Digitally Invisible: How the Internet is Creating the New Underclass

Book by Nicol Turner Lee: “President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the United States would close the digital divide under his leadership. However, the divide still affects people and communities across the country. The complex and persistent reality is that millions of residents live in digital deserts, and many more face disproportionate difficulties when it comes to getting and staying online, especially people of color, seniors, rural residents, and farmers in remote areas.

Economic and health disparities are worsening in rural communities without available internet access. Students living in urban digital deserts with little technology exposure are ill prepared to compete for emerging occupations. Even seniors struggle to navigate the aging process without access to online information and remote care.

In this book, Nicol Turner Lee, a leading expert on the American digital divide, uses personal stories from individuals around the country to show how the emerging digital underclass is navigating the spiraling online economy, while sharing their joys and hopes for an equitable and just future.

Turner Lee argues that achieving digital equity is crucial for the future of America’s global competitiveness and requires radical responses to offset the unintended consequences of increasing digitization. In the end, “Digitally Invisible” proposes a pathway to more equitable access to existing and emerging technologies, while encouraging readers to weigh in on this shared goal…(More)”.

Kenya’s biggest protest in recent history played out on a walkie-talkie app

Article by Stephanie Wangari: “Betty had never heard of the Zello app until June 18.

But as she participated in Kenya’s “GenZ protests” that month — one of the biggest in the country’s history — the app became her savior.

On Zello, “we were getting updates and also updating others on where the tear-gas canisters were being lobbed and which streets had been cordoned off,” Betty, 27, told Rest of World, requesting to be identified by a pseudonym as she feared backlash from the police. “At one point, I also alerted the group [about] suspected undercover investigative officers who were wearing balaclavas.”

The speed of communicating over Zello made it the primary tool to mobilize crowds and coordinate logistics during the protests. Stephanie Wangari

Nairobi witnessed massive protests in June as thousands of young Kenyans came out on the streets against a proposed bill that would increase taxes on staple foods and other essential goods and services. At least 39 people were killed, 361 were injured, and more than 335 were arrested by the police during the protests, according to human rights groups.

Amid the mayhem, Zello, an app developed by U.S. engineer Alexey Gavrilov in 2007, became the primary tool for protestors to communicate, mobilize crowds, and coordinate logistics. Six protesters told Rest of World that Zello, which allows smartphones to be used as walkie-talkies, helped them find meeting points, evade the police, and alert each other to potential dangers. 

Digital services experts and political analysts said the app helped the protests become one of the most effective in the country’s history.

According to Herman Manyora, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, mobilization had always been the greatest challenge in organizing previous protests in Kenya. The ability to turn their “phones into walkie-talkies” made the difference for protesters, he told Rest of World.

“The government realized that the young people were able to navigate technological challenges. You switch off one app, such as [X], they move to another,” Manyora said.

Zello was downloaded over 40,000 times on the Google Play store in Kenya between June 17 and June 25, according to data from the company. This was “well above our usual numbers,” a company spokesperson told Rest of World. Zello did not respond to additional requests for comment…(More)

Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative

Paper by Alexander A. Guerrero: “It is widely accepted that electoral representative democracy is better — along a number of different normative dimensions — than any other alternative lawmaking political arrangement. It is not typically seen as much of a competition: it is also widely accepted that the only legitimate alternative to electoral representative democracy is some form of direct democracy, but direct democracy — we are told — would lead to bad policy. This article makes the case that there is a legitimate alternative system — one that uses lotteries, not elections, to select political officials — that would be better than electoral representative democracy. Part I diagnoses two significant failings of modern-day systems of electoral representative government: the failure of responsiveness and the failure of good governance. The argument offered suggests that these flaws run deep, so that even significant and politically unlikely reforms with respect to campaign finance and election law would make little difference. Although my distillation of the argument is novel, the basic themes will likely be familiar. I anticipate the initial response to the argument may be familiar as well: the Churchillian shrug. Parts II, III, and IV of this article represent the beginning of an effort to move past that response, to think about alternative political systems that might avoid some of the problems with the electoral representative system without introducing new and worse problems. In the second and third parts of the article, I outline an alternative political system, the lottocratic system, and present some of the virtues of such a system. In the fourth part of the article, I consider some possible problems for the system. The overall aims of this article are to raise worries for electoral systems of government, to present the lottocratic system and to defend the view that this system might be a normatively attractive alternative, removing a significant hurdle to taking a non-electoral system of government seriously as a possible improvement to electoral democracy…(More)”

United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity

United Nations: “Technological advances have revolutionized communications, connecting people on a previously unthinkable scale. They have supported communities in times of crisis, elevated marginalized voices and helped mobilize global movements for racial justice and gender equality.

Yet these same advances have enabled the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech at an unprecedented volume, velocity and virality, risking the integrity of the information ecosystem.

New and escalating risks stemming from leaps in AI technologies have made strengthening information integrity one of the urgent tasks of our time.

This clear and present global threat demands coordinated international action.

The United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity show us another future is possible…(More)”

The tools of global spycraft have changed

The Economist: “A few years ago intelligence analysts observed that internet-connected CCTV cameras in Taiwan and South Korea were inexplicably talking to vital parts of the Indian power grid. The strange connection turned out to be a deliberately circuitous route by which Chinese spies were communicating with malware they had previously buried deep inside crucial parts of the Indian grid (presumably to enable future sabotage). The analysts spotted it because they were scanning the internet to look for “command and control” (c2) nodes—such as cameras—that hackers use as stepping stones to their victims.

The attack was not revealed by an Indian or Western intelligence agency, but by Recorded Future, a firm in Somerville, Massachusetts. Christopher Ahlberg, its boss, claims the company has knowledge of more c2 nodes than anyone in the world. “We use that to bust Chinese and Russian intel operations constantly.” It also has billions of stolen log-in details found on the dark web (a hard-to-access part of the internet) and collects millions of images daily. “We know every UK company, every Chinese company, every Indian company,” says Mr Ahlberg.  Recorded Future has 1,700 clients in 75 countries, including 47 governments.

The Chinese intrusion and its discovery were a microcosm of modern intelligence. The internet, and devices connected to it, is everywhere, offering opportunities galore for surveillance, entrapment and covert operations. The entities monitoring it, and acting on it, are often private firms, not government agencies…(More)” See Special Issue on Watching the Watchers

Satisfaction with democracy has declined in recent years in high-income nations

Pew Research Center: “..Since 2017, we’ve regularly asked people in 12 economically advanced democracies how satisfied they are with the state of their democracy. Overall, satisfaction declined in these countries between 2017 and 2019 before bouncing back in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trend chart over time showing that satisfaction with democracy across 12 high-income, democratic countries is down in recent years

Since 2021, however, people in these nations have become more frustrated with their democracies. A median of 49% across these 12 nations were satisfied with the way their democracy was working in 2021; today, just 36% hold this view. (The 2024 survey was conducted before the European Parliament elections in June.)

Trend chart over time showing declines in satisfaction with democracy since 2021 across 9 countries

Satisfaction is lower today than it was in 2021 in nine of the 12 nations where we have asked the question consistently. This includes six countries where satisfaction has dropped by double digits: Canada, Germany, Greece, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Satisfaction has not increased in any of the 12 countries surveyed…(More)”

From Waves to Ecosystems: The Next Stage of Democratic Innovation

Paper by Josh Lerner: “Anti-democratic movements are surging around the world, threatening to undermine elections and replace them with oligarchy. Pro-democracy movements mainly focus on defending elections, even though most people think that elections alone are inadequate. While elections dominate current thinking about democracy, the history and future of democracy is much broader. For over 5,000 years, people have built up competing waves of electoral, direct, deliberative, and participatory democracy. We are now seeing a transition, however, from waves to ecosystems. Rather than seeking one single solution to our ailing democracy, a new generation of democracy reformers is weaving together different democratic practices into balanced democratic ecosystems. This white paper provides a roadmap for this emerging next stage of democratic innovation. It reviews the limitations of elections, the different waves of democratic innovation and efforts to connect them, and key challenges and strategies for building healthy ecosystems of democracy…(More)”.

Invisible Rulers: The People Who Turn Lies into Reality

Book by Renée DiResta: “…investigation into the way power and influence have been profoundly transformed reveals how a virtual rumor mill of niche propagandists increasingly shapes public opinion. While propagandists position themselves as trustworthy Davids, their reach, influence, and economics make them classic Goliaths—invisible rulers who create bespoke realities to revolutionize politics, culture, and society. Their work is driven by a simple maxim: if you make it trend, you make it true.
By revealing the machinery and dynamics of the interplay between influencers, algorithms, and online crowds, DiResta vividly illustrates the way propagandists deliberately undermine belief in the fundamental legitimacy of institutions that make society work. This alternate system for shaping public opinion, unexamined until now, is rewriting the relationship between the people and their government in profound ways. It has become a force so shockingly effective that its destructive power seems limitless. Scientific proof is powerless in front of it. Democratic validity is bulldozed by it. Leaders are humiliated by it. But they need not be.
With its deep insight into the power of propagandists to drive online crowds into battle—while bearing no responsibility for the consequences—Invisible Rulers not only predicts those consequences but offers ways for leaders to rapidly adapt and fight back…(More)”.

The Deliberative Turn in Democratic Theory

Book by Antonino Palumbo: “Thirty years of developments in deliberative democracy (DD) have consolidated this subfield of democratic theory. The acquired disciplinary prestige has made theorist and practitioners very confident about the ability of DD to address the legitimacy crisis experienced by liberal democracies at present at both theoretical and practical levels. The book advance a critical analysis of these developments that casts doubts on those certainties — current theoretical debates are reproposing old methodological divisions, and are afraid to move beyond the minimalist model of democracy advocated by liberal thinkers; democratic experimentation at the micro-level seems to have no impact at the macro-level, and remain sets of isolated experiences. The book indicates that those defects are mainly due to the liberal minimalist frame of reference within which reflection in democratic theory and practice takes place. Consequently, it suggests to move beyond liberal understandings of democracy as a game in need of external rules, and adopt instead a vision of democracy as a self-correcting metagame…(More)”.

Why the future of democracy could depend on your group chats

Article by Nathan Schneider: “I became newly worried about the state of democracy when, a few years ago, my mother was elected president of her neighborhood garden club.

Her election wasn’t my worry – far from it. At the time, I was trying to resolve a conflict on a large email group I had created. Someone, inevitably, was being a jerk on the internet. I had the power to remove them, but did I have the right? I realized that the garden club had in its bylaws something I had never seen in nearly all the online communities I had been part of: basic procedures to hold people with power accountable to everyone else.

The internet has yet to catch up to my mother’s garden club.

When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the early 1830s, he made an observation that social scientists have seen over and over since: Democracy at the state and national levels depends on everyday organizations like that garden club. He called them “schools” for practicing the “general theory of association.” As members of small democracies, people were learning to be citizens of a democratic country.

How many people experience those kinds of schools today?

People interact online more than offline nowadays. Rather than practicing democracy, people most likely find themselves getting suspended from a Facebook group they rely on with no reason given or option to appeal. Or a group of friends join a chat together, but only one of them has the ability to change its settings. Or people see posts from Elon Musk inserted into their mentions on X, which he owns. All of these situations are examples of what I call “implicit feudalism.”…(More)”.