Is technology a threat to democracy?

Heap is a verb, says Van Belkom. †Heap is really something other than optimism. Many people are dissatisfied, distrust of politics is high and turnout is low. Heap means that there are opportunities to reverse the trend and strengthen democracy. We have to work and there are obstacles in the way, but it is possible. ”

The danger of technology

Van Belkom works for the Foundation for the Future of Technology (STT). In his latest book, Live and Clicking, he examines the possible impact of technology on democracy. “We all know the dangers. Think of fake news, filter bubbles and micro-targeting à la Cambridge Analytica. But if you look at scientific studies, the impact turns out to be less than you often think. Democracy may not be in good shape, but technology has not only the blame. The reality is more nuanced. “

Take fake news. Parents in particular are worried that their children are spreading fake news. But what turns out? Young people recognize fake news much faster than older people. In addition, older people are more likely to spread fake news than younger people. According to Scientific “Research shows that the effects of microtargeting are also overestimated. It seems to have little effect on voice behavior.”


“The filter bubble is another example that needs nuance. You can look for information outside of your bubble without too much effort, but people are deliberately looking for their own echo chamber. It’s not just the fault of an algorithm. The avoidance of conflicting views has been attributed in psychology for decades to ‘conformation bias’† Such an echo chamber is therefore nothing new. During the formation of the pillars, this effect was perhaps stronger than it is now. “

According to Van Belkom, this does not mean that there are no problems. But if we want to solve the problems, we will not get there by simply adjusting the algorithms. “We have to consider our human nature.”

Barriers to participation

Fortunately, we are not hopelessly lost. But as Van Belkom says: there is work to be done. It is also important that more people commit themselves to a positive future for democracy. Technology can help, but the government must first remove the current barriers to citizen participation.

“At the moment, participation is too little embedded in decision-making. As a result, participation is limited and results are easily set aside. Then you as a government do not take participation seriously, and that is catastrophic for the motivation of the residents. “

“The random nature of participation is also a problem. There is often a moment of public participation, and then the policy makers continue. But good participation is part of the whole process from A to Z. Some will only think at the beginning, others with the intermediate stages or the final phase. If you only organize one consultation moment, participation is not inclusive. ”

Also read Eva Rovers ‘prayer for the citizens’ report.

Opportunities for digital democracy

Young people are a target group that is difficult to reach. “Young people still vote less often than older people, and you almost never see them at consultation evenings,” says Van Belkom. “It can be concluded that young people are not interested in democracy. But the interesting thing is that it is precisely the young people who are often present during protests. Therefore, my conclusion is that the current democratic tools are not suitable for young people. “

“In addition to the young people, there are other underprivileged citizens who are less likely to participate in democratic processes. We must not try to change these citizens, but the opportunities to participate. For protest and activism is also a form of involvement. It can be valuable for democracy. “

From activism to constructivism
In 2014, the Zonnebloem movement occupied the Taiwanese parliament of dissatisfaction with the trade agreement with China. Via livestreams, the whole country could follow, while the movement met to make the government more transparent and develop participation tools. After three weeks, the government decided to cancel the trade agreement. One of the protesters, Audrey Tang, was even appointed Minister of Digital Affairs. She launches the successful vTaiwan, with which citizens can help with new legislation using digital means. One of the first successes has been the regulation of Uber – a previously polarized topic where the interests of taxi drivers, Uber drivers and customers seemed incompatible. Consensus was discovered with algorithms.

Conditions for digital participation

The key question, of course, is how we make (digital) democracy more inclusive and fair. Van Belkom concludes his book with eight recommendations.

  • 1: Take dissatisfaction seriously. For room for criticism of power is one of the conditions for a healthy democracy.
  • 2: Have confidence in the citizen and be transparent as a government.
  • 3: Omitted Big Techso results serve the public interest and that collected data does not become a source of revenue.
  • 4: Provide formal embeddingbecause handling the results is non-binding killer for the motivation of the residents.
  • 5: Set participation as a processso that residents can participate in both the beginning and the end of the decision-making process.
  • 6: Make inclusivity the norm† So adapt the technology to the user’s wishes, instead of the user having to conform to the technology’s possibilities.
  • 7: Do not blindly rely on technologyso people who can not or will not participate online can also participate.
  • 8: Be imperfect† So do not close your plans in advance, but make plans together.

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