Across the world, many people are becoming increasingly alienated from the democratic process. Can technology be used to reconnect citizens with politicians, encouraging them to vote and engage with local issues? 

This subject was debated at the latest Spark Salon, an initiative from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) which showcases thought-provoking new technologies and took place at the UK National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (Nesta). 

Allowing people to influence policy decisions more frequently could certainly create a more direct form of democracy. But how can we ensure the process involves everyone, and that new forms of exclusion don’t arise for the digitally disconnected?

In the videos below, four speakers outline their thoughts on how digital technology can change democracy.

1. Reinventing democracy for the digital age

In most of the world, elections take place only every few years and voting involves putting a cross on a ballot paper. But what if digitization allowed people to take part in decision making much more frequently?

Nesta chief executive Geoff Mulgan, a former head of the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, argues we need to radically overhaul democracy to give people more say in the decisions that affect their lives.

2. Challenging negative echo chambers

Social media can be a force for good, connecting people across the globe and sharing positive perspectives about our world. But it can also become an echo chamber in which opinions and prejudices are reinforced.

Soushiant Zanganehpour, founder of artificial intelligence decision-making software firm Swae, says digital platforms could play a constructive role in democracy if they avoid amplifying people’s fears and negative feelings.

3. Stopping online abuse

The murderer of UK MP Jo Cox was found to have used digital media to fan his hatred of liberal values. Online abusers routinely threaten politicians who disagree with their views. But is enough being done to tackle this form of hate speech?

Seyi Akiwowo, chief executive of Glitch, a not-for-profit organization that campaigns against online abuse, describes why we need to step up action to combat social media extremism.

4. Learning from India – digital engagement

Social media increasingly polarizes opinion. For every person who thinks it is a force for good in opening up debates, there are others who say it encourages over-simplification of complex issues.

Dr Philippa Williams of the University of London has studied the influence of social media on democracy in India. She argues we must move beyond the debate about whether digitization is good or bad and instead think about how people want to engage with the process. 

Want to find out more? Tune in to our podcast of the event.