Monday April 22, 2019
Home Lead Story Digital Tools...

Digital Tools Have Potential To Impact The Quality Of Public Deliberation

These messages, that shape the political opinion of target population, have a significant impact on the electoral outcomes. 

0
//
social media, live
The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook. Pixabay

At the onset of the digital revolution, there was high expectation that digital communication technologies, especially the internet, will prove to be a boon to democracy. It was believed that the internet is a force for good.

Its power of setting up a discussion platform which cannot be influenced by authoritarian powers; potential to impact the quality of public deliberation by providing citizens with direct and unfiltered access to information; and ability to provide leaders with an inexpensive platform to engage with citizens, was supposed to drastically alter political participation, democratic governance and lead to growth of democratic regimes.

The evolution of these communication tools, as expected, did prove to be a democratising force in some cases. For instance, social media platforms enabled powerful demonstrations that played a major role in the downfall of oppressive regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. It also helped by providing the disenfranchised a voice and a way to participate in politics without joining a political party, attending meetings or visiting political offices. For instance, citizens all over the world have the power to bring their issues to light by organising online campaigns for policy change.

However, during the last decade, the negative aspects of the digital tools have become apparent. There hardly goes a day without the allegations that digital tools are undermining democracy. Research by scholars shows that digital techniques are being used to promote particular candidates or political parties; to enflame social tensions; and to spread fake news.

social media
The evolution of these communication tools, as expected, did prove to be a democratising force in some cases. For instance, social media platforms enabled powerful demonstrations that played a major role in the downfall of oppressive regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Pixabay

There are three ways in which influencers use digital tools to impact political participation as well as outcomes of democratic decision-making process.

First, spreading fake news by conducting active disinformation campaigns. The problem has evolved as greater access to information has not been accompanied by digital literacy programmes to educate citizens how to discern genuine from fake news. The primary digital techniques used to publicise misinformation are “bots” and “sock – puppets.”

Bots are algorithmically driven computer programmes designed to do specific tasks online. They are used by political parties or campaign teams of candidates to rebroadcast content i.e. dampen or amplify messages. Sock-puppets are human-operated fake accounts used for the same purpose of spreading misinformation. In addition to amplifying messages, they are used to reply to other social media accounts as the credibility of sock-puppets is higher than bots. The gravity of problem of misinformed citizens, is higher than that of uninformed citizens, as the misinformed citizens are committed to their untrue beliefs. The news world is filled with examples of fake news.

Second, cyber-attacks on databases. The theft and publication of government’s and political party’s private data has become a common form of digital interference during elections. These cyberattacks, based on the motive, can be categorised in two groups. One, the attackers, motivated by public interest, leak material that expose wrongdoings of political parties or candidates. Two, the attackers leak information to advance personal interest, rather than public interest. For instance, they publish data about their political opponents or the political parties they oppose.

The value of hacked data is very high, given it is only available to police or intelligence agencies and hence such leaks have high political consequences. Examples of such attacks include leaking hacked data of seven key members of Democratic National Party in 2016 that caused reputational harm and leaking of email trails and documents belonging to campaign team of Enamuel Macron two days before 2017 French presidential elections. Apart from data breaches, tampering with voting machines, voters lists and databases that are integral to the voting process also threaten election integrity.

social media
These examples are reflective of the idea that democracy is under digital attack. The digital communication tools, that were once expected to make democracy more resilient, have started to look more like democracy’s nemesis. Pixabay

Third, using big data and micro targeting techniques. In recent years, the world has experienced an exponential growth in data accumulation and processing. This rise in data accumulation, has made micro-targeting easier, compared to the pre-digital era. The influencers use algorithms to identify their target population and disseminate messages to them by using social media. These messages, that shape the political opinion of target population, have a significant impact on the electoral outcomes.

Also Read: Having a Handful of Nuts Everyday Can Boost Memory in Elderly, Says Study
A prime example of the use of big data to influence voters is the Brexit referendum. The ‘Leave” party was assisted by companies that helped them micro-target advertisements and manipulate the behaviour of voters.

These examples are reflective of the idea that democracy is under digital attack. The digital communication tools, that were once expected to make democracy more resilient, have started to look more like democracy’s nemesis. India is no stranger to these issues. Social media has become a hotspot for spread of misinformation and mischief in India as evidenced in infamous episodes of mob lynching across the country. With general elections less than a month away for the world’s largest democracy, it is critical that digital mediums are not misused. (IANS)

Next Story

Collective Attention Span Among People Decreases Rapidly as of 24/7 News Availability

"As a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual's ability to evaluate the information they consume," said researchers. 

0
news
"Since the available amount of attention remains more or less the same, the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something happening and lose interest more quickly. However, the study does not address attention span on the level of the individual person," Lehmann noted. Pixabay

People are losing their collective attention span rapidly owing to the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), staying up-to-date on social media and breaking news coming at them 24/7 via various platforms, a team of European scientists has warned.

The study with first empirical evidence in the journal Nature Communications has found that our collective attention span is indeed narrowing and that this effect occurs not only on social media but also across diverse domains, including books, web searches and movie popularity.

FOMO is social anxiety characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

“It seems the allocated attention in our collective minds has a certain size, but the cultural items competing for that attention have become densely packed. “This would support the claim that it has indeed become difficult to stay up-to-date on the news cycle, for example,” said Professor Sune Lehmann from Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

social media
The study with first empirical evidence in the journal Nature Communications has found that our collective attention span is indeed narrowing and that this effect occurs not only on social media but also across diverse domains, including books, web searches and movie popularity. Pixabay

To reach this conclusion, the scientists studied Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, books from Google Books going back 100 years, movie ticket sales going back 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years.

In addition, they gathered data from Google Trends (2010-2018), Reddit (2010-2015) and Wikipedia (2012-2017).

When looking into the global daily top 50 hashtags on Twitter, scientists found that peaks became increasingly steep and frequent. In 2013, a hashtag stayed in the top 50 for around 17.5 hours and gradually decreased to 11.9 hours in 2016.

The trend is mirrored in other domains, online and offline as well.

“Since the available amount of attention remains more or less the same, the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something happening and lose interest more quickly. However, the study does not address attention span on the level of the individual person,” Lehmann noted.

twitter
To reach this conclusion, the scientists studied Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, books from Google Books going back 100 years, movie ticket sales going back 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years. 
Pixabay

The study was conducted by a team of European scientists from Technische Universitat Berlin, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, University College Cork and DTU.

Also Read: New Survey Indicates, Indians Most Worry About Terrorism, Unemployment And Corruption

“As a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual’s ability to evaluate the information they consume,” said researchers.

Acceleration increases, for example, the pressure on journalists’ ability to keep up with an ever-changing news landscape. “We hope more research in this direction will inform the way we design new communication systems,” the team said. (IANS)