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1 March 2016
Filed under:E-democracy,E-government,Net politics at9:50 am

McGill student vote mob 2011

Canada is the latest Western country to find that the youth vote, long thought to be in terminal decline, has in fact been rising. In the run-up to their 2015 elecion there was considerable speculation that Canadian young people had turned out to vote, but proof of the scale of the change has just emerged. Two thirds of 18-24 year olds there voted, compared with 55% in the 2011 election and as low as 35% in the 2004 election (the first where reliable statistics were gathered). This is still, of course, lower than the 77% of the voting age overall who voted (fully 86% of 65-74 year olds voted for example) but is further evidence that there may at last be a shift away from a worrying trend in many western countries of youth disengagement from electoral politics. Similar trends towards higher youth engagement were also visible in the UK as well, in its 2015 election. Nearly six in ten people between 18 and 24 voted then, compared to 52% in 2010 and just 38% in 2005.

The reasons for this apparent shift are not yet clear. Some have suggested that increased use of social media by politicians is helping. Surveys in America after the 2008 election suggested that because young people were more likely to be online, they were also thereby more likely to engage in electorally-relevant online activity.

There has certainly been plenty of social media activity by politicians across the world, though it is hard to pinpoint any social media-led event or talking point that had an impact during the election itself in Canada. Indeed, the most visible impact social media had in the Canadian election is arguably a negative one. Misbehaviour by some candidates – many of them young – on social media led to 12 candidates being withdrawn and at least as many being criticized after the exposure. While it is important that candidates be held accountable for their political views, many of the blunders seem to have been due to jokes in poor taste or intemperate language in their postings rather than deeply held abhorrent beliefs. As I have argued in my book, “Sharing Our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media“, there is a real danger that young people will rule themselves out of involvement in electoral politics fearing the exposure of their online pasts by other politicians or journalists.

In the UK if anything the problem seems to be the opposite – despite hundreds of Facebook and Twitter postings by parties during last year’s election, their impact on young people may have been limited because, as Darren Lilleker remarks, “it remains largely a broadcasting tool… they [the parties] use Facebook and Twitter in similar ways to push out messages rather than communicating with their supporters.” Instead of being too personal, they may be not personal enough to really engage with young people.

A literature review by Samara, a Canadian think-tank, suggests finding ways for young people to be involved with the parties they identify with short of full membership could be one way to increase their engagement with formal politics. Reducing the voting age to 16 has been mooted as a way to get young people thinking politically sooner, though making this possible for voting in the UK in EU elections for example was recently rejected by the House of Lords). Of course there is a simple, “brute force” solution, espoused by Martin Wattenberg in his US study of youth disengagement – make voting mandatory. In Canada, the governing Liberal party has said it will be considering this option in its electoral reform programme.

The real answer may be more simple – as Samara found, young people are active in conventional politics when they are contacted directly by parties and party members. Because historically they vote in lower numbers (and because they are harder to target, being mobile and often lacking landline phones) politicians tend to focus their energies and their policies on older people. Some recent anti-establishment politicians on the left like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US have made much of their connections with young people. But it is not clear there are enough young potential voters to enable them to break through and bring the concerns of the young into mainstream politics.

6 August 2012

Evgeny Morozov has recently delivered a scathing (and funny) dissection of a collection of TED ebooks, including most prominently one by Parag and Ayesha Khanna. Leaving aside the superficiality of the ideas he mocks (I have not read the works in question) he points out something rather more disturbing in their work – the anti-democratic streak that appears to run through it eg:

We cannot be afraid of technocracy when the alternative is the futile populism of Argentines, Hungarians, and Thais masquerading as democracy. It is precisely these nonfunctional democracies that are prime candidates to be superseded by better-designed technocracies—likely delivering more benefits to their citizens…. To the extent that China provides guidance for governance that Western democracies don’t, it is in having “technocrats with term limits.

It gets worse though – after the publication of Morozov’s critique, Vishrut Arya found an interview with Ayesha wherein she reflects on the exciting possibilities that augmented reality glasses would enable people who didn’t like homeless people to simply delete them from their sight. When I read this I assumed it was meant by her as some kind of warning but on listening she follows this with “…so now we have enhanced our basic sense”.

I am not surprised to find TED giving credibility to this kind of pundit – I am, however, disturbed and disappointed to see that my alma mater, the LSE, giving her a platform by making her director of their Future Cities Group (while she finishes her PhD there). Seems like another potential Said Ghaddafi embarrassment in the making. Certainly Beatrice and Sidney Webb would be turning in their graves!

27 November 2006

The exemplary chaps at MySociety.org, a group of mostly volunteer developers producing e-democracy-related web apps has managed to get the prime minister to support (or at least host) an online petition system (see BBC news coverage). Among the petitions launched so far is one which asks him not to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system. I encourage you to sign it – though note that these petitions are for UK residents only.

I oppose the replacement of Trident both on economic grounds and in the interests of encouraging others to abandon their own nuclear arsenals. Nation states who would use nukes against us would surely be deterred by the US and the international consequences of their use, while terrorists are not deterred by nuclear weapons and couldn’t in any case be targetted by them.

It seems to me that this decision comes at a crucial point in history where by deciding to turn away from nuclear weapons we could help turn the rest of the world in a new direction (and save billions that could be used to tackle important issues like climate change).

If you have some more time after signing that petition, please also sign this petition asking for a free vote and a full debate in parliament or visit The Big Trident Debate which has its own similar petition and discussion spaces.

1 September 2004

Cory says, ‘I don’t know where he [Dennis Hastert, GOP house speaker] gets his money from’.

I thought it would be easy to find out but I haven’t found a free site that provides an index of politician’s interests in the US the way “They Work for You”:http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ does here in the UK. “Open Secrets”:http://www.opensecrets.org/ seems to be down and “Fundrace 2004”:http://www.fundrace.org/ only deals with the presidential race. Anyone fancy spending some money with “Political Money Line”:http://www.tray.com/ to find out where Hastert does get his funding? Anyone know a good site that would let you find out for free?

P.S. This is sparked off by the “row”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/09/01/soros_responds_to_drug_money_insinuation.html over Hastert’s seeming claim that George Soros could be receiving funds from ‘drug groups’.

17 August 2004

Keith Hampton has announced the launch of “i-neighbors”:http://www.i-neighbors.org/, a set of free web services for neighborhoods in Canada and the US inspired by the “research”:http://web.mit.edu/knh/www/pub.html into the connection between virtual and f2f communities done by himself and Barry Wellman. With their software you can

# Meet and communicate with your neighbors.
# Find neighbors with similar interests.
# Share information on local companies and services.
# Organize and advertise local events.
# Vocalize local concerns and ideas.

Alas the site’s services cannot be used by people outside the US and Canada because of legal concerns – particularly about our EU privacy laws, apparently, possibly because the service remains part of an MIT research programme and “data will be gathered for that research”:http://www.i-neighbors.org/privacy.php – but hopefully the BBC will do something similar for the UK at least. Meanwhile, “Upmystreet”:http://www.upmystreet.com/ here in the UK offers some of the necessary services.

I encourage any North Americans reading this to use this software to try to bring together the people in your community and I look forward to reading the research that will come out of this project.

13 June 2004

It promises ‘almost 200 television and radio channels and interactive services’ (I’m guessing mostly radio channels and time-shifted free channels) for £150 including installation starting later this year. The press release is “here”:http://www.corporate-ir.net/ireye/ir_site.zhtml?ticker=BSY.UK&script=415&layout=0&item_id=580035.

The part I find particularly interesting is the fact that Sky’s boxes have a modem. As they point out, ‘All Sky digiboxes contain an integrated modem and therefore are capable of accessing online services including e-mail, SMS text messaging and public service information from Directgov.’ I wish them every success since the government foolishly failed to mandate modems for terrestrial DTV set top boxes (see “a previous blog.org posting”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_digital_tv.html#000924) and thereby missed a chance to tackle the digital divide.

Thanks to Tech Digest for the news

10 March 2004

“Ethan Zuckerman”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2004/02/27#a138 has produced an interesting paper on blogging as a political force in the Third World – commenting on the enthusiasm for Internet-mediated political debate expressed by Jim Moore in an essay “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head”:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/jmoore/secondsuperpower.html and by Joi Ito in “Emergent Democracy”:http://joi.ito.com/static/emergentdemocracy.html. I blogged about the latter essay “some months ago”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_best_of_blogorg.html#000687.

He warns astutely:

“If that group [enthusiasts for ‘weblog democracy’] forgets that they’re outliers in terms of larger society and fails to include others in the shaping of these technologies, it’s unlikely that these tools will be useful to the wider world”.

He also suggests that bloggers can’t provide a critical alternative to the mainstream media when a region is not adequately covered:

“When journalists don’t cover parts of the globe, webloggers are like an amplifier without a guitar – they have no signal to reinforce. There aren’t enough bloggers in eastern Congo to give us a sense for what’s really going on.”

He suggests that Third World expats writing about their own nations from abroad and (though he doesn’t explicitly say this) First World expats writing about the countries they are visiting or trying to help could help fill the gap in coverage of third world issues and give the rest of the world a personal view.
He notes the weakness of this proposal:

these discussions are open only to people with the access to the Internet (which cuts out people in countries who censor, people in unsderserved rural areas, as well as people who don’t have money to spend time online); primarily open to people who speak and write English well; primarily open to people who can afford to spend time online engaging in these dialogues (cutting out many people whose jobs don’t afford them the luxury of working in front of a CRT).

He highlights some interesting solutions to the problem of language and cultural barriers to mutual comprehension – “Blogalization”:http://www.blogalization.info/reorganization/, for example, encourages bloggers who can speak foreign languages to translate interesting posts and news items into other relevant languages (chiefly English) – acting as a volunteer news agency. “Living on the Planet”:http://www.livingontheplanet.com/about.html is similar (but only translates to English.
In the end, he acknowledges:

Generally speaking, though, in most developing nations, the Net is not the obvious place to look for political change. So few citizens are online, and those who are generally are atypically wealthy and powerful that the Internet is a poor way to reach the grassroots. Instead, it’s useful to think about what media are analogous to the Internet in developing nations. One likely parallel is talk radio.

He seems to suggest in his conclusion that the “solution” to ensuring that the third world can part lies with the toolmakers – a technical fix.

But a real solution, I suggest, would have to involve a lot of grassroots capacity building work to ensure that a broad range of people in these countries (not just the elites):

1) have access to the technology
2) have the time and literacy to engage with them and
3) are listened to by those with power in their countries.

Big (some might say impossible) preconditions but without them a Third World Blogosphere would be an elite echo chamber. I fear that if tech boosters succeed in persuading developing country governments to foster a burgeoning blogosphere in their countries it would just serve to further benefit the articulate middle classes and elites in those countries who already have influence.

8 March 2004

I’m getting to this one rather late but I found an excellent article by Barry Flynn expressing disappointment with the UK Government for its failure to require digital terrestrial TV to have a return path. Now the horse has bolted – many digital terrestrial customers have already bought set-tops without modems and it will be hard to get them to switch if the Government wants to encourage egovernment or edemocracy applications through digital TV.

7 February 2004

According to E-government Bulletin (which unfortunately doesn’t have an archived version of this newsletter yet), the “Department for Transport”:http://www.dft.gov.uk/ will be launching an integrated transport guide (at “transport.info”:http://www.transport.info/ – not live yet) that would, “include car routefinders; bus, tram and rail timetables; and a range of maps, updated regularly by external partners such as bus companies”.

Here in London something like this already exists – “JourneyPlanner”:http://www.journeyplanner.org/ and while inevitably it doesn’t always come up with the best possible route it will still be a great advance when it launches this Spring. I hope that at some point either JourneyPlanner or transport.info starts to offer a direct connection between the Internet and the counters that tell you when the next bus is coming at bus stops….

9 January 2004

David Wilcox “blogs here in detail”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2004/01/nonprofit_tech_.html about a research report from Jeremy Wyatt at a regeneration consultancy, “Hall Aitken”:http://www.hallaitken.co.uk/. It suggests UK Online centres should be less in libraries and more in community centres and integrated with the voluntary and community sector, but says nonetheless that they are largely successful in reaching those they target (disadvantaged people who wouldn’t have Internet access elsewhere).

By sheer coincidence on the same day I came across a paper by “Dr Neil Selwyn”:http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/selwyn/ in the September 2003 edition of the journal “Information, Communication & Society”:http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/1369118x.html – unfortunately not publicly accessible (unless you are an academic with a subscription – if so look “here”:http://www.ingenta.com/isis/searching/ExpandTOC/ingenta;jsessionid=3ok9ubgqnr53e.circus?issue=infobike://routledg/rics/2003/00000006/00000003&index=5)
The paper seems to be largely based on “a report Dr Selwyn did for BECTA”:http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/digidiv_selwyn.pdf in any case (which is publicly accessible).

Anyway here are some key findings:

…The survey data suggest that, in terms of people’s effective access to ICT, public access sites have a relatively slight profile when compared with household and wider family access – perceived to offer ready access to ICT by only a minority of respondents. Moreover, when the use of these public ICT sites is examined, there is little evidence of public ICT sites attracting those social groups who may otherwise be excluded or marginalized from the information age.”

Update:Jeremy Wyatt himself was good enough to comment on this post. He said:

“I can see where you have seen a contradiction in the two reports but actually they don’t conflict in any way. As as researcher you’ll forgive me for suggesting you read the whole of both reports…we actually quote the work Neil and his colleagues did in our report.

One of the thrusts of Neil’s report is that people don’t use public internet access points much. The thrust of ours is that UK online centres have helped to introduce the internet to many new users and helped many gain skills and confidence. Our report stresses the introduction and skills services. It does not confirm or deny that public internet access once you have these skills is a viable approach. It refers to Neil’s work to suggest that there is data to suggest the opposite.

But, and its a big but, things change fast in this field and maybe public internet access has a big future once its ubiquitous.”

Mea culpa! I don’t have time to go more into this at the moment but I do encourage people to read both reports. The Hall Aitken report is “here”:http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/programmeofresearch/index.cfm?type=5&keywordlist1=0&keywordlist2=0&keywordlist3=0&andor=or&keyword=CMF+funded+uk+online+centres&x=94&y=15.

Like Wyatt, Selwyn suggests that siting UK Online centres out of libraries, schools, colleges and museums would help and suggests

“another alternative strategy would be to develop a shift in emphasis away from community sites towards developing systems of community resources, which can then be loaned into people’s houses, thus building upon and augmenting people’s existing access to and use of ICT in friends’ and relatives’ houses.”

However he concludes pessimistically, “Although proving useful for those that use them, it appears likely that such sites will only ever fulfil a limited social role and are certainly not a panacea to the perceived inequalities of the information age.”

I share his pessimism because I feel not enough is being done to explain to disadvantaged people how what is on the Internet is relevant to their needs (and particularly not enough is done to encourage them to contribute themselves – which would help in turn to narrow the relevance gap).

I hope at least that the common recommendation of both reports – moving public access closer to where the public actually likes to hang out – will be listened to. To its credit the Office of the e-Envoy in its “annual report”:http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/00/60/69/04006069.pdf seems to be taking this on board to some extent. The Government is funding ‘get online’ initiatives with the voluntary and community sector and spending around £3m (not a lot admittedly!) through Culture Online to, “engage hard-to-reach audiences, encouraging them to discover the potential of new digital technologies (p. 11)

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