted that technology use will effectively prevent significant mitigation of problems and 11% responded that it is likely that technology use will have no effect on social and civic innovation.

This is a nonscientific canvassing of experts, based on a non-random sample. The results represent only the opinions of individuals who responded to the query and are not projectable to any other population. The methodology underlying this canvassing is elaborated here. The bulk of this report covers these experts’ written answers explaining their responses.

Respondents in this canvassing sound three broad themes about the changing technology landscape and how it will impact citizens’ political and social activities.

First, they predict that overall connectivity between people and their devices will increase as more digital applications emerge that allow people to create, share and observe information. This trend could accelerate as people employ smart agents and bots to interact with other people or other people’s avatars. These experts say persistent and expanded human connectivity will affect the way people engage with each other as citizens and influence how they work to build groups aimed at impacting policy and politics. Some argue this will change the way people interact with democratic institutions….(More)”.

Do FOI laws and open government data deliver as anti-corruption policies? Evidence from a cross-country study


Paper by Mária Žuffová: “In election times, political parties promise in their manifestos to pass reforms increasing access to government information to root out corruption and improve public service delivery. Scholars have already offered several fascinating explanations of why governments adopt transparency policies that constrain their choices. However, knowledge of their impacts is limited. Does greater access to information deliver on its promises as an anti-corruption policy? While some research has already addressed this question in relation to freedom of information laws, the emergence of new digital technologies enabled new policies, such as open government data. Its effects on corruption remain empirically underexplored due to its novelty and a lack of measurements. In this article, I provide the first empirical study of the relationship between open government data, relative to FOI laws, and corruption. I propose a theoretical framework, which specifies conditions necessary for FOI laws and open government data to affect corruption levels, and I test it on a novel cross-country dataset.

The results suggest that the effects of open government data on corruption are conditional upon the quality of media and internet freedom. Moreover, other factors, such as free and fair elections, independent and accountable judiciary, or economic development, are far more critical for tackling corruption than increasing access to information. These findings are important for policies. In particular, digital transparency reforms will not yield results in the anti-corruption fight unless robust provisions safeguarding media and internet freedom complement them….(More)”.

The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today


Book by David Stasavage: “Historical accounts of democracy’s rise tend to focus on ancient Greece and pre-Renaissance Europe. The Decline and Rise of Democracy draws from global evidence to show that the story is much richer—democratic practices were present in many places, at many other times, from the Americas before European conquest, to ancient Mesopotamia, to precolonial Africa. Delving into the prevalence of early democracy throughout the world, David Stasavage makes the case that understanding how and where these democracies flourished—and when and why they declined—can provide crucial information not just about the history of governance, but also about the ways modern democracies work and where they could manifest in the future.

Drawing from examples spanning several millennia, Stasavage first considers why states developed either democratic or autocratic styles of governance and argues that early democracy tended to develop in small places with a weak state and, counterintuitively, simple technologies. When central state institutions (such as a tax bureaucracy) were absent—as in medieval Europe—rulers needed consent from their populace to govern. When central institutions were strong—as in China or the Middle East—consent was less necessary and autocracy more likely. He then explores the transition from early to modern democracy, which first took shape in England and then the United States, illustrating that modern democracy arose as an effort to combine popular control with a strong state over a large territory. Democracy has been an experiment that has unfolded over time and across the world—and its transformation is ongoing.

Amidst rising democratic anxieties, The Decline and Rise of Democracy widens the historical lens on the growth of political institutions and offers surprising lessons for all who care about governance….(More)”.