Technology needed to transform politics on social media

BCS report calls for digital democracy platform

24 May 2017

The UK needs a purpose-built platform to allow a new culture of politics online - according to a report published by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Demos.

‘Signal and Noise’ claims that society, and by default, elected representatives are increasingly influenced by social media. Whilst this potentially presents vast new opportunities for MPs, it also presents fundamental challenges as existing social media platforms are not tailored to politics.

Alex Krasodomski-Jones, a researcher at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media and author of the report explains: “As our lives have moved online, our politics has done the same. It's early days, but digital channels are already shaking up the current political system and will, in time, sweep it away entirely. The change hasn't been without its difficulties, and there are greater challenges to come. Effort is required - from political leaders, from technologists, and from those participating in digital politics - both to improve existing technology and, vitally, the culture of digital politics. A failure to prepare for these challenges will bring increasing disenfranchisement, decreasing faith in the political system and increasing anger. Embracing the opportunities could prove vital in revitalising our democracy in a time when it feels under threat.”

With some MPs struggling to handle the levels of abuse they receive online, while others avoid social media altogether, the current situation is unsatisfactory for politicians and citizens alike.

The report calls for a cross-party allegiance to work with existing social media platforms to improve their offerings, and establish a purpose-built platform to facilitate meaningful and effective political engagement online, and includes recommendations:

  • For MPs (and activists) to work collectively to create a new culture of politics online.
  • For existing social media platforms to adapt and become more suited to the task of conducting our politics through them.
  • For technologists and policy makers to work together to assist MPs in developing their own set of bespoke tools and techniques that can aid their functioning as elected representatives, and set out what components such a piece of technology should include.

David Evans, Director of Policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT adds: “As we move towards an increasingly digital society, and expectations of our politics and democracy change to match this, we must ensure that the technology we conduct our politics through is fit for the task. 

Without doubt, online political engagement is here to stay. But at a time when we as a nation are being asked to consider potentially spending billions of pounds over many years to restore the physical environment of the Palace of Westminster, we are calling for a tiny fraction of that cost to be invested in building a ‘digital commons’ fit for purpose and fit for a 21st Century democracy.

With a General Election looming, there has never been a better time to give proper consideration to how the current situation for MPs can be improved, all in the aim of making IT better for society.”

Read the full report

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