The widespread disinformation during political and social campaigns from the last years: massive waves of so called ‘fake-news’, social bots, ‘internet spies’, spreading hate speech and xenophobia, showed that technological infrastructures give not only beneficial innovative solutions but at the same time they are challenging both democracy and human rights, threatening Europe’s social cohesion and damaging the quality of public debate.
Cyber skeptics highlight disturbing phenomena such as pre-structuring the news selected on our mobiles and computers, economic and legal dominance of tech-corporations. Researchers of internet activities and algorithms driven by artificial intelligence, alert that new technologies bring many complex problems on an unprecedented scale, such as: informational bias, ideological islands ('information bubbles'), cyber wars, mass-surveillance, digital divide etc. And that both – authoritarian as well as supposedly democratic governments – use a wide array of digital technologies to control public opinion.
From the other point of view, this is only due to the ‘alignment’ of the new social movements, labelled 'network parties' (Klimowicz 2018), 'digital parties' (Gerbaudo 2018), 'net parties' (Haberer 2019) or the global movement of new municipalism with their employment of digital tools in the organization (and Barcelona’s en Comú Decidim as a flag example), why we can witness new emerging forms of on-line, direct democracy, horizontal, networked governance and bottom-up decision-making processes. Moreover we can observe the re-emergence of participatory and deliberative democracy practices in general, since even assemblies and other presence-based practices related with organizations such as Podemos in Spain, Demokratie in Bewegung in Germany, Razem in Poland, Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy or Pirate Party in Iceland are influenced and managed by complementary contact, voting and information sharing on-line. Cyber optimists point out that the global Internet and tools that new technologies provide, help in building informed citizenry: constructing new transnational communities, organizing structures of grassroots protests and resistance strategies, giving political power to social movements (Castells 2012, della Porta 2015).
The rapidly advancing digitization and changes in social media communication and public discourses pose then challenging questions not only on privacy on-line, cyber security, but also general – actual and desired – role and shape of the Internet in our social lives and politics (Bauman 2014; Fuchs 2014; Lyon 2014; Morozov 2012). The aim of this section is to address the mentioned issues and push forward the research on the intersection of democratic principles and the use of new technologies. We are interested in data driven research as well as theoretical and philosophical reflections. Interdisciplinary panels, from social and political sciences and computer engineering will be especially welcomed, as well as works based on the ethnographic fieldwork on the Internet and within the social movements and political organizations. Apart from the reflections based on already existing practices and problems, challenges and limitations related with them, the important question for this session is: how can we make a good use of the opportunities for democracy connected with the development of digital infrastructure preventing at the same time the related dangers? We also invite to reflect on how could the possible future transnational digital democracy infrastructure look like (on-line voting platforms, deliberation and participatory digital tools etc.) and on what principles and best-practices it should be built on.