IGF 2019 WS #344 Meaningful election participation in a time of social media

Organizer 1: Shmyla Khan, DRF

Speaker 1: Nighat Dad, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: raymond Serrato, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Ankhi Das, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

1. What role should social media companies have in election online campaigning?
2. How can online political conversations be made more accessible?
3. How much internet regulation should governments engage in to ensue free and fair elections?

Relevance to Theme: Political participation and elections with reference to the internet are now increasingly tied to questions of content, misinformation, online violence, safety and freedom of expression. These intersecting issues have been put to the test in the response of social media companies, governments, political parties and citizens with regards to the internet.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Political participation is integral to the exercise of human rights online--it is intimately tied to concepts of free speech, association and assembly in online spaces. The opening up of online spaces as sites of political discourse also opens up questions of regulatory and legal frameworks that speak to questions of policy that are central to the multi-stakeholder framework of the IGF. While political participation is a now accepted concept of digital spaces, the emerging issues to be tackled in this panel speak directly to the evolving nature of the political and the human rights implications that inhere.

Social media, once greeted with wide-eyed enthusiasm and uncritical embrace as tool for political participation has now come to shake the very foundations of modern democracies. The glare of the media and regulators has been on the Brexit and Trump campaigns for the proliferation of misinformation and political manipulation. These trends have been observed all over the world, however the dynamics have varied in different contexts. This panel aims to highlight the different trends in electoral and political participation from around the world.
The role of technology in effecting and manipulating political outcomes needs to be contextualized and seen through the lens of regional trends. The way technology is employed for electioneering is not uniform—WhatsApp, for instance, emerged as one of the primary sources for misinformation and propaganda in the Brazilian elections, however it did not feature heavily in the United States elections. Political participation on social media is also stymied by political and gendered abuse and harassment. The experience of women is often seen as less as a political concern and more of a person affront—however it has real political implications for the participation of female candidates and voters. Access, or lack thereof, is an impediment to participation in online political discourse. Now that a lot of political conversations are taking place online, those without access experience a political exclusion that is to become even more acute.

Format: 

Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Description: This session will seek to unpack the question of political participation and the role of technology in ensuring political access for different genders, classes and religious/racial minorities within political discourse and electoral participation. The promise of the internet has been that it has democratised political participation through greater access to information and shifting political conversations to the participatory mediums such as social media. This optimism has been tempered by the hierarchical structuring of the internet in terms of its uneven access to ICTs, political censorship, network shutdowns, misinformation as well as hate speech and harassment online.
This session will also seek to go beyond this straightforward analysis by bringing in stories and lived experiences of online political commentators from different countries, both the Global South and North, as well as speaking to gendered and racial experiences in terms of politicising personal narratives through digital platforms. We seek to deconstruct the nature of the “political” in online spaces and define it within the experience of our panel participants.

Expected Outcomes: 1. Awareness raising: presentation of research on elections and social media from around the world;
2. Drawing meaningful comparisons from across the world and potential for combined research;
3. Suggestions and recommendations for social media companies, governments and policy-makers.

Onsite Moderator: 

Shmyla Khan, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator: 

Shmyla Khan, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Rapporteur: 

Shmyla Khan, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Discussion Facilitation: 

The initial arguments for the debate will be set out by the selected speakers, however after half an hour the debate will be opened to the audience. Speakers will be given the chance to rebut some of the comments from the audience but the focus will be on the audience during this part.
Efforts will be make to ensure that organisations in Germany and others working on political participation are represented in the audience through invitations and online promotions leading up to the event.

Online Participation: 

The moderator will be collecting questions coming in from online participants and posing them to the speakers in the last 10 minutes.
Furthermore, different activists--especially from the Global South--from different countries will be asked promote the online participation tool so that a diverse set of participants tune into the event remotely. This is important since countries such as Germany are inaccessible for several countries for reasons of finance and stringent visa policies.

SDGs: 

GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions