Our response to the Digital Democracy Debate


The University of Sheffield’s Digital Society Network and the House of Commons Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy held a two-part event inviting Citizens to contribute to current debates on how online technologies could be used to re-engage citizens and Parliament. The event took place in the heart of the city in the interesting and iconic Castle House as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind.

Full details of the debate can be found here:

  • Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party
  • Michael White, Assistant Editor of The Guardian
  • Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Commission Member & Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Hull
  • Helen Milner, Commission Member & Chief Executive of the Tinder Foundation
  • Nick Ellison, Professor of Social Policy, University of York
  • Charles Pattie, Professor of Geography, University of Sheffield
  • Yael Shafritz, President of Sheffield Student’s Union

The following are our considerations on the use of commercial technical platforms to hold UK’s peoples political views.

The first point to address is why the UK IT industry has been marginalised by big US, Japanese and German corporations? Partly this is due to the scale of the US market, which is not really countered by the EU market size due to language diversity and political divisions. It is also partly due to a lack of investment in future platforms and technologies – the short-term-ness of the City finance model. Only ARM has bucked the trend and their operation is small scale when compared with the large IT and systems/services providers. We need to support UK IT companies to expand into the US and other global markets.

Current Government policy on IT procurement, such as the Cabinet Office support for open source and opportunities for SMEs to be IT/software providers is fine, but it is not backed up by strategic support for the sector. Gradually the open source companies will become more restrictive as they tailor their products so that you get locked in. There will also be the situation where large IT corporates will buy up these SMEs which will lead back to the monolithic supplier situation this was meant to end. It is vital that the open data standards policies are strengthened and supplemented with open quality standards.

The main point to address is the suggested use of commercial technical platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to hold the UK’s people political views.

Why do we want to put our political views on technical platforms that are not owned by the UK and let foreign owned organisations mine our information?

We should support our people. For a UK IT solution to this problem we need to build our own UK IT companies to support this platform using organisations such as the Hefce Catalyst Centres (Advanced Computing Research Centre – and Innovate UK Catapults.

Democracy is about everyone being equal, Facebook labels you based on your interests. How can targeting campaigns this way be democratic? Facebook is not known to have the full coverage of our social demographic. How can we maintain anonymity when that it is not the basis of the company?

Bernards-Lee worries about the internet being taken over by corporates for their own purposes. This they will do through ISPs and offering ‘free’ services, which reduce people’s freedom in the future.

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