Robin Potter – written evidence (DAD0008)


  1. How has digital technology changed the way that democracy works in the UK and has this been a net positive or negative effect?


Digital technology has opened up the possibility of encouraging more engagement by casual users. Unfortunately, it also encourages superficial engagement.


  1. 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?


It can be easy for a specific point of view to be moved up the scale of accessibility. This is not confined to digital technologies, but it will be harder to control. It is important that several viewpoints are available - and as nearly as possible equally available - so that informed debate can take place.


  1. What role should every stage of education play in helping to create a healthy, active, digitally literate democracy?


Educating people to be wary of believing everything they read is vitally important. Educating people to be discriminating and to actively seek alternative points of view would be desirable - but good luck with that!


  1. 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?


Transparency in spending is absolutely vital! Also ways of assigning spending to the benefit of one political group, even if it is not explicit, needs to be managed.


  1. 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?


Targeted advertising can be very useful - and it can be very dangerous! Sending contradictory messages to different targets is easy - and difficult to prove unless there is more cooperation between recipients than is common.


  1. To what extent does increasing use of encrypted messaging and private groups present a challenge to the democratic process?


Don’t know


  1. What are the positive or negative effects of anonymity on online democratic discourse?

Anonymity allows for more robust comment, but allows for ‘fake news’ to go unchallenged more easily. Anonymity for posts from a political party (or someone closely associated with that party) should be banned, if that is feasible.


  1. To what extent does social media negatively shape public debate, either through encouraging polarisation or through abuse deterring individuals from engaging in public life?


I do have concerns that the use of social media has made it easier to make derogatory comments and/or accusations against public figures which are difficult to refute if they are false. Social Media can make it quicker to shape public opinion on some subjects, but I do not think this is a new phenomenon, as shown by the £350m for the NHS on vote Leave’s bus.


  1. To what extent do you think that there are those who are using social media to attempt to undermine trust in the democratic process and in democratic institutions; and what might be the best ways to combat this and strengthen faith in democracy?


Some can attempt to use Social Media (and other media, though that is much more expensive) to push their view, whether this is to undermine the democratic process or not. A way to show people using social media to be open-minded and shown how to have access to other viewpoints is needed.


  1. What might be the best ways of reducing the effects of misinformation on social media platforms?


Require a link to authoritative commentators.


  1. How could the moderation processes of large technology companies be improved to better tackle abuse and misinformation, as well as helping public debate flourish?


Don’t know!


  1. How could the Government better support the positive work of civil society organisations using technology to facilitate engagement with democratic processes?


Use information about the use of algorithms to get some of these nearer the top pages.


  1. 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?


Many elected representatives already use these media to good effect - and many use them poorly, and many do not use them for fear of being ‘trolled’ or of making quick responses which may come back to haunt them later. It will be necessary to consider good and bad examples - and to take account of those who cannot engage fully. These requests for submissions to select committees are an excellent example of positive engagement - BUT they are confined to far too few respondents - and these respondents are often well versed to promote one side or the other of an argument.


  1. What positive examples are there of technology being used to enhance democracy?


Many - and just as many of technology having a negative effect. These requests for submissions to select committees are an excellent example of positive engagement - BUT they are confined to far too few respondents - and these respondents are often well versed to promote one side or the other of an argument.