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Clicktivism: Democracy in the digital world

A party political broadcast plays on the TV, as a stack of pamphlets rattles through the letter box and falls to the floor. Meanwhile, you scroll through your social media feed and a whole digital world of opinions is in the palm of your hand.

Technology and politics are colliding. Answers to questions, manifestos, and MPs’ Twitter feeds are all only a click away, making it easier to find the right answers. Is the digital era changing the face of politics?

The digital vote

One youth-led think tank is making tracks in the digital politics arena. WebRoots democracy, the Institute for Digital Democracy, wants to future proof and modernise the way politics plays out in the UK.

Areeq Chowdhury, chief executive of the group, said: “Bringing more and more of the political process online has clearly had a positive impact. Take voter registration. Would over a million young people have registered to vote if they had to go and queue up for a form from the post office?”

Registering to vote now requires little more effort than a few clicks on a computer, and the group argues that there is yet further opportunity to harness the power of technology when it comes to elections: “Our democratic process is stuck in the 1880s with its post boxes and polling stations. It's outdated, out of touch, and the political equivalent of the fax machine.”

He said that the digital sphere has transformed politics in the UK, and that modernising the political process to reflect modern times is vital. The group wants democracy to be accessible for all, and they believe online voting would open doors for young people, as well as those with visual impairments or disabilities. This is a system that has already been used in other parts of the world, including Australia, Estonia, and Switzerland.

In the last election, only 43% of people under 25 voted, compared to 78% of over 65s. For a generation sometimes described as ‘digital natives,’ taking democratic processes online could have the power to change the face of politics.

While this group actively promotes the idea of online voting, others are cautious about security risks and the possibility of vote-tampering.

WebRoots Democracy agree that there are risks involved, and that mitigating them is vital. In a report on secure voting, they have assessed these risks, and made recommendations for how to roll out online voting in 2020, in a secure way.

To eliminate voter fraud, the group recommends online verification methods which would be more extensive than those currently used at polling stations: “There is no evidence that online voting poses any greater likelihood of fraud than the current system. If you vote by post, the only thing that is securing your vote is a gummed paper envelope.”

Crowdfunding the future

Ripples of right wing politics have been making their way across the globe, but the movement for a more tolerant and inclusive society is also making waves.

More United is harnessing the power of the people to influence politics, and put values before political parties. Through crowdfunding, the group financially supports candidates promoting messages of tolerance, regardless of which party they represent.

They said: “Inspired by Jo Cox MP’s maiden speech, we’re making a stand for unity and inclusion in politics. We reject hatred and division.”

They have laid out a set of criteria that any potential candidates must meet. Alongside tolerance, democracy and openness, candidates must be in favour of a fair economy, environmental protections, and believe in bringing down international barriers.

The group said they will support anyone from any party, “as long as they’re not extremist. As long as they don’t peddle lies or hate. As long as they’ll be a voice of reason in parliament.”

Anyone who donates to the movement becomes an ‘original member,’ giving them the opportunity to vote for the candidates who will receive financial backing.

Clicktivism

Access to information about politics has never been more instant. Stories play out instantly on Twitter, the latest news articles are immediately available for free, and MPs’ voting records are laid bare for all to read. A question is only an email or tweet away.

They Work for You reveals MPs’ voting records, and users can also request an alert every time their MP speaks in parliament. In an instant, voters can find out how much their MP really represents them, and share with anyone else in their network.

Areeq Chowdhury from WebRoots Democracy coins a new phrase for the digital era’s political activism: clicktivism. He said: “We can now easily find out information on what is happening in the political world from a multitude of sources, and we can share that information with hundreds of friends or thousands of followers with the click of a button.”

He said that the digital world reduces barriers to activism, “enabling people to start entire movements from their bedrooms.”

With the next general election just around the corner, the impact of the digital era is yet to be seen.

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