E-democracy

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E-democracy (a combination of the words electronic and democracy) incorporates 21st century information and communications technology to promote democracy. That means a form of government in which all adult citizens are presumed to be eligible to participate equally in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.[1] E-democracy encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.

History[edit]

During the 20th century democratic participation was frequently restricted to a wealthy clique that was periodically selected via the election of delegates from political parties which had developed a manifesto.

The manifesto was then marketed to the public. Once elected the individual electors transferred their social responsibility to elected politicians who could vary their policy or betray that trust without consequences throughout their term of office The so-called Generation X became somewhat disillusioned that even large scale public protests such as the UK miners' strike (1984–1985) were seen to fail a decade before information technology became generally available to individual citizens.[2]

Virtual social networks matured at the beginning of the 21st century, enabling the emergence of flashmobs. Following the financial crisis of 2007–08 a number of social networks proposed demonstrations such as the Occupy movement or the 15-M Movement, which started in Spain and spread to other European countries. From that emerged the Party X proposals such as that in Canada[3] and Spain.[4]

Application[edit]

E-democracy can be applied within the political processes of local communities, states/regions, nations and on the global stage."[5] Democratic actors and sectors in this context include, in order of importance, citizens/voters, political organizations, the media, elected officials, and governments.[6] E-democracy, like democracy in its ideal form, is a direct democracy. In practical form it has been an instantiation of more limited forms of democracy.

In this more limited sense, e-democracy often refers to technological adjuncts to a republic, i.e., the use of information technologies and communication technologies and strategies in political and governance processes. In some egregious cases, the word is used to refer to anything political that involves the Internet. Ann Macintosh, in 2004, used the term to mean a technological adjunct to a republic, stating: "E-democracy is concerned with the use of information and communication technologies to engage citizens, support the democratic decision- making processes and strengthen representative democracy."[7] Democratic actors and sectors in this context include governments, elected officials, the media, political organizations, and citizens/voters.[6] For those who see "e-democracy" as an adjunct to a republic, it is said to aim for broader and more active citizen participation enabled by the Internet, mobile communications, and other technologies in today's representative democracy, as well as through more participatory or direct forms of citizen involvement in addressing public challenges.[8]

Tools and types[edit]

There has been a significant growth in e-democracy in the last four years.[9] Public- and private-sector platforms provide an avenue to citizen engagement while offering access to transparent information citizens have come to expect.

To develop these public-sector portals or platforms, governments have the choice to internally develop and manage, outsource or sign a self-funding contract. The self-funding model creates portals that pay for themselves through convenience fees for certain e-government transactions. Early players in this space include govONE Solutions, First Data Government Solutions and Nicusa.com, a company built on the self-funded model.[10]

Social networking services have been an emerging area for e-democracy, as well as related technological developments, such as argument maps and eventually, the semantic web. Another related development consists in combining the open communication of social networking with the structured communication of closed panels including experts and/or policy-makers.[11] Those are seen as important stepping stones in the maturation of the concept of e-democracy.[12] The social networking entry point, for example, is within the citizens' environment, and the engagement is on the citizens' terms. Proponents of e-government perceive government use of social networks as a medium to help government act more like the public it serves. Examples of state usage can be found at The Official Commonwealth of Virginia Homepage, where citizens can find Google tools and open social forums.

Government and its agents also have the opportunity to follow citizens to monitor satisfaction with services they receive. Through ListServs, RSS feeds, mobile messaging, micro-blogging services and blogs, government and its agencies can share information to citizens who share common interests and concerns. Some government representatives are also beginning to use Twitter which provides them with an easy medium to inform their followers. In the state of Rhode Island, for instance, Treasurer Frank T. Caprio is offering daily tweets of the state's cash flow.

Practical issues[edit]

A number of practical issues surround e-democracy. In the media, on the Internet, and in popular consciousness, there is a strong and generally unchallenged view that the Internet is the new electronic cradle of democracy.

A speech given by Hillary Clinton on January 21, 2010, addressed this issue of internet freedom and the role that new technologies have played in shaping democratic practices. The massive spread of free information through the internet has become a central networking hub for our world, encouraging freedom and human progress through social and economic development. In many democratic nations, the internet is used as a tool for democracy in promoting basic human rights. The right to free speech, to religion, to expression, to peacefully assemble, to hold governments accountable for their actions, and the right of knowledge and understanding, helps ensure the preservation of democracy. All of these basic rights that Clinton describes are fostered through the use of technology. One practical issue in which Clinton touched upon is that of the "freedom to connect."

"The freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you're on the internet, you don't need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society."[13]

The Internet has several attributes that encourage thinking about it as a democratic medium. Part of this can be traced to the design principles that were established early in its evolution. The lack of centralized control suggests to many people that censorship or other attempts at control will be thwarted. Other attributes are a result of social design in the early days, the strongly libertarian support for free speech, the sharing culture that permeated nearly all aspects of Internet use, and the outright prohibition on commercial use by the National Science Foundation, for example. The Internet's most significant contribution was the idea of unmediated many-to-many communication on a large scale, through newsgroups, chat rooms, MUDs, and many other modes. This type of communication ignored the boundaries established with broadcast media, such as newspapers or radio, and with one-to-one media, such as letters or landline telephones. Finally, because Internet is a massive digital network with open standards, universal and inexpensive access to a wide variety of communication media and models could actually be attained.[14]

Some practical issues involving e-democracy include: effective participation; voting equality at decision stage; enlightened understanding; control of the agenda; and inclusiveness.[15] Systemic issues may include cyber-security concerns and protection of sensitive data from third parties.

Citizens' roles[edit]

The Internet provides a distinctive structure of opportunities that has the potential to renew interest in civic engagement and participation. Civic engagement can be understood to include three distinct dimensions: political knowledge (what people learn about public affairs), political trust (the public's orientation of support for the political system), and political participation (conventional activities designed to influence government and the decision-making process).[16]

The information capacity available on the Internet allows citizens to become more knowledgeable about government and political issues, and the interactivity of the medium allows for new forms of communication with government, i.e. elected officials and/or public servants. The posting of contact information, legislation, agendas, and policies makes government more transparent, potentially enabling more informed participation both online and offline.[17] For more information, visit transparent-gov.

A new way in which citizens can take a role in the government is with the OPEN Act. The Online Protection and Enforcement Act is revolutionary in that it allows those who can access the internet to go to their website Keep The Web Open view the act, add comments, and make changes that can then be added to the act. One of the main goals of E-democracy is to actively engage citizens through the use of media and communication technologies. Given the definition of E-democracy this act is seen as something that encourages citizens to get their own opinions in and possibly help write new legislation.

Civic participation in terms of e-democracy[edit]

In general, civic engagement can be thought of as the consumption of services provided by governmental institutions. The Internet provides a connection to these institutions; it can be used as a tool to be used for the process of interaction with said institutions.[18] According to Roas Tsagarousianou, e-democracy has three sub-fields: "information provision, deliberation, and participation in decision-making."[19] In terms of E-Democracy, civic engagement takes the form of social networking, organization, and online forums.

According to Matt Leighninger, the internet impacts government in two main ways.[20] The first way is the empowerment of individuals. People who have an interest in current political issues and the capacity to learn about them now have access to the information they need to be equipped to make an impact on public policy. Using online tools to organize, people can more easily be involved in the policy-making process of government. The first impact has also lead to a greater amount of public engagement efforts. Government officials are pressured by more highly informed, opinionated, and potentially effective citizens to make more of an effort to address the public's concerns.

The second way the Internet impacts government is that the Internet empowers groups of people. Social media sites support networks of people; online networks are currently significantly affecting the political process. Pressures from these networks are causing an increase in politicians' efforts to appeal to the public in campaigns. The combination of face-to-face relationships and social networking is a potentially powerful force for the future of politics and e-democracy.

Online citizen participation in local democracies depends on the opportunities provided by the government. For e-democracy to prove effective, the democracy first must provide or facilitate the forum for public discussion. An e-government process improves cooperation with the local populace and helps the government focus in upon key issues the community wants addressed. The theory is that every citizen has the opportunity to have a voice in their local government. E-democracy works in tandem with local communities and gives every citizen who wants to contribute the chance. What makes an effective e-democracy is that the citizens not only contribute to the government, but they communicate and work together to improve their own local communities.[21]

Internet as a campaign tool[edit]

The lower cost of information exchange on the Internet, as well as the high level of reach that the content potentially has, makes the Internet an attractive medium for political information, particularly amongst social interest groups and parties with lower budgets.

For example, environmental or social issue groups may find the Internet an easier mechanism to increase awareness of their issues, as compared to traditional media outlets, such as television or newspapers, which require heavy financial investment. Due to all these factors, the Internet has the potential to take over certain traditional media of political communication, such as the telephone, the television, newspapers and the radio. The civil society has gradually moved into the online world.[22]

Another example is openforum.com.au, an Australian non-profit eDemocracy project that invites politicians, senior public servants, academics, business people and other key stakeholders to engage in high-level policy debate.

Novel tools are being developed that are aimed at empowering bloggers, webmasters and owners of other social media, with the effect of moving from a strictly informational use of the Internet to using the Internet as a means of social organization not requiring top-down action. Action triggers, for instance, are a novel concept designed to allow webmasters to mobilize their viewers into action without the need for leadership. These tools are also utilized worldwide: for example, India is developing an effective blogosphere that allows internet users to state their thoughts and opinions.[23]

Internet as a channel for change[edit]

Recent events, such as the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, show us how this idea of e-democracy has effectively been used in the political arena. Beginning on January 25 of 2011, mass protests, marches, and rallies flooded the streets of Cairo, Egypt by the thousands. Citizens were protesting the long reign of their President, Hosni Mubarak, as well as the high unemployment rate, government corruption, poverty, and oppression within society. This 18-day revolution did not begin with guns, violence, or protests, but rather with the creation of a single Facebook page which quickly gained the attention of thousands, and soon millions, of Egyptians, spreading into a global phenomenon.[24] The internet empowered protesters and allowed for anyone with access to the internet be involved in the democratization process of their government. In order to have a democratic, free nation, all information that can be shared, should be shared. Protestors communicated, organized, and collaborated through the use of this technology with real time, real impacts.[25] It would be hard to discount the enormous role these technologies played on the world stage during this time. Even when the regime eliminated all access to the internet in a failed attempt to halt further political online forums, Google and Twitter teamed up, making a system that would get information out to the public without having access to the internet.[26] The interactivity of media during this revolution boosted civic participation and played a monumental role in the political outcome of the revolution and the democratization of an entire nation.

The Internet works toward an "informationalization" of society and everyday life through increasing democratic demands. The Internet, specifically social media sites provide information, facilitate communication and interactions, and allow for intellectual and physical transactions to be made. The Internet is currently an emerging realm of media, which aims to make E-Democracy possible through its role in relevancy of participation, social construction of inclusiveness, sensitivity to the individual, and flexibility in participation; through each of these E-Democracy is accomplished.[27]

The Internet provides a sense of relevancy in participation through allowing everyone's voice to be heard and expressed. A structure of social inclusion is also provided through a wide variety of Internet sites, groups, and social networks, all representing different viewpoints and ideas. Sensitivity to the individual's needs is accomplished through the ability to express individual opinions publicly and rapidly. Finally, the Internet is an extremely flexible area of participation; it is low in cost and widely available to the public. Through these four directions, E-Democracy and the implementation of the Internet are able to play an active role in societal change.

The social media sites of Facebook and Twitter were a key element in the success of the 2010 Egyptian Revolt. Western societies, along with Egypt are transforming from a system based on group control to one of "networked individualism". These networked societies are constructed post -"triple revolution" of technology, which involves a three step process. Step one in the "triple revolution" is "the turn to social networks", step two: "the proliferation of the far-flung, instantaneous internet", and step three: "the even wider proliferation of always-available mobile phones".[28] These elements play a key role in change through the Internet. Such technologies provide an alternative sphere that is unregulated by the government, and where construction of ideas and protests can foster without regulation. For example, In Egypt the "April 6 Youth Movement" established their political group on Facebook where they called for a national strike to occur on April 6. This event was ultimately suppressed however; the Facebook group remained, spurring growth of other activist parties to take an online media route. Internet in Egypt was used also to form connections with networks of people outside of their own country. The connections provided through Internet media sources, such as Twitter allowed rapid spread of the revolt to be known around the world. Specifically, more than 3 million tweets contained six popular hashtags alluring to the revolt, for example #Egypt and #sidibouzid; further enabling the spread of knowledge and change in Egypt.[28]

Internet also plays a central role in deliberative democracy, where deliberation and access to multiple viewpoints is central in decision-making.[29] Internet is able to provide an opportunity for interaction, and serves as a prerequisite in the deliberative process as a research tool. On the Internet the exchange of ideas is widely encouraged through a vast number of websites, blogs, and social networking outlets, such as Twitter; all of which encourage freedom of expression. Through the Internet information is easily accessible, and in a cost effective manner, providing access and means for change. Another fundamental feature of the Internet is its uncontrolled nature, and ability to provide all viewpoints no matter the accuracy. The freedom the Internet provides is able foster and advocate change, crucial in E-Democracy.

A recent advancement in the utilization of E-Democracy for the deliberative process is the California Report Card created by the Data and Democracy Initiative of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society[30] at University of California, Berkeley, together with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. The California Report Card (CRC), launched in January 2014, is a mobile-optimized web application designed to facilitate online deliberative democracy. After a short opinion poll on 6 timely issues, participants are invited to enter an online "café" where they are placed, using Principal Component Analysis, among users with similar views. They are then encouraged to engage in the deliberative process by entering textual suggestions about new political issues, and grading other participants' suggestions. The California Report Card prides itself on being resistant to private agendas dominating the discussion.


Another recent example of a way in which the internet has been used as a channel for change is the release of Invisible Children's Kony 2012 video. The video, which was released in the afternoon of March 5, 2012, is a powerfully inspirational campaign video that calls for the search for and arrest of Joseph Kony. Invisible Children, the non-profit organization responsible for this video campaign, was founded on the mission to bring awareness to the vile actions of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), located in Central Africa, and the arrest of its leader, Joseph Kony. In the video, Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, says that "the problem is that 99% of the planet doesn't know who [Kony] is" and the only way to stop him is by having enough support from the people to convince the government continue the hunt for him.[31] So, Invisible Children's purpose for the video was to raise awareness by making Kony famous through the ever expanding market of social media, and to use the technology we have today to bring his crimes to light. Sure enough, in only a span of 6 days, the Kony 2012 video went viral with over 100 million views, making it the fastest growing viral campaign video in history.[32] The popularity of the video quickly made its way to Congress. On March 21, 2012, a group of 33 Senators introduced a resolution condemning "the crimes against humanity" committed by Joseph Kony and the LRA. The resolution supports the continued efforts by the US government to "strengthen the capabilities of regional military forces deployed to protect civilians and pursue commanders of the LRA, and calls for cross-border efforts to increase civilian protection and provide assistance to populations affected by the LRA." Senator Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor of the resolution stated that, "When you get 100 million Americans looking at something, you will get our attention. This YouTube sensation is gonna help the Congress be more aggressive and will do more to lead to his demise than all other action combined".[33] Without a doubt, the Kony 2012 video is evidence of how internet sensations are becoming channels for change.

Active participation of adults on the Internet[edit]

The majority of governments have a long way to go to actively engage their citizens to participate in e-democracy;[34] however, e-democracy relies upon citizens to take their own initiative to influence decisions that will affect them.[35] Indeed, many adults are now moving online to find political information. In the past few decades, the internet has become increasingly important to the decisions made by adult voters: between 1996 and 2002, the number of adults who reported that the internet was significant in their choices increased from about 14 to 20 percent.[36] In 2002, nearly a quarter of the population reported having visited a website to research specific public policy issues. In addition, people aren't just going to sites that reflect their own views, but are in fact doing the complete opposite: studies have shown that more people visit websites that challenge their point of view than visit websites that mirror their own opinions. It has also become apparent that as online participation increases, the number of people reading newspapers decreases: since 1996, the number of those who read the news in print has dropped from 50 percent to 39 percent, while 41 percent of the population reports having consumed news online.

In addition, a good number of people are beginning to participate in online activism. Sixteen percent of the population has participated in online political culture by interacting with political websites through joining campaigns, volunteering time, donating money, or participating in polls. According to a survey conducted by Philip N. Howard, almost two-thirds of the adult population in the United States has had some online experience with political news, information, or other content over the past four election cycles.[36] They tend to reference the websites of special interest groups more than the websites of specific elected leaders, political candidates, political parties, nonpartisan groups, and local community groups.

Electronic support for local democratic groups[edit]

Citizens' associations play an important role in the democratic process, providing a place for individuals to learn about public affairs and a source of power outside that of the state, according to theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville. Public-policy researcher Hans Klein at the Georgia Institute of Technology notes that participation in such forums has a number of barriers, such as the need to meet in one place at one time.[37] In a study of a civic association in the northeastern United States, Klein found that electronic communications greatly enhanced the ability of the organization to fulfill its mission.

There are many forms of association in civic society. The term interest group conventionally refers to more formal organizations that either focus on particular social groups and economic sectors, such as trade unions and business and professional associations, or on more specific issues, such as abortion, gun control, or the environment.[38] Other traditional interest groups have well-established organizational structures and formal membership rules, and their primary orientation is toward influencing government and the policy process. Transnational advocacy networks bring together loose coalitions of these organizations under common umbrella organizations that cross national borders.[8]

The Internet may serve multiple functions for all of these organizations, including lobbying elected representatives, public officials, and policy elites; networking with related associations and organizations; mobilizing organizers, activists, and members using action alerts, newsletters, and emails; raising funds and recruiting supporters; and communicating their message to the public via the traditional news media.[8]

Benefits, disadvantages and challenges[edit]

Information and communications technologies are neither democratic nor undemocratic; they are merely means to an end and not normative by their nature. They are tools that may be deployed to achieve certain goals. And these goals may even be contradictory (e.g. both coercive control and participation can be fostered by digital technology).[39] While many celebrate the Internet as a tool for democracy, it should not be forgotten that the earlier visions of an Informatization-State were rather frightening, such as the one told by George Orwell in his Nineteen Eighty-Four. While technologies can be used for the good and bad, certain institutional framework conditions may either support or hamper the use of electronic means for the benefit of democratic processes. Risks and opportunities of the digitization of democratic processes depends therefore to a large extent upon the particular institutional framework conditions of the chosen democratic model (which is mainly set out in the Constitution, including the type of the underlying social contract, specific aspects of the rule of law, representative democracy or direct democracy, etc.).[39]

The benefits of online democratic options are that it allows for participation which is specialized for individuals. The democratic values of freedom of speech are promoted through forums in which citizens can sway ideas and viewpoints. Their participation in elections and their government can be tailored for them, in that it is flexible, easily accessed, and inclusive to all, regardless of area or access to resources. Ari- Veikko Anttiroiko describes the actions of e-democracy as aiding the social construction of inclusiveness, tailored participation and sensitivity to individual preferences and life-cycles, efficiency and flexibility of participation, and relevance of participation and scales and levels of influence. However, he also notes that "its development is conditioned by such pervasive changes as increased interdependency, technological multimediation, partnership governance, and individualism."[40] All these factors present the challenges that e-democracy presents, while trying to obtain a greater democratic participation and awareness. Although e-democracy is important due to its ability to transform to accommodate today's society, they also need to meet the needs of a postmodern culture, an information society, developmentalism, and a network society which will emerge from the abilities that online democratic measures allow.[40]

Benefits[edit]

Contemporary technologies, such as electronic mailing lists, peer-to-peer networks, collaborative software, wikis, Internet forums and blogs, are clues to and early potential solutions for some aspects of e-democracy.

A number of non-governmental sites have developed cross-jurisdiction, customer-focused applications that extract information from thousands of governmental organizations into a system that brings consistency to data across many dissimilar providers. It is convenient and cost-effective for businesses, and the public benefits by getting easy access to the most current information available without having to expend tax dollars to get it. One example of this is transparent.gov.com, a free resource for citizens to quickly identify the various open government initiatives taking place in their community or in communities across the country.

Another valuable source is USA.gov — the official site of the United States government. The website is directly linked to every federal and state agency. The information provided by the website is valuable to all citizens, and non-citizens, of the current news and regulations of the U.S. government. These are just some examples of e-government's[41] influence in the Internet.

E-democracy leads to a more simplified process and access to government information for public-sector agencies and citizens. For example, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles simplified the process of certifying driver records to be admitted in county court proceedings. Indiana became the first state to allow government records to be digitally signed, legally certified and delivered electronically by using Electronic Postmark technology.[42] In addition to its simplicity, e-democracy services can reduce costs. The Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, Wal-Mart and NIC developed an online hunting and fishing license service utilizing an existing computer to automate the licensing process. More than 140,000 licenses were purchased at Wal-Mart stores during the first hunting season, and the agency estimates it will save $200,000 annually from service.[43]

Electronic democracy can also carry the benefit of reaching out to youth as a mechanism to increase youth voter turnout in elections and raising awareness amongst youth. With the consistent decline of voter turnout, e-democracy and electronic voting mechanisms can help revert that trend. Youth, in particular, have seen a significant drop in turnout in most industrialized nations, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The use of electronic political participation mechanisms may appear more familiar to youth and, as a result, garner more participation by youths who would otherwise find it inconvenient to vote using the more traditional methods. Electronic democracy can help improve democratic participation, reduce civic illiteracy and voter apathy and become a useful asset for political discussion, education, debate and participation.[44]

Disadvantages[edit]

Equally, these technologies are bellwethers of some of the issues associated with the territory, such as the inability to sustain new initiatives or protect against identity theft, information overload and vandalism.

Some traditional objections to direct democracy are argued to apply to e-democracy, such as the potential for direct governance to tend towards the polarization of opinions, populism, and demagoguery.[39] More practical objections exist, not least in terms of the digital divide between those with access to the media of e-democracy (mobile phones and Internet connections) and those without, as well as the opportunity cost of expenditure on e-democracy innovations.

Furthermore, there are still those who are skeptical to the amount of impact that they can make through online participation.[45] Although the government projects supply information, IT illiteracy and the digital divide are grounds to discourage participation. The political advances on the Internet can potentially dishearten non-users to adapt the new technology.

There is a digital divide between active participants and those who do not participate in electronic communities. This digital divide exists in multiple aspects and hinders governmental e-democracy practices. Just like there is not one homogenous group in a society, there is no way that an e-democracy can comprehensively fulfill its role without appealing to different demographics and groups in a community. Therefore it is important for e-government initiatives to take into consideration the electronic preferences and capabilities of the targeted audience. There are improvements to be made in e-government initiatives. Right now much e-government effort is spent on supplying services to the people. Governmental institutions simply need to enact a robust system that is open to addressing as many concerns the public has as possible.[46]

Challenges[edit]

Inclusive access to the Internet and other communication channels. This is a fundamental edemocracy issue. If the Internet is to become a new democratic tool, through which people can participate in and influence the democratic process, it is vital that everyone who wants irrespective of age, gender, profession or geographical location – has the physical access to it and the skills and confidence to use it.

Security and the protection of privacy. The government must be in a position to guarantee, where appropriate, that online communications are secure and that they do not violate peoples' privacy. This is, of course, especially important when considering electronic voting, when integrity and fairness are fundamental. An electoral voting system is more complex than other electronic transaction systems and the authentication mechanisms employed must be able to prevent ballot rigging or the threat of rigging. This may include the use of smart cards that allow a voter's identity to be verified whilst at the same time ensuring the privacy of the vote cast. Electronic voting in Estonia is one example of a method to conquer the privacy-identity problem inherent in internet voting systems. However, the objective should be to provide equivalence with the security and privacy of current manual systems.

Responsive government. In order to attract people to get involved in online consultations and discussions, government must respond to people and actively demonstrate that there is a relationship between the citizen's engagement and policy outcome. It is also important that people are able to become involved in the process, at a time and place that is convenient to them but when their opinions will count. Government will need to ensure that the structures are in place to deal with increased participation. Effective public deliberation and moderation. In order to ensure that issues are debated in a democratic, inclusive, tolerant and productive way. The role that intermediaries and representative organisations may play should be considered. Electronic provision of official information that is electronically stored. In order to strengthen the effectiveness of the existing legal rights of access to information held by public authorities, citizens should have the right[47]

Peer-to-patent[edit]

The peer-to-patent project allows the public to do research and present the patent examiner with 'prior art' publications which will inform them of the novelty of the invention so that they can determine whether the invention is worthy of a patent. The community elects ten prior art pieces to be sent to the patent examiner for review. This is revolutionary because it enables the public to directly communicate with the patent examiner. The peer-to-patent project has many implications for e-democracy. It proves that e-democracy can be effective when there is a structured environment which demands certain information from participants that aid in the decision making process. As a culture, we have accepted that our information and our governance come from professionals or experts, not directly from the citizens. With this kind of, "civic software," the decision making process is made more effective; it forms groups and communities of both experts and civilians who work together to find solutions. The peer to patent project extends beyond the simplest form of e-democracy, tallying poll votes. Citizens do not have to check a box that reduces their opinion to a few given words; they can actually participate and share ideas.[48]

Electronic direct democracy[edit]

Electronic direct democracy (EDD) is the strongest form of direct democracy, in which the people are involved in the legislative function. Also important to this notion are technological enhancements to the deliberative process. Electronic direct democracy is sometimes referred to by many other names, such as open source governance and collaborative governance.

EDD requires electronic voting or some way to register votes on issues electronically. As in any direct democracy, in an EDD, citizens would have the right to vote on legislation, author new legislation, and recall representatives (if any representatives are preserved).

Technology for supporting EDD has been researched and developed at the Florida Institute of Technology,[49] where the technology is used with student organizations. Numerous other software development projects are underway,[50] along with many supporting and related projects.[51] Several of these projects are now collaborating on a cross-platform architecture, under the umbrella of the Metagovernment project.[52]

EDD as a system is not fully implemented in a political government anywhere in the world, although several initiatives are currently forming. Ross Perot was a prominent advocate of EDD when he advocated "electronic town halls" during his 1992 and 1996 Presidential campaigns in the United States. Switzerland, already partially governed by direct democracy, is making progress towards such a system.[53] Senator On-Line, an Australian political party established in 2007, proposes to institute an EDD system so that Australians can decide which way the senators vote on each and every bill.[54] A similar initiative was formed 2002 in Sweden where the party Aktivdemokrati, running for the Swedish parliament, offers its members the power to decide the actions of the party over all or some areas of decision, or alternatively to use a proxy with immediate recall for one or several areas.

The first mainstream direct democracy party to be registered with any country's electoral commission [checked against each country's register] is the UK's People's Administration Direct Democracy party. The People's Administration have developed and published the complete architecture for a legitimate reform to EDD [including the required Parliamentary reform process]. Established by musicians [including Alex Romane] and political activists, the People's Administration advocates using the web and telephone to enable the majority electorate to create, propose and vote upon all policy implementation. The People's Administration's blueprint has been published in various forms since 1998 and the People's Administration is the first direct democracy party to be registered in a vote-able format anywhere in the world - making transition possible through evolution via election with legitimate majority support, instead of potentially through revolution via violence.

Liquid democracy, or direct democracy with delegable proxy, would allow citizens to choose a proxy to vote on their behalf while retaining the right to cast their own vote on legislation. The voting and the appointment of proxies could be done electronically. The proxies could even form proxy chains, in which if A appoints B and B appoints C, and neither A nor B vote on a proposed bill but C does, C's vote will count for all three of them. Citizens could also rank their proxies in order of preference, so that if their first choice proxy fails to vote, their vote can be cast by their second-choice proxy.

ICTs and political participation[edit]

E-democracy has become a term that is used widely but also has widely different instantiations. We take as our definition of e-democracy, the use of ICT to support the democratic decision-making processes. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a major role in organizing and informing citizens in various forms of civic engagement. ICTs are used to enhance active participation of citizens and to support the collaboration between actors for policy-making purposes within the political processes of all stages of governance.[55] Macintoch, Ann (2006). To support governments take advantage of the innovative e-participation pilots taking place at the national, regional and local level there is a need to know and understand more precisely what is happening elsewhere. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) work Promise and Problems of E-Democracy explains how there are three main factors when it comes to ICTs promoting civic engagement. The first of these is timing; most of the civil engagement occurs during the agenda-setting in a cycle. The second key factor is tailor; this refers to the idea of how ICTs are changing in order to allow for more civic engagement. The last of these factors is integrations; integration is how new ICTs are combining the new technological ways with the traditional ways in order to gain more civic engagement.[56] Although some governments and research centers have already undertaken a number of surveys in this area there is no standard way to describe the approach and detail the outcomes. Overall, there are many things that come into factor when dealing with ICTs and e-participation.

ICT creates the opportunity for a government that is simultaneously more democratic and more expert. Information Communication and Technology creates open, online collaboration. This improves governmental decision-making in a number of ways. We must not rely solely on professionals, but we cannot only rely on the direct, popular decision either. The idea of collaborative governance is that the responsibility of gathering information and making decisions is shared between those with technological expertise and those who are professionally considered the decision-makers. If there is greater public participation in the collaboration of ideas and policies, though not necessarily participation in the same values, then decision-making is substantially more democratic. ICT also promotes the idea of pluralism within a democracy. With increasing access to the internet, spreading ideas is easier and faster than ever. In addition, pluralism prevents any one source from monopolizing information channels. Thus, new issues and perspectives can be brought to attention that weren't considered before.[57]

Another key idea pertinent to ICTs and the political sphere online is that regular citizens become potential producers of political value and commentary. Citizens are able to create their own blogs and websites to express their own views individually. But when the online political sphere works together, like ABCNews did with their Campaign Watchdog effort,[58] citizens by the polls reported any rule violations perpetrated by any candidate's party. Civic involvement is encouraged and made more effective through the use of information channels.

However, involvement doesn't stop there. In 2000, Candidate's for the United States presidential race frequently used their websites to encourage their voters to not only vote, but to encourage their friends to vote as well. This two-step process, encouraging an individual to vote and to tell his or her friends to vote, was just emerging at that time. Now, political involvement from a variety of social media is commonplace and civic engagement through online forums frequent. Through the use of ICTs, politically minded individuals have the opportunity to become more involved.[58]

Civic engagement of youth through the Internet[edit]

There has been much speculation about the Internet's potential to facilitate the engagement of younger citizens in politics. This group of young people, under the age of 35, frequently labelled Generations X and Y, have been noted for their lack of political interest and activity for the last two decades.[59] The younger generation is less likely to have established long-standing habits of media use, and is willing to experiment with new technologies and formats. Dr. Michael Macpherson, a "vigorous advocate of e-democracy...acknowledges widespread apathy about politics, particularly among the young, and believes that this would be reduced if it could be seen that individual political activity was effective in a fairly short-term."[60] Young adults view the benefits of new technologies as a means of gaining advantage in education, employment, and in the political realm. Younger people have ease with Internet technology and are more likely than older citizens to use web-based platforms to research and access political information.[61] However, there is no clear consensus about the capacity of new media, including the Internet and social networking websites, to engage young people in the democratic process.

There have been numerous studies and experiments conducted to evaluate the best way to encourage the involvement of youth in politics. The notion of youth e-citizenship seems to be caught between two distinct approaches: management and autonomy. The policy of "targeting" young people so that they can "play their part" can be read either as an encouragement of youth activism or an attempt to manage it.[62]

It would seem at first that defining the status of youth would be fairly easy. John Freeland, for example, constructs youth as a "stage of life between childhood and adulthood."[63] But the implications of such a transitional stage are hard to measure. It is difficult to determine the proper amount of power or freedom youth should employ in the newly developed e-democratic process. Advocates of autonomous e-citizenship and proponents of managed e-citizenship have varying opinions on a wide range of ideas. For instance, autonomous e-citizens argue that despite their limited experience, youth deserve to speak for themselves on agendas of their own making. On the contrary, managed e-citizens regard young people as apprentice citizens who are in a process of transition from the immaturity of childhood to the self-possession of adulthood, and are thus incapable of contributing to politics without regulation. The Internet is another important issue, with managed e-citizens believing young people are highly vulnerable to misinformation and misdirection.

The conflict between the two faces of e-citizenship is between a view of democracy as an established and reasonably just system, with which young people should be encouraged to engage, and democracy as a political as well as cultural aspiration, most likely to be realized through networks in which young people engage with one another. Ultimately, strategies of accessing and influencing power are at the heart of what might first appear to be mere differences of communication styles.[62]

Diffusion of youth involvement and e-democracy in Scotland[edit]

The Highland Youth Voice demonstrated the attempt to increase democratic involvement, especially through online measures, in Scotland.[64] The youth population is increasingly more prominent in governmental policy and issues in the UK. However, involvement and interest has been decreasing. In 2001 elections in the United Kingdom to Westminister, the turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was estimated at only 40%, which can be compared to the more than 80% of 16- to 24-year-olds who have accessed the internet at some time in their life.[65] The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child have promoted and stressed the need to educate the younger population as citizens of the nation in which they live in, and promote the participation and active politics which they can shape though debate and communication.

The Highland Youth Voice aims to increase the involvement of the younger generation through understanding their needs and wishes for their government, through an understanding of their views, experiences, and aspirations. Highland Youth Voice gives young Scots a chance to influence the decision makers in the Highlands.[64] The members age from 14 to 18, and the parliament as a whole is an elected body of around 100 members. They are elected directly through schools and youth forums. Through the website, those involved are able to discuss the issues important to them. The final prominent democratic aspect of the website is the elections for members, which occur every other year. These three contents of the website allow for an online forum in which members may educate themselves through Youth Voice, partake in online policy debates, or experience a model of e-democracy in the ease of online voting.

Digital and media democracy[edit]

In the era of globalization democracy has changed drastically because of the use of technology.[66] The idea of digital or media democracy refers to the idea that everyone should have access to electronic communications and other devices, public funds should be for the public use of media centers, and give people access to all forms of electronic and digital media.[67] Digital Democracy and the impact of technology on governance and politics: New Globalized Practice. Political pluralism and dialogue, are new meanings of democracy which have been forged by the emergence of new public decision-making policies in the internet. The evolution of modern technology has changed classic understandings such as political dialogue and political accountability. Americans are drastically moving to their mobile devices for updates on the news. A survey that was released with this year's report finds that nearly half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device or cell phone.[68] Americans are now turning to mobile devices mostly to access news that serves immediate needs such as weather, movie times, information on local businesses and traffic in their area. Today the web news is beginning to increase. Cable news and news platforms are starting to shrink and decline. More people are saying that they get their news from the web than newspapers.[69] The internet now follows only television among American adults as a destinations for news. Local mobile ad revenue is growing fast, stations in 2009 made 29 million from mobile devices. "I expect that figure to skyrocket into the billions within two years as the transition from desktops and laptops to hand-held devices takes off," said Gordon Borrell.[70] With the recent SOPA and PIPA bills, many Americans have shown their support for an open, free, and easily accessible internet. SOPA and PIPA were bills that were trying to restrict internet use and many websites, including Google and Wikipedia, found this as a threat to Digital Democracy and protested these bills. A new alternative to these two bills is the OPEN Act which is much less threatening to democracy, and is actually supported by major internet corporations (Google and Facebook). The OPEN Act is one a great example of what media democracy can become. The OPEN Act website Keep The Web Open states that the bill includes user-generated improvements and provides full access to the bill. GOOD Magazine[71] argues that this bill is revolutionary because of its Wikipedia-like input. Over 150 changes have been made to this bill by users;[72] it may not seem like a lot, but the idea of random people getting their own input into legislation is pretty radical. This new bills shows the ability of how people can have a positive effect of politics through the use of digital and electronic media.

Diffusion of e-democracy[edit]

In a nation with heavy government censorship, e-democracy could not be utilized to its full extent. Austria has the components of an advanced internet system not unlike China's, but they do not have the political and social norms calling for citizens' opinions to be heard. In a study conducted that interviewed elected officials in Austria's parliament, opinions were widely and strongly against e-democracy. They believed that the citizens were "uninformed" and that their only way of expressing their opinions should be to vote; sharing opinions and ideas was strictly the job of the elected.[73] Austria's officials have a contrasting idea of their roles than those in the US, where the citizens' opinions are respected and called for, and their power is up to the citizens. Citizens' opinions in the U.S. do not take away from politicians' influence. In Austria, on the other hand, the elected officials have no tolerance for their powers to be diminished in the slightest, including by allowing citizens to openly express ideas and opinions about politics, because it makes the people in power vulnerable to the citizens.[73] Austria's blatant negative opinion on e-democracy shows that it is necessary for a nation to have openness in political thought from citizens for e-democracy to thrive.[74]

Aside from hostile political environments, another great hurdle in implementing e-democracy is the matter of ensuring security in internet voting systems. Viruses and malware could be used to block or redirect citizens' votes on matters of great importance; as long as that threat remains, e-democracy will not be able to diffuse throughout society. Kevin Curran and Eric Nichols of the Internet Technologies Research Group noted in 2005 that "a secure internet voting system is theoretically possible, but it would be the first secure networked application ever created in the history of computers."[75] Were a system of government to overcome these political and technological hurdles, it might see faster diffusion of effective e-democracy.

The radical shift from representative government to internet-mediated direct democracy is not likely. However, a "hybrid model" that uses the internet to allow for greater government transparency and community participation in decision-making is on the horizon.[76] Committee selection, local town and city decisions, and otherwise people-centric decisions would be more easily facilitated. The principles of democracy are not changing so much as the tools used to uphold them. E-democracy would not be a means to implement direct democracy, but rather a tool to enable more participatory democracy as it exists now.[77]

E-democracy is a theory that is being fast-spread at a high rate among the world especially in the United States. What is so appealing about e-democracy is that "E-democracy offers greater electronic community access to political processes and policy choices. E-democracy development is connected to complex internal factors, such as political norms and citizen pressures".[78] People seem to love this new form of participating in government, because it seems to be the easiest way citizens can interact with their government officials. "e-democracy seems to be highly influenced by internal factors to a country and not by the external factors of standard innovation and diffusion theory"(chung). People are pressuring their public officials to adopt more policies that other states or countries have regarding information and news about their government online. "[strategic government leaders] are reacting more to demands from internal users and to the values of their political culture"(Chung). People have all governmental information at their fingertips and easy access to contact their government officials. In this new generation where internet and networking rules everyone's daily lives, it is more convenient that people can be informed of the government and policies through this form of communication.

In Jane Fountain's (2001) Building the Virtual State, she describes how this widespread e-democracy is able to connect with so many people and correlates it to the government we had before.

"Fountain's framework provides a subtle and nuanced appreciation of the interplay of preexisting norms, procedures, and rules within bureaucracies and how these affect the introduction of new technological forms...In its most radical guise, this form of e- government would entail a radical overhaul of the modern administrative state as regular electronic consultations involving elected politicians, civil servants, pressure groups, and other affected interests become standard practice in all stages of the policy process"(Sage).

This new form of government reaching out to citizens is a generational breach that it taking off. It is the same policies and norms it is just displayed in a less traditional practice than before. This thought of all government information and attention online is what excites people about the form of E-democracy.

Statistics easily display the supply and demand effect of citizens wanting more government accessibility to news, policies, and contacts: "In 2000 only two percent of government sites offered three or more services online; in 2007 that figure was 58 percent. In 2000, 78 percent of the states offered no on-line services; in 2007 only 14 percent were without these services (West, 2007)"(Issuu). Even though networking might not seem very personal, people are also demanding that their government officials contact and communicate with them; "In 2007, 89 percent of government sites allowed the public e-mail a public official directly rather than simply e-mailing the webmaster (West, 2007)"(Issuu). The government is noticing the rapid demand for governmental information citizens want to be supplied with online and the government is following their requests. E-democracy is a practical and convenient way for people to connect, learn, and participate in their government by online sources, which is why this practice is growing at such a fast rate.

Over the years, there is an increasing disparity in national e-governance and e-democracy. These trends seem to be a predominantly Western phenomenon. There are significant differences between access to digital technology in developed and developing worlds. Countries in south and central Asia, Africa, and other developing regions fall behind due to inequalities in access to information and in government efficiency and infrastructure. This is referred to as the "global digital divide."

Cities in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, high legislative professionalization, and more active professional networks were more likely to embrace e-government and e-democracy.

The diffusion of E-Democracy is mostly influenced by internal factors to a country and not by the external factors of standard innovation and diffusion theory.[79]

Anti e-democracy[edit]

It has become common for governments to implement internet crackdowns during times of widespread political protests. In the middle-east in 2011, for example, the multiple cases of internet blackouts were dubbed the "Arab Net Crackdown". The list of countries that have been reported to have initiated internet lockdowns is a long one. Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iran, and Yemen are all countries whose leaders implemented complete censorship of the internet in response to the plethora of pro-democracy demonstrations in their respective nations.[80] These lockdowns were primarily put in place in order to prevent the leakage of cell phone videos that contained images of the violent government crackdown on protesters.[81]

A successful e-democracy policy[edit]

A successful e-democracy policy should embrace the following principles:

  • Create new public spaces for political interaction and deliberation. There is a shortage of such space in the offline environment; online offers significant advantages for the cultivation of effective public discussion and deliberation areas.
  • Provide for a multi-directional, interactive communications flow, designed to connect citizens, representatives and the executive with one another. It is important to differentiate between the layers of C2R (parliamentary, devolved assembly, regional or local assembly, community, European); the various, not always connected aspects of C2G; and the democratic necessity of enabling C2C.
  • Integrate e-democratic processes within broader constitutional structures and developments.
  • Ensure that interaction between citizens, their elected representatives and government is meaningful. If public input is being invited into the policy or legislative process, ensure that it is effectively facilitated and summarised and that response mechanisms exist so that representatives and government can listen and learn.
  • Ensure that there is a sufficiency of high-quality online information so that citizens can consider policy options on the basis of trusted knowledge, as well as their own subjective experiences. Such information needs to be accessible, intelligible and not overwhelming.
  • If the public voice is to be heard more clearly and more often, this must involve efforts to recruit the widest range of public voices to the democratic conversation, including those who are traditionally marginalised, disadvantaged or unheard.
  • Reflect the realities of geography and social structure within online environments, with a view to providing equal access to the democratic process for all areas and all communities.[82]

Democracy's reliance on the Internet[edit]

Democracy in America has evolved and will continue to evolve to be reliant on the Internet. This is because the Internet is and will continue to be the primary source of information for most Americans. It is likely that in the future it will be the primary source of information for all Americans. The Internet educates people on Democracy and the Democratic culture with its vast collection of information regarding democracy. The Internet is also constantly being updated with news on America's elections and politics, helping people stay up to date with what is happening in their government. Online advertising is becoming more popular for political candidates and group's opinions on propositions.[83] The Internet contains almost all available information on these topics and if a person sees information regarding these topics on the Internet, then chances are that that person will research them on the Internet. Just glancing over an advertisement can be enough to provoke the initial interest in the topic, which can lead to further research. Being able to get all of the information needed about a candidate around the clock as well as being able to vote over the Internet is more appealing to younger voters who have become eligible to vote within the last few years. Having the luxury and convenience of the Internet for shopping, researching, etc. has made younger voters who were raised using a computer less excited about going to vote. Some new voters make it seem like they would rather live in a dictatorship then go to a voting booth.

The Internet is the first place that most people look for information and often the only place that they look. The reason for this, and especially for younger voters, is that it is easy and reliable when used correctly, thus lowering an individual's workload. This gives the user a sense of instant gratification that, in the era of multitasking on computers, is crucial. If the information is not easy to find then most people will not look for it. Because the Internet is so user friendly, people are more likely to research and get involved in politics. The Internet allows people to express their opinions about the government through an alias, anonymously and judgment free.[84] Since a person can express themselves anonymously and from the comfort of their own home, the Internet gives incentive for people to participate in the government. Also, because of the large number of people who use the Internet, a person who puts their ideas on a high-traffic website is capable of having influence over a large number of people.

The Internet is a two-way street. It enables citizens to get and post information about politicians and it allows those politicians to get advice from the people in larger numbers. This collective decision making and problem solving gives more power to the citizens and helps politicians make decisions faster. This creates a more productive society that can handle problems faster and more efficiently. Getting feedback and advice from the American population is a large part of a politician's job and the Internet allows them to function effectively with larger numbers of people's opinions. With this heightened ability to communicate with the public the American government is able to function more capably and effectively as a Democracy.[85]

Wikidemocracy[edit]

One proposed form of e-democracy has been called "wikidemocracy." The name would seem to imply a government with a legislature whose codex of laws was an editable wiki, like Wikipedia. Indeed, this type of interactive system for political discussion has been advocated by J Manuel Feliz-Teixeira as a type of government that we have the resources to achieve today. He envisions a wiki-system in which there would be three wings of legislative, executive and judiciary roles for which every citizen could have a voice with free access to the wiki and a personal ID to continuously reform policies until the last day of December (when all votes would be counted).[86] Although there are many advantages to wikidemocracy such as a no-cost system with the removal of elections, no need for parliament or representatives because citizens directly represent themselves, and ease of access to voice one's opinion, there are obstacles, uncertainties and disagreements. First, the digital divide and low quality of education can be deterrents to achieve the full potential of a wikidemocracy. Similarly, there is a diffusion of innovation in response to new technologies in which some people readily adopt novel ways and others at the opposite end of the spectrum reject them or are slow to adapt.[87] It is also uncertain how secure this type of democracy would be because we would have to trust that the system administrator would have a high level of integrity to protect the votes saved to the public domain. Lastly, Peter Levine agrees that wikidemocracy would increase discussion on political and moral issues, but he disagrees with Feliz-Teixeira who argues that wikidemocracy would remove the need for representatives and formal governmental structures.[88]

But, the term is also often used to mean more limited instantiations of e-democracy, such as in Argentina in August 2011, where the polling records of the presidential election were made available to the public in online form, for vetting.[89] The term has also been used in a more general way to refer to the democratic values and environments offered by wikis.[90]

Some in Finland recently undertook an experiment in wikidemocracy by creating a "shadow government program" on the Internet, essentially a compilation of the political views and aspirations of various groups in Finland, on a wiki.[91]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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