Tag Archives: digital techology

Mike German writes: Democracy, digital technologies and trust

A new report from the House of Lords has shone a searchlight on the effect of online activity on the health of our democracy. Over the past year Paul Scriven and myself have been members of a Select Committee taking evidence, investigating the level of harm, and developing proposals for tackling this critical issue. As Liberals we see technology can be a tool to help spread power, and improve democracy. But that can only happen with the correct framework around it.

Trust in our democracy is being eroded. Our key conclusions are that democracy should be supported rather than undermined by technology platforms, and that misinformation poses a real and present danger to our democratic processes.

There have clear examples of dangerous misinformation online during this Covid-19 pandemic. The online references to the 5G network and its connection with the virus, led some people to damage the telecommunications infrastructure. Other spurious medical advice has abounded. In the last General Election the Tories changed their website for the day. They claimed it to be an authoritative source of independent information in which -guess what – the Tory policy was the only right course!

The net effect of online misinformation is to threaten our collective democratic health. It is damaging trust in our democracy and takes us on a downward path where no-one listens, and no-one believes what they read and see. The government has promised an Online Harms Bill, but progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Ministers have been unable to even say whether we will get the new law before 2024. It is clear to us that the Tories are running scared of tackling the big online platforms. Our report calls for OFCOM to be given the power to hold these platforms legally responsible for content which goes out to their huge audiences in the UK.

Trust in what you find online has declined. People, particularly those coming up to voting age (16 in Scotland and Wales – catch up England!) need the skills and confidence to navigate online and find sources they can rely on. Too much of our education curriculum is about computing skills and not critical digital literacy.

There are lessons for all political parties as well, but the report singles out the Tories and Labour for their inability to see problems within themselves. Political parties must be held accountable for what we say, if we are to gain and expect the trust of the British people.

Electoral law has simply not caught up with the impact of online activity.

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