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UK Lords explore digital's impact on democracy

House of Lords launches call for evidence to assess the public’s views on the benefits and negative impacts of digital technologies in areas such as political campaigning.

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Lords want to better understand the public's views of democracy in the digital age
Lords want to better understand the public's views of democracy in the digital age

The House of Lords Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies has announced a public consultation calling for views on the impact of digital technologies on democracy.

 

The committee is seeking evidence on the impact of digital technologies on political campaigning, the electoral process, its understanding of the truth and public’s wider engagement with politics and political debate.

 

What we understand as "the truth"

 

Lord Puttnam, chairman of the committee, said digital technologies are changing everything around us and democracy and politics are no exceptions. "How we understand democracy, our role as citizens in relation to the state and what we understand as the ‘truth’ will continue to alter as the impact of the digital world develops further,” he said.

 

“We have already seen high profile controversies in recent elections with allegations of foreign state influence in both the US presidential election and our own Brexit referendum. We also know political parties now spend more on online advertising than they do on newspaper ads or billboards. What will be the impact when political advertising can be tailored to each individual citizen, with nobody knowing what parties are saying to other voters?”

"How we understand democracy, our role as citizens in relation to the state and what we understand as the ‘truth’ will continue to alter as the impact of the digital world develops further”

Questions the committee is inviting evidence on include:

  • How has the design of algorithms used by social media platforms shaped democratic debate? Should there be more accountability for the design of algorithms?
  • What role should education play in helping create a healthy, active and digitally literate democracy?
  • Should there be more transparency in online spending and political campaigning by political parties and other groups? What is the effect of targeted online advertising?
  • Does the increasing use of encrypted messaging and private groups on social media platforms present a challenge to democracy? What are the positive and negative effects of anonymity on online political debate?
  • Are people or organisations deliberately using social media to undermine trust in democracy? How can this be combatted?
  • What steps can be taken to reduce the impact of misinformation online?
  • How can politicians and political institutions use technology to engage the public with national and local decision-making and enhance democracy?

“There may also be benefits to democracy from digital technology, how can we ensure we harness the exciting potential for greater engagement and public involvement in central and local government for the benefit of everyone?” added Lord Puttnam.

 

The committee is seeking written evidence by 20 September [2019] and encourages anyone with an interest in this area to get in touch. "We will rely on your contributions to ensure we deliver a really significant report,” he said.

 

The full call for evidence and details of how to submit evidence is available on the committee’s webpage.

 

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