Tiny Acts of Digital Democracy: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Helen Margetts (Oxford Internet Institute | United Kingdom)

In the book “Political Turbulence”, Helen Margetts identified how social media facilitate ‘tiny acts’ of political participation in pursuit of public gods and how they act as drivers of democratic change.

In her talk, she extends the analysis to incorporate tiny acts of democratic harm, such as hate speech and disinformation, that also scale up in important ways. She will argue that the good/bad dichotomy should be avoided. Rather, as scholars of democracy we need a methodological toolkit  for the study of all kinds of tiny acts and their motivation, accumulation, impact, mitigation and regulation, to inform models of democracy and democratic institutional design.

Helen Margetts is Professor of Society and the Internet and Professorial Fellow at Mansfield College. She is a political scientist specialising in the relationship between digital technology and government, politics and public policy. She is an advocate for the potential of multi-disciplinarity and computational social science for our understanding of political behaviour and development of public policy in a digital world.  She has published over a hundred books, articles and policy reports in this area. Since 2018, Helen has been Director of the Public Policy Programme at The Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.

Worse Than You Think: Misinformation on Facebook
Matthew Hindman (George Washington University | United States)

Misinformation on social media is corrosive to democratic self-governance that relies on an informed citizenry. Matthew Hindman presents the first study of visual misinformation on Facebook, as well as the first representative study of visual misinformation about US politics on any social media platform.

Previous studies of the core Facebook platform have focused on links to non-credible sites and “fake news” articles, finding low levels of misleading content. His novel methods leverage the extreme concentration of public user activity on the platform, along with computer vision technology and ultra-large-scale collection, to provide a more comprehensive account. Images appear to be the single largest source of misinformation on the platform.

Matthew Hindman is an associate professor in the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. His work focuses on political communication, digital audiences and online disinformation.

Dr. Hindman’s latest book, The Internet Trap: How the Digital Economy Builds Monopolies and Undermines Democracy, was published by Princeton University Press in September 2018 and received the prestigious Harvard Goldsmith Book Prize. It argues that the internet has not lowered the cost of reaching audiences — it has merely shifted who pays and how. Challenging longstanding fables of digital life, the book shows that the internet is not really a “postindustrial” technology, that net neutrality alone is not enough for an open internet and that the problems of local digital news are even worse than they look. Even on the internet, the book shows, there is no such thing as a free audience. 

Other parts of Dr. Hindman’s research focus on machine learning and the spread of digital disinformation. His first book, The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton University Press), won Harvard’s Goldsmith Book Prize as well as the Donald McGannon Award for communication research.

The Boomerang Effect: The Paradoxical Effect of Digital Technologies in Democracy
Daniel Ziblatt (Berlin Social Science Center and Harvard University | United States)

Democracy is often thought to be under siege today.  One paradoxical contributing factor is the rise of new digital technologies which has democratized communication channels but has also had a “boomerang effect,” paradoxically opening door to demagogic and anti-democratic forces that threaten democracy itself. And more than that, the rise of new digital technologies is only part of a broader set of societal changes—the decline of political parties and traditional interest groups– that simultaneously democratizes the political establishment and weakens the mediating institutions upon which western democracies have relied. 

This talk will consider the double-edged nature of these technological changes and place them in the context of broader social and political changes.

Daniel Ziblatt is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University and since October 2020 the new director of the Department Transformations of Democracy. He has been awarded the 2019 Berlin Prize by the American Academy in Berlin and was Karl W. Deutsch Visiting Professor at the WZB from 2019 to 2020. His book “How Democracies Die” (with Steven Levitsky, Crown, 2018), a New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over fifteen languages. His book ” Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2017), an account of Europe’s historical democratization, won the American Political Science Association’s 2018 Woodrow Wilson Prize for the best book in government and international relations and three other prizes including the American Sociological Association’s 2018 Barrington Moore Award for the best book in comparative historical sociology.