Pre-ISA Workshop: Global Dimensions of Digital Democracy, 26 March 2019

Digital technologies are creating challenges and opportunities for traditional and new democracies. These extend across borders, as with the global operations of technology companies such as Facebook or the sharing by authoritarian governments and learning how to disrupt or manipulate democracy. These technologies can facilitate elections and democratic decision-making and empower citizens and activists, but also disrupt democracy with fake news, micro-targeted hate speech, or intensify surveillance.

Digitization is reshaping the boundary between public and private and the significance of these for democracy. Types of rules such as computer code and user agreements are constituting new forms of governance for which traditional notions of democracy are not necessarily well suited. The governance of new cyberspaces raises challenging issues relating to privacy, competition policy, and free speech, as evident with the controversies and policy responses provoked by the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data breach. Digital technologies are associated with greater openness and transparency, but also new black boxes, barriers, and hidden power relations. Their contributions to precarity and inequality are implicated in the worldwide backlash against democracy.  This workshop explores theoretically and empirically the cross-border aspects of these issues.

Purpose and Goals

The workshop was held on March 26, 2019, the day before the ISA Annual Convention took place in Toronto. The purposes and objectives of this workshop are to contribute to better understanding the global aspects of the challenges and opportunities that digitization has created for democracy, and thereby to contribute to preserving or enhancing democracy in an increasingly digitized world. There are three main workshop goals:

  1.  To bring together a critical mass of ISA-connected scholars to be able to collaborate on addressing these issues
  2. To create a special issue of a scholarly journal and an edited volume on this topic
  3. To initiate a longer-range collaboration that will connect with additional academic researchers and organizations concerned with these issues that are outside universities

Thematic Sessions

The workshop consists of four main thematic sessions:

  1. Digitization and backlash against democracy
  2. Global digital activism
  3. Digitization and changing public-private boundaries
  4. Cyber-security and governance