Mr Archie Gent – written evidence (DAD0007)
How has digital technology changed the way that democracy works in the UK and has this been a net positive or negative effect?
- The rise in the use of social media platforms to share information has changed the political debate massively. Parties and organisations on all parts of the political spectrum have used digital technology to try to win votes or shift opinions. Platforms such have Facebook have become the most effective way to advertise a certain party’s message and this has led to not only a change in the way campaigning works, but how politics works; groups now focus more on advertising than before due to the power digital platforms hold, and these adverts are becoming more and more polarised and extreme in order to try make a bigger impact in the short, impactful snippets used. In effect, digital technologies have allowed more people to be targeted/reached by political groups and in a more effective way (which could be argued to be a good thing, increasing voter awareness to an issue etc.) however it has equally made this targeting more extreme and polarised.
How have the design of algorithms used by social media platforms shaped democratic debate? To what extent should there be greater accountability for the design of these algorithms?
- Algorithms play a huge role in political debate as it is ultimately the algorithm which decides what users see and what they don’t. If an algorithm is made in a way that favours many short, powerful videos then those making the videos will switch to shorter, more powerful ones in order to be favoured. So, although the exact algorithm of every sight is not known, the general idea of what it is will shape what political organisers will publish, and this can be dangerous if it favours tweets/videos/ads that are more divisive/shocking (as these tend to get more attention) then what we will see is even more divisive and shocking content, which could ultimately lead to a more divided political debate.
What role should every stage of education play in helping to create a healthy, active, digitally literate democracy?
- Education needs to focus on teaching the children growing up on these technologies how to be aware of what content they see is being targeted at them and what is organic in order to ensure that there is some level of awareness in what they see, else they being to merge advertising with entertainment.
Would greater transparency in the online spending and campaigning of political groups improve the electoral process in the UK by ensuring accountability, and if so what should this transparency look like?
- Yes, incredibly so. There needs to be clear, easy to access records of online advertising not just by political parties but by groups/organisations/unions that advertise politically online. This would allow users on the platform to understand more clearly who is targeting them, why, and how much they are spending to win their vote. Electoral transparency means being able to see not just how much x party sent on advertising online, but the platform they used, how long they ran it for, what the ad was and most importantly, who they were targeting.
What effect does online targeted advertising have on the political process, and what effects could it have in the future? Should there be additional regulation of political advertising?
- Online advertising is becoming the main way to swing an election. Looking at the Trump and Vote Leave campaigns alone (just as examples, it’s not limited to ‘right wing’ movements) online advertising was used as a principle focus of winning as it allowed them to target individuals to such a personalised level than ever before – the amount of data available to advertisers allows them to focus on specific groups that they can swing. Regulation needs to be tightened to levels that match that on regular advertising on TV, posters or elsewhere, as the regulations mean online advertising is the main way for parties to advertise. Moreover, it is very focused on money where the more money one spends on advertising, the more people they can reach, the more accurately they can target and thus the more they can swing votes. Regulation needs to be created, with at least maximum spending on online advertising and better still restrictions on what parties can advertise online and how they can do it
What might be the best ways of reducing the effects of misinformation on social media platforms?
10. Preventing misinformation would come down to the platforms where it is spread, as it would be nearly impossible for a government to be able to prevent anyone telling lies – it is not a crime to lie. The most a government to do would be to toughen on advertising laws online like those for TV where content advertised online would need to meet certain standards (obviously like not lying or casting hateful messages), which would be an effective method that should be investigated. However, simply spreading misinformation is impossible to stop.
How can elected representatives use technology to engage with the public in local and national decision making? What can Parliament and Government do to better use technology to support democratic engagement and ensure the efficacy of the democratic process?
13. To look for successful uses of digital technologies that boost engagement on political issues, I would go to the many politicians (not really in the UK) that use platforms like twitter to speak to and contact their constituents. Even Trump would be an example, however for more (for lack of a better word) grown-up and sophisticated examples go to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who posts regular updates on what’s happening, what her opinions are and even (most importantly) holds live streams where she engages (!!!) with her constituents. That’s the key to using technology, ENGAGING which does not just mean posting what you did today (many MPs’ accounts just post about the various town halls they visited), it means voicing your opinions to let people knows what you stand for, your voting record, actually replying to questions people send you and doing so publicly for everyone to see and seeing social media not as an extension of the local newsletter, but as a the most powerful tool to fully engage and inform voters/constituents. Social media is more effective than any form of communication to get to people.