How to get to the core of democracy


Blog by Toralf Stark, Norma Osterberg-Kaufmann and Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach: “…Many criticisms of conceptions of democracy are directed more at the institutional design than at its normative underpinnings. These include such things as the concept of representativeness. We propose focussing more on the normative foundations assessed by the different institutional frameworks than discussing the institutional frameworks themselves. We develop a new concept, which we call the ‘core principle of democracy’. By doing so, we address the conceptual and methodological puzzles theoretically and empirically. Thus, we embrace a paradigm shift.

Collecting data is ultimately meaningless if we do not find ways to assess, summarise and theorise it. Kei Nishiyama argued we must ‘shift our attention away from the concept of democracy and towards concepts of democracy’. By the term concept we, in line with Nishiyama, are following Rawls. Rawls claimed that ‘the concept of democracy refers to a single, common principle that transcends differences and on which everyone agrees’. In contrast with this, ‘ideas of democracy (…) refer to different, sometimes contested ideas based on a common concept’. This is what Laurence Whitehead calls the ‘timeless essence of democracy’….

Democracy is a latent construct and, by nature, not directly observable. Nevertheless, we are searching for indicators and empirically observable characteristics we can assign to democratic conceptions. However, by focusing only on specific patterns of institutions, only sometimes derived from theoretical considerations, we block our view of its multiple meanings. Thus, we’ve no choice but to search behind the scenes for the underlying ‘core’ principle the institutions serve.

The singular core principle that all concepts of democracy seek to realise is political self-efficacy…(More)”.

Political self-efficacy
Source: authors’ own compilation

To Play Is the Thing: How Game Design Principles Can Make Online Deliberation Compelling


Paper by John Gastil: “This essay draws from game design to improve the prospects of democratic deliberation during government consultation with the public. The argument begins by reviewing the problem of low-quality deliberation in contemporary discourse, then explains how games can motivate participants to engage in demanding behaviors, such as deliberation. Key design features include: the origin, governance, and oversight of the game; the networked small groups at the center of the game; the objectives of these groups; the purpose of artificial intelligence and automated metrics for measuring deliberation; the roles played by public officials and nongovernmental organizations during the game; and the long-term payoff of playing the game for both its convenors and its participants. The essay concludes by considering this project’s wider theoretical significance for deliberative democracy, the first steps for governments and nonprofit organizations adopting this design, and the hazards of using advanced digital technology…(More)”.

Democracy: by design and on the move


Essay by Erica Dorn and Federico Vaz: “We live in an era of hyper-mobility, marked by the mass movement of people virtually, trans-locally, and globally. More people are on the move than ever before in human history. Today, dispersed across the globe, there are between 272 million and one billion migrants. More than 15 million people worldwide live without nationality, and an even larger number of people live undocumented.

Much like James C. Scott, it can be tempting to think that the state has always seemed to be the enemy of ‘people who move around‘. For the kinetic elite, borders are thresholds of access. Meanwhile, for a growing number of displaced people, borders represent inhumane exclusion.

More than 15 million people worldwide live without nationality, and an even larger number of people live undocumented

Current democratic structures designed to be representative of the people cannot adapt to the increasing number of people on the move. As a result, an overwhelming gap exists between the rapidly changing reality of democracies made up of ineligible voters, and the need for inclusive participation in the democratic process.

In the US, several cities, including New York, have taken measures to pass non-citizen voting policies. These promote the inclusion of more residents in local elections. However, given generally low voter turnout, it will take more than voting rights to create more inclusive democracies…(More)”.

Against Progress: Intellectual Property and Fundamental Values in the Internet Age


Book by Jessica Silbey: “When first written into the Constitution, intellectual property aimed to facilitate “progress of science and the useful arts” by granting rights to authors and inventors. Today, when rapid technological evolution accompanies growing wealth inequality and political and social divisiveness, the constitutional goal of “progress” may pertain to more basic, human values, redirecting IP’s emphasis to the commonweal instead of private interests. Against Progress considers contemporary debates about intellectual property law as concerning the relationship between the constitutional mandate of progress and fundamental values, such as equality, privacy, and distributive justice, that are increasingly challenged in today’s internet age. Following a legal analysis of various intellectual property court cases, Jessica Silbey examines the experiences of everyday creators and innovators navigating ownership, sharing, and sustainability within the internet eco-system and current IP laws. Crucially, the book encourages refiguring the substance of “progress” and the function of intellectual property in terms that demonstrate the urgency of art and science to social justice today…(More)”.

Global Struggle Over AI Surveillance


Report by the National Endowment for Democracy: “From cameras that identify the faces of passersby to algorithms that keep tabs on public sentiment online, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools are opening new frontiers in state surveillance around the world. Law enforcement, national security, criminal justice, and border management organizations in every region are relying on these technologies—which use statistical pattern recognition, machine learning, and big data analytics—to monitor citizens.

What are the governance implications of these enhanced surveillance capabilities?

This report explores the challenge of safeguarding democratic principles and processes as AI technologies enable governments to collect, process, and integrate unprecedented quantities of data about the online and offline activities of individual citizens. Three complementary essays examine the spread of AI surveillance systems, their impact, and the transnational struggle to erect guardrails that uphold democratic values.

In the lead essay, Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, assesses the global spread of AI surveillance tools and ongoing efforts at the local, national, and multilateral levels to set rules for their design, deployment, and use. It gives particular attention to the dynamics in young or fragile democracies and hybrid regimes, where checks on surveillance powers may be weakened but civil society still has space to investigate and challenge surveillance deployments.

Two case studies provide more granular depictions of how civil society can influence this norm-shaping process: In the first, Eduardo Ferreyra of Argentina’s Asociación por los Derechos Civiles discusses strategies for overcoming common obstacles to research and debate on surveillance systems. In the second, Danilo Krivokapic of Serbia’s SHARE Foundation describes how his organization drew national and global attention to the deployment of Huawei smart cameras in Belgrade…(More)”.

Americans’ Views of Government: Decades of Distrust, Enduring Support for Its Role


Pew Research: “Americans remain deeply distrustful of and dissatisfied with their government. Just 20% say they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time – a sentiment that has changed very little since former President George W. Bush’s second term in office.

Chart shows low public trust in federal government has persisted for nearly two decades

The public’s criticisms of the federal government are many and varied. Some are familiar: Just 6% say the phrase “careful with taxpayer money” describes the federal government extremely or very well; another 21% say this describes the government somewhat well. A comparably small share (only 8%) describes the government as being responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans.

The federal government gets mixed ratings for its handling of specific issues. Evaluations are highly positive in some respects, including for responding to natural disasters (70% say the government does a good job of this) and keeping the country safe from terrorism (68%). However, only about a quarter of Americans say the government has done a good job managing the immigration system and helping people get out of poverty (24% each). And the share giving the government a positive rating for strengthening the economy has declined 17 percentage points since 2020, from 54% to 37%.

Yet Americans’ unhappiness with government has long coexisted with their continued support for government having a substantial role in many realms. And when asked how much the federal government does to address the concerns of various groups in the United States, there is a widespread belief that it does too little on issues affecting many of the groups asked about, including middle-income people (69%), those with lower incomes (66%) and retired people (65%)…(More)”.

How harmful is social media?


Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New Yorker: “In April, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic in which he sought to explain, as the piece’s title had it, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Anyone familiar with Haidt’s work in the past half decade could have anticipated his answer: social media. Although Haidt concedes that political polarization and factional enmity long predate the rise of the platforms, and that there are plenty of other factors involved, he believes that the tools of virality—Facebook’s Like and Share buttons, Twitter’s Retweet function—have algorithmically and irrevocably corroded public life. He has determined that a great historical discontinuity can be dated with some precision to the period between 2010 and 2014, when these features became widely available on phones….

After Haidt’s piece was published, the Google Doc—“Social Media and Political Dysfunction: A Collaborative Review”—was made available to the public. Comments piled up, and a new section was added, at the end, to include a miscellany of Twitter threads and Substack essays that appeared in response to Haidt’s interpretation of the evidence. Some colleagues and kibbitzers agreed with Haidt. But others, though they might have shared his basic intuition that something in our experience of social media was amiss, drew upon the same data set to reach less definitive conclusions, or even mildly contradictory ones. Even after the initial flurry of responses to Haidt’s article disappeared into social-media memory, the document, insofar as it captured the state of the social-media debate, remained a lively artifact.

Near the end of the collaborative project’s introduction, the authors warn, “We caution readers not to simply add up the number of studies on each side and declare one side the winner.” The document runs to more than a hundred and fifty pages, and for each question there are affirmative and dissenting studies, as well as some that indicate mixed results. According to one paper, “Political expressions on social media and the online forum were found to (a) reinforce the expressers’ partisan thought process and (b) harden their pre-existing political preferences,” but, according to another, which used data collected during the 2016 election, “Over the course of the campaign, we found media use and attitudes remained relatively stable. Our results also showed that Facebook news use was related to modest over-time spiral of depolarization. Furthermore, we found that people who use Facebook for news were more likely to view both pro- and counter-attitudinal news in each wave. Our results indicated that counter-attitudinal exposure increased over time, which resulted in depolarization.” If results like these seem incompatible, a perplexed reader is given recourse to a study that says, “Our findings indicate that political polarization on social media cannot be conceptualized as a unified phenomenon, as there are significant cross-platform differences.”…(More)”.

Pandemic X Infodemic: How States Shaped Narratives During COVID-19


Report by Innovation for Change – East Asia (I4C-EA): “The COVID-19 pandemic has left many unprecedented records in the history of the world. The coronavirus crisis was the first large-scale pandemic that began in a time when the internet and social media connect people to each other. It provided the latest information to respond to the COVID-19 and the technology to ask about each other’s well-being. Yet, it spread and amplified disinformation and misinformation that made the situation worse in real-time.

In addition, some countries have had opaque communications with the public about the COVID-19, and some government officials have aided in the dissemination of unconfirmed information. Other countries also created their own narratives on the COVID-19 and were reluctant to disclose important information to the public. This has led to restrictions on freedom of expression. Activists and journalists who tell the different stories from the state-shaped narrative were arrested.

To strengthen civil society’s effort to empower the public with better access to the truth, the Innovation for Change – East Asia Hub initiated “Pandemic X Infodemic: How States Shaped Narratives During COVID-19“; a research to track East Asian governments’ information, disinformation, and misinformation efforts in their respective policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020-21. This research covered four countries – China, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines – with one thematic focus on migrants in the receiving countries of Thailand and Singapore…(More)”.

Social Engineering: How Crowdmasters, Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls Created a New Form of Manipulative Communication


Open Access book by Robert W. Gehl, and Sean T Lawson: “Manipulative communication—from early twentieth-century propaganda to today’s online con artistry—examined through the lens of social engineering. The United States is awash in manipulated information about everything from election results to the effectiveness of medical treatments. Corporate social media is an especially good channel for manipulative communication, with Facebook a particularly willing vehicle for it. In Social Engineering, Robert Gehl and Sean Lawson show that online misinformation has its roots in earlier techniques: mass social engineering of the early twentieth century and interpersonal hacker social engineering of the 1970s, converging today into what they call “masspersonal social engineering.” As Gehl and Lawson trace contemporary manipulative communication back to earlier forms of social engineering, possibilities for amelioration become clearer.

The authors show how specific manipulative communication practices are a mixture of information gathering, deception, and truth-indifferent statements, all with the instrumental goal of getting people to take actions the social engineer wants them to. Yet the term “fake news,” they claim, reduces everything to a true/false binary that fails to encompass the complexity of manipulative communication or to map onto many of its practices. They pay special attention to concepts and terms used by hacker social engineers, including the hacker concept of “bullshitting,” which the authors describe as a truth-indifferent mix of deception, accuracy, and sociability. They conclude with recommendations for how society can undermine masspersonal social engineering and move toward healthier democratic deliberation…(More)”.

Why Democracy vs. Autocracy Misses the Point


Essay by Jean-Marie Guéhenno: “I have always been a contrarian. I was a contrarian in 1989 when I wrote my first book, criticizing the idea—then widely held—that democracy had triumphed once and for all. And today I find that I’m a contrarian again with my new book, because everybody is talking about the confrontation between democracies and autocracies and I think that’s missing the point.

Something much more important is happening: the revolution of data, the Internet, and artificial intelligence. I believe we are on the cusp of an earthquake in the history of humanity of a kind that happens only once in hundreds of years. The most recent comparison is the Renaissance, and the pace of change today is much quicker than back then.

The institutions we built in the pre-data age are soon going to be completely overwhelmed, and thinking in terms of the old categories of democracies versus autocracies misses all the new challenges that they will have to face. This is a time of great peril as well as great promise, as was the Renaissance—not only the era of Leonard da Vinci, but also a century of religious wars.

The current revolution of data and algorithms is redistributing power in a way that cannot be compared to any historical shift. Traditionally we think of power concentrating in the hands of the leaders of states or big industrial companies. But power, increasingly, is in the hands of algorithms that are tasked (initially by humans) with learning and changing themselves, and evolve in ways we do not predict.

That means the owners of Google or Facebook or Amazon are not the masters of our destiny in the same sense as previous corporate titans. Similarly, while it is true to some extent that data will give dictators unprecedented power to manipulate society, they may also come to be dominated by the evolution of the algorithms on which they depend.

We see already how algorithms are reshaping politics. Social media has created self-contained tribes which do not speak to each other. The most important thing in democracy is not the vote itself, but the process of deliberation before the vote, and social media is quickly fragmenting the common ground on which such deliberations have been built.

How can societies exert control over how algorithms manage data, and whether they foster hatred or harmony? Institutions that are able to control this new power are not yet really in place. What they should look like will be one of the great debates of the future.

I don’t have the answers: I believe no human mind can anticipate the extent of the transformations that are going to happen. Indeed, I think the very notion that you can know today what will be the right institutions for the future is hubristic. The best institutions (and people) will be those that are most adaptable.

However, I believe that one promising approach is to think in terms of the relationship between the logic of knowledge and the logic of democracy. Take central banks as an example. The average citizen does not have a clue about how monetary policy works. Instead we rely on politicians to task the experts at central banks to try achieve a certain goal—it could be full employment, or a stable currency….(More)”.