Why can't social networks be a place for democratic debate?
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
The quintessence of a voice born on social networks, the Yellow Vests movement has highlighted the deep feeling of powerlessness of citizens in the face of government decisions. To place their claims at the heart of the media debate, they seize social networks. But do these exchange platforms really allow the construction of a democratic debate? Can they really be used by decision-makers to stay in touch with citizens? Is the freedom of speech online a matter of discussion... or of impulse? Image of a phone with social network icons
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have revolutionized the way our society communicates. From now on, everyone can express their opinions, outside of election periods; raise awareness on issues that are important to them, or like the Yellow Vests, alert policy makers on societal issues.
But can these virtual conversations engage in a real online democratic debate? Are they reliable monitoring tools for gathering opinion trends or influencing decision making?
To do so, social networks should respect the framework of the public space. As a guarantor of democracy, the latter favors argued exchanges between two people of different opinions, in compliance with rules established by a moderator, in order to reach a common decision. However, the exchanges that take place on social networks do not respect any framework of prior discussion, any methodology of debate. The moderation is summary and does not necessarily invite to respect or explain one's point of view.
If this freedom of speech of citizens is nevertheless precious and allows strong societal awareness (#Metoo to only name one), it does not lead to a common reflection around a particular issue. Its impact is spectacular, but it does not provide sufficiently detailed and nuanced information to lead to a decision.
A limited dialogue
Dialogue is also limited. When an Internet user questions or replies to the tweet of a media personality, his comment is added, from second to second, to a multitude of other interventions. This accumulation of virtual monologues stifles, unfortunately, any possibility of discussion or answers. The absence of answers leaves room for frustration, for the impression of not being listened to, for the breakdown of trust and with it any possibility of a peaceful exchange of points of view.
Besides the saturation of comments, more or less constructive, social networks offer only a reduced visibility. Each one has its own algorithmic rule, its conditions for expelling or not expelling a user, and grants itself the right to change them regularly. Posts are more subject to the rule of notoriety than to the freedom of expression. As long as all members of the community are not equal, we cannot talk about democracy.
A one-sided vision that opposes democratic debate
Headlines, short videos, numbers without necessarily explanations... Social networks tend to make us believe that we are getting information. But few are the moments when we take the time to dig into the reflection. Even rarer are the moments when we confront ourselves with a point of view opposite to ours - since everything is calculated to push content in our direction. This lack of analysis, combined with a lack of understanding or even empathy for a different point of view, considerably weakens our capacity for democratic debate. Fake news, on the other hand, finds a fertile ground...
The Internet and democracy: a possible equation in a framework of trust
At Fluicity, we believe that the Internet can serve democratic debate and decision making on strategic issues. We even think that digital tools are essential to maintain the dialogue between decision makers and citizens, and to recreate a climate of trust.
On the condition that this dialogue takes place within a defined space and a precise methodology.
The conditions of use of this digital space must be clear for all contributors. Everyone must feel free to express themselves, while setting a goal of co-construction.
Fluicity is a citizen participation platform that allows decision-makers to offer this space of expression to citizens. Thanks to its survey, ideation and co-construction functionalities, it invites citizens and decision-makers to go beyond the stage of frustration and find concrete solutions together. It also takes care of moderation to avoid, as is the case on social networks, that comments do not receive the same level of attention.
Under these conditions of trust, transparency and commitment, the democratic debate can begin.