Technology a double-edged sword to democracy

Editor's Note: In a digital era, technology shapes people's lives as well as the development of modern democracy in both positive and negative ways. What are the implications of new technology for democracy? How does China tap into technology to improve its governance? Prof. John Keane, a political historian at the University of Sydney, and Wang Zhongyuan, a research fellow at the Fudan Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences, share their analyses.The opinions expressed in the video are the interviewees' own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

CGTN: What is the negative impact of technologies on democracy?

John Keane: The darker side of this unfinished revolution is one in which these technologies are actually used by the powerful to extract power from people. If you look at companies, if you look at Google, Amazon, you will find these companies extract, without concerning, a lot of people's data that used for marketing purposes. So there is a damaging effect on privacy, on people's autonomy.

Wang Zhongyuan: If not used properly, new information technologies can endanger the healthy functioning of democratic politics and even destroy democracy. For example, the extensive use of automatic macro targeting in the U.S. elections and perhaps a referendum. Cutting-edge information technologies precisely target and influence voters, which could lead to misinformation, disinformation, information gerrymandering, and voter manipulation.

CGTN: What's the positive implication of new technology on democracy?

John Keane: The good story is that this unfinished digital communication revolution has opened up all kinds of democratic possibilities. For example, the networking of citizens to account for people in power. People use these new digital technologies to copy information, to circulate information, to create "publics" who are concerned about environment, who are concerned about their wages. That's the good story. There is a kind of empowering effect of the new technologies.

Wang Zhongyuan: Technologies are just tools; it's how we use them that counts. When used well, they can effectively enhance the quality of democracy. For example, through digital platforms, we can promote the direct participation of the public. Through big data analysis, the government can better understand and even predict the concerns and needs of the public in a more precise, accurate, and more tiny manner. Also, through digital channels, representatives can maintain close contact with people throughout the process and better serve them and solve their problems.

CGTN: How does China boost its democratic innovation?

Wang Zhongyuan: For instance, many cities have the hotline system. People use the hotline in reaching the local government to express these concerns, to raise suggestions and to ask for help. The hotline system is very responsive. And the governments use this system to collect a lot of data, analyze the data and use the data analysis to improve the policy making. This is a big field that the Chinese government uses digital technology to improve the relationship between the government and the people.

John Keane: Information technologies are playing an important role in the monitoring of our relationship, human's relationship with nature. What is striking in various parts of the world is the use of new technologies to monitor, to make accountable those organizations that are contributing to the damage of our biosphere.

Editors: Xiao Qiong, Hao Xinxin

Graphic designer: Qi Haiming

Producer: Wang Ying

Chief editor: Wei Wei

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