Novel forms of governance with high levels of civic self-reliance

Thesis by Hiska Ubels: “Enduring depopulation and ageing have affected the liveability of many of the smaller villages in the more peripheral rural municipalities of the Netherlands. Combined with a general climate of austerity and structural public budget cuts, this has led to the search of both communities and local governments for solutions in which citizens take and obtain more responsibilities and higher levels of local autonomy in dealing with local liveability challenges.

This PhD-thesis explores how novel forms of governance with high levels of civic self-reliance can be understood from the perspectives of the involved residents, local governments and the supposed beneficiaries. It also discusses the dynamics, potentials and limitations that come to the fore. To achieve this, firstly, it focusses on the development of role shifts of responsibilities and decision-making power between local governments and citizens in experimental governance initiatives over time and the main factors that enhance and obstruct higher levels of civic autonomy. Then it investigates the influence of government involvement on a civic initiatives’ organisation structure and governance process, and by doing so on the key conditions of its civic self-steering capacity. In addition, it examines how novel governance forms with citizens in the lead are experienced by the community members to whose community liveability they are supposed to contribute. Lastly, it explores the reasons why citizens do not engage in such initiatives….(More)”.

The Rise and Fall of Good-Governance Promotion

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi at the Journal of Democracy: “With the 2003 adoption of the UN Convention Against Corruption, good-governance norms have achieved—on the formal level at least—a degree of recognition that can fairly be called universal. This reflects a centuries-long struggle to establish the moral principle of “ethical universalism,” which brings together the ideas of equity, reciprocity, and impartiality. The West’s success in promoting this norm has been extraordinary, yet there are also significant risks. Despite expectations that international concern and increased regulation would lead to less corruption, current trends suggest otherwise. Exchanges between countries perceived as corrupt and countries perceived as noncorrupt seem to lead to an increase in corruption in the noncorrupt states rather than its decrease in the corrupt ones. Direct good-governance interventions have had poor results. And anticorruption has helped populist politicians, who use anti-elite rhetoric similar to that of anticorruption campaigners….(More)”.

Digital democracy: Is the future of civic engagement online?

Paper by Gianluca Sgueo: “Digital innovation is radically transforming democratic decision-making. Public administrations are experimenting with mobile applications(apps) to provide citizens with real-time information, using online platforms to crowdsource ideas, and testing algorithms to engage communities in day today administration. The key question is what technology breakthrough means for governance systems created long before digital disruption. On the one hand, policy-makers are hoping that technology can be used to legitimise the public sector, re-engage citizens in politics and combat civic apathy. Scholars, on the other hand, point out that, if the digitalisation of democracy is left unquestioned, the danger is that the building blocks of democracy itself will be eroded.

This briefing examines three key global trends that are driving the on-going digitalisation of democratic decision-making. First are demographic patterns. These highlight growing global inequalities. Ten years from now, in the West the differentials of power among social groups will be on the rise, whereas in Eastern countries democratic freedoms will be at risk of further decline.

Second, a more urbanised global population will make cities ideal settings for innovative approaches to democratic decision-making. Current instances of digital democracy being used at local level include blockchain technology for voting and online crowdsourcing platforms.

Third, technological advancements will cut the costs of civic mobilisation and pose new challenges for democratic systems. Going forward, democratic decision-makers will be required to bridge digital literacy gaps, secure public structures from hacking, and to protect citizens’ privacy….(More)”.

Transparent Lobbying and Democracy

Book by Šárka Laboutková, Vít Šimral and Petr Vymětal: “This book deals with the current, as yet unsolved, problem of transparency of lobbying. In the current theories and prevalent models that deal with lobbying activities, there is no reflection of the degree of transparency of lobbying, mainly due to the unclear distinction between corruption, lobbying in general, and transparent lobbying. This book provides a perspective on transparency in lobbying in a comprehensive and structured manner. It delivers an interdisciplinary approach to the topic and creates a methodology for assessing the transparency of lobbying, its role in the democratization process and a methodology for evaluating the main consequences of transparency. The new approach is applied to assess lobbying regulations in the countries of Central Eastern Europe and shows a method for how lobbying in other regions of the world may also be assessed….(More)”.

Shining light into the dark spaces of chat apps

Sharon Moshavi at Columbia Journalism Review: “News has migrated from print to the web to social platforms to mobile. Now, at the dawn of a new decade, it is heading to a place that presents a whole new set of challenges: the private, hidden spaces of instant messaging apps.  

WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and their ilk are platforms that journalists cannot ignore — even in the US, where chat-app usage is low. “I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, wrote in March 2019. By 2022, three billion people will be using them on a regular basis, according to Statista

But fewer journalists worldwide are using these platforms to disseminate news than they were two years ago, as ICFJ discovered in its 2019 “State of Technology in Global Newsrooms” survey. That’s a particularly dangerous trend during an election year, because messaging apps are potential minefields of misinformation. 

American journalists should take stock of recent elections in India and Brazil, ahead of which misinformation flooded WhatsApp. ICFJ’s “TruthBuzz” projects found coordinated and widespread disinformation efforts using text, videos, and photos on that platform.  

It is particularly troubling given that more people now use it as a primary source for information. In Brazil, one in four internet users consult WhatsApp weekly as a news source. A recent report from New York University’s Center for Business and Human Rights warned that WhatsApp “could become a troubling source of false content in the US, as it has been during elections in Brazil and India.” It’s imperative that news media figure out how to map the contours of these opaque, unruly spaces, and deliver fact-based news to those who congregate there….(More)”.

Rejuvenating Democracy Promotion

Essay by Thomas Carothers: “Adverse political developments in both established and newer democracies, especially the abdication by the United States of its traditional leadership role, have cast international democracy support into doubt. Yet international action on behalf of democracy globally remains necessary and possible. Moreover, some important elements of continuity remain, including overall Western spending on democracy assistance. Democracy support must adapt to its changed circumstances by doing more to take new geopolitical realities into account; effacing the boundary between support for democracy in new and in established democracies; strengthening the economic dimension of democracy assistance; and moving technological issues to the forefront…(More)”.

Tech groups cannot be allowed to hide from scrutiny

Marietje Schaake at the Financial Times: “Technology companies have governments over a barrel. Whether they are maximising traffic flow efficiency, matching pupils with their school preferences, trying to anticipate drought based on satellite and soil data, most governments heavily rely on critical infrastructure and artificial intelligence developed by the private sector. This growing dependence has profound implications for democracy.

An unprecedented information asymmetry is growing between companies and governments. We can see this in the long-running investigation into interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. Companies build voter registries, voting machines and tallying tools, while social media companies sell precisely targeted advertisements using information gleaned by linking data on friends, interests, location, shopping and search.

This has big privacy and competition implications, yet oversight is minimal. Governments, researchers and citizens risk being blindsided by the machine room that powers our lives and vital aspects of our democracies. Governments and companies have fundamentally different incentives on transparency and accountability.

While openness is the default and secrecy the exception for democratic governments, companies resist providing transparency about their algorithms and business models. Many of them actively prevent accountability, citing rules that protect trade secrets.

We must revisit these protections when they shield companies from oversight. There is a place for protecting proprietary information from commercial competitors, but the scope and context need to be clarified and balanced when they have an impact on democracy and the rule of law.

Regulators must act to ensure that those designing and running algorithmic processes do not abuse trade secret protections. Tech groups also use the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation to deny access to company information. Although the regulation was enacted to protect citizens against the mishandling of personal data, it is now being wielded cynically to deny scientists access to data sets for research. The European Data Protection Supervisor has intervened, but problems could recur. To mitigate concerns about the power of AI, provider companies routinely promise that the applications will be understandable, explainable, accountable, reliable, contestable, fair and — don’t forget — ethical.

Yet there is no way to test these subjective notions without access to the underlying data and information. Without clear benchmarks and information to match, proper scrutiny of the way vital data is processed and used will be impossible….(More)”.

Lies, Deception and Democracy

Essay by Richard Bellamy: “This essay explores how far democracy is compatible with lies and deception, and whether it encourages or discourages their use by politicians. Neo-Kantian arguments, such as Newey’s, that lies and deception undermine individual autonomy and the possibility for consent go too far, given that no democratic process can be regarded as a plausible mechanism for achieving collective consent to state policies. However, they can be regarded as incompatible with a more modest account of democracy as a system of public equality among political equals.

On this view, the problem with lies and deception derives from their being instruments of manipulation and domination. Both can be distinguished from ‘spin’, with a working democracy being capable of uncovering them and so incentivising politicians to be truthful. Nevertheless, while lies and deception will find you out, bullshit and post truth disregard and subvert truth respectively, and as such prove more pernicious as they admit of no standard whereby they might be challenged….(More)”.

On Digital Disinformation and Democratic Myths

 David Karpf at MediaWell: “…How many votes did Cambridge Analytica affect in the 2016 presidential election? How much of a difference did the company actually make?

Cambridge Analytica has become something of a Rorschach test among those who pay attention to digital disinformation and microtargeted propaganda. Some hail the company as a digital Svengali, harnessing the power of big data to reshape the behavior of the American electorate. Others suggest the company was peddling digital snake oil, with outlandish marketing claims that bore little resemblance to their mundane product.

One thing is certain: the company has become a household name, practically synonymous with disinformation and digital propaganda in the aftermath of the 2016 election. It has claimed credit for the surprising success of the Brexit referendum and for the Trump digital strategy. Journalists such as Carole Cadwalladr and Hannes Grasseger and Mikael Krogerus have published longform articles that dive into the “psychographic” breakthroughs that the company claims to have made. Cadwalladr also exposed the links between the company and a network of influential conservative donors and political operatives. Whistleblower Chris Wylie, who worked for a time as the company’s head of research, further detailed how it obtained a massive trove of Facebook data on tens of millions of American citizens, in violation of Facebook’s terms of service. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has been a driving force in the current “techlash,” and has been the topic of congressional hearings, documentaries, mass-market books, and scholarly articles.

The reasons for concern are numerous. The company’s own marketing materials boasted about radical breakthroughs in psychographic targeting—developing psychological profiles of every US voter so that political campaigns could tailor messages to exploit psychological vulnerabilities. Those marketing claims were paired with disturbing revelations about the company violating Facebook’s terms of service to scrape tens of millions of user profiles, which were then compiled into a broader database of US voters. Cambridge Analytica behaved unethically. It either broke a lot of laws or demonstrated that old laws needed updating. When the company shut down, no one seemed to shed a tear.

But what is less clear is just how different Cambridge Analytica’s product actually was from the type of microtargeted digital advertisements that every other US electoral campaign uses. Many of the most prominent researchers warning the public about how Cambridge Analytica uses our digital exhaust to “hack our brains” are marketing professors, more accustomed to studying the impact of advertising in commerce than in elections. The political science research community has been far more skeptical. An investigation from Nature magazine documented that the evidence of Cambridge Analytica’s independent impact on voter behavior is basically nonexistent (Gibney 2018). There is no evidence that psychographic targeting actually works at the scale of the American electorate, and there is also no evidence that Cambridge Analytica in fact deployed psychographic models while working for the Trump campaign. The company clearly broke Facebook’s terms of service in acquiring its massive Facebook dataset. But it is not clear that the massive dataset made much of a difference.

At issue in the Cambridge Analytica case are two baseline assumptions about political persuasion in elections. First, what should be our point of comparison for digital propaganda in elections? Second, how does political persuasion in elections compare to persuasion in commercial arenas and marketing in general?…(More)”.

Open Democracy and Digital Technologies

Paper by Hélène Landemore: “…looks at the connection between democratic theory and technological constraints, and argues for renovating our paradigm of democracy to make the most of the technological opportunities offered by the digital revolution. The most attractive normative theory of democracy currently available—Habermas’ model of a two-track deliberative sphere—is, for all its merits, a self-avowed rationalization of representative democracy, a system born in the 18th century under different epistemological, conceptual, and technological constraints. In this
paper I show the limits of this model and defend instead an alternative paradigm of democracy I call “open democracy,” in which digital technologies are assumed to make it possible to transcend a number of dichotomies, including that between ordinary citizens and democratic representatives.

Rather than just imagining a digitized version or extension of existing institutions and practices—representative democracy as we know it—I thus take the opportunities offered by the digital revolution (its technological “affordances,” in the jargon) to envision new democratic institutions and means of democratic empowerment, some of which are illustrated in the vignette with which this paper started. In other words, rather that start from what is— our electoral democracies, I start from what democracy could mean, if we reinvented it more or less from scratch today with the help of digital technologies.

The first section lays out the problems with and limits of our current practice and theory of democracy.

The second section traces these problems to conceptual design flaws partially induced by 18th century conceptual, epistemological, and technological constraints.

Section three lays out an alternative theory of democracy I call “open democracy,” which avoids some of these design flaws, and introduces the institutional features of this new paradigm that are specifically enabled by digital technologies: deliberation and democratic representation….(More)”.