Digital Democracy: Transformation and Public Contestations Mini-Workshop, 15 September 2018

Organized by: Sara Bannerman, Tony Porter and Netina Tan


Citizenship, democracy and different forms of collective actions are increasingly digitally organized. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, are changing the configuration of public spheres in both democracies and authoritarian regimes. Data-scraping and algorithmic learning are shaping electoral campaigns, political communication and voting behavior. Authoritarian regimes are using what Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig term “sharp power” to meddle in elections, and bolster populist movements that undermine liberal norms. Mainstream media and journalism now face speedier reporting and dissemination of news by anonymous online citizens to mobilize or offer counter-narratives. Areas formerly under state jurisdiction such as taxation, diplomacy, policy-making and national security are being transformed as whistleblowers and hackers demand accountability, transparency and inclusiveness. In the wake of the Facebook data breach in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, governments in both democracies and authoritarian regimes are looking to new legislation to regulate fake news, hate speech and private communications.

Digital technology has transformed the lines between private and public spheres predicated on the nation-state and the boundaries it created and sustained. It has changed how contentious politics are battled across personal, local, national and transnational lines. In the era of big data, profiling and predictive decision-making, there is an intensified focus on regulation by governments, big tech companies and private actors, which are exercising powers to surveil, censor, manipulate or profit. But how these regulations are enforced and the effects on freedom of speech, privacy and democratic governance are unclear.

This workshop aims to bring together researchers from McMaster and the surrounding area, to identify existing areas of overlapping interest in digital democracy and challenges listed above. We welcome contributions from any discipline and Faculty, whether they focus on empirical, technical, policy, methodological or theoretical perspectives on any of the challenges associated with digital technology and democracy. Selected papers from the workshop will be assembled and submitted for consideration as a peer-reviewed Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition Working Paper.

Workshop Highlights:

  • Participants will present a 1500-word paper and act as a discussant on another participant’s paper
  • Selected papers from the workshop will be assembled and submitted for consideration as a peer-reviewed Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition Working Paper

Workshop Agenda:

Introductory Session: Welcome, Introductions, Framework – Led by Sara Bannerman, Tony Porter, Netina Tan

Session 1: Digital challenges for national electoral democracy (Chair: Tony Porter)

Name Title Discussant
Chelsea Gabel, Brian Budd, Liam Midzain-Gobin, Nicole Goodman Digital Democracy and Self-Determination: Lessons from First Nations in Canada Catherine Frost
Devin Ouellette Overcoming the Dictator’s Dilemma: Strategies of Internet Censorship in China Dominik Stecula (NT)
Dominik Stecula Clifton van der Linden
Netina Tan Regulating Fake News and Electoral Integrity in Asia Sara Bannerman
Clifton van der Linden On the measurement of public opinion in the age of Big Data Dominik Stecula (NT)

Session 2: Digitization, democracy, the state and global governance (Chair: Sara Bannerman)

Name Title Discussant
Catherine Frost Time and Democratic Constituent Power Sarah Shoker
Marcel Goguen, Miguel de Larrinaga Big Data and the Problem of Political Foundation Devin Ouellette
Tony Porter Global Governance, Digitization, and Global Tensions between Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes Nowrin Tabassum
Sarah Shoker Regulating Prediction under International Humanitarian Law: Towards an Agenda of Algorithmic Accountability for UN Epistemic Groups Andrea Zeffiro
Nowrin Tabassum Democracy Deficit in Producing the Climate Change Data Portals and Climate Governance Brian Detlor

Session 3: Digitization and challenges to democracy (Chair: Netina Tan)

Name Title Discussant
Sara Bannerman Algorithmic imperialism and fake news Marcel Goguen
Brian Detlor Fostering Digital Democracy through Public Library Digital Literacy Training Angela Orasch
Ameil Joseph Big data and social services: Public overseers of human suffering for private gain Tony Porter
 Angela Orasch Platform Governance in the Smart City Ameil Joseph
Andrea Zeffiro A Manifesto for Social Media Research Data: On Negotiation and Transparency Brian Budd or Liam Midzain-Gobin

General discussion and conclusion: General discussion about the issues discussed, next steps.

Relevant Topics:

  • Democracies at risk
  • Contested elections and political legitimacy
  • Digital divides
  • Inequalities in the governance of the internet
  • Impact of digital technologies on public and private governance strategies
  • Online discrimination, hate speech and violent content
  • Rising cynicism and the participation gap
  • “Fake news” and the politics of fear
  • Digital activism and human rights online
  • Voter experience innovation
  • Surveillance and democracy
  • Digital literacy

For more information, please contact: Netina Tan (; Tony Porter ( or Sara Bannerman ( for more details.

Photos by Jessica Gut. All rights reserved.