The Covid-19 pandemic will not end soon, but the opportunity of a global connection and digital activism might foster the public debate on crucial political issues. Virtually connected to a worldwide sample-public, panelists of the conference “Digital Activism in Times of Pandemic, Disinformation, and Post-Truth” in Prague addressed digital activism’s new opportunities and global concerns vis-à-vis the rise of disinformation, censorship, and authoritarian regimes in some countries. Azerbaijani columnist and writer Arzu Geybulla explained that digital technologies play important roles during the global pandemic. How to fight illiberal regimes’ disinformation and censorship is a central issue. In the last years, digital tools have played an important role in enhancing civil society and individuals. However, in Covid-19 time “finding innovative solutions is complicate.” Denouncing fake accounts and hate-spreaders can be a positive start. Avoiding public polarization, fighting authoritarian censorship, and targeting fake news fabricators are capital challenges.
How to increase digital activism’s impact has been the core issue of the discussion led by the youth leader of the Venezuelan Party Voluntad Popular, Hasler Iglesias. With digitalization, democracy activists must reimagine and reframe their strategies. Protests all over the world have gone digital but “how can we better use social media and digital resources to promote democracy and values?”. Peaceful discussions are “useful for activists around the globe.” Global connections and infrastructures spread democracy and debate. However, “if we just focus on digital activism, we risk leaving out those how to have not such infrastructures,” Iglesias warns. “We have to promote digital media and skills,” which will enhance both digital activism’s efficacy against authoritarian governments. Global connections empower individuals. After all, Arabs springs “were born through social media,” and only later transformed into a concrete movement.
Learning new good social media and digital tools’ practices to reach wider audiences can raise public awareness on policy issues. Particularly, six challenges have been identified in the discussion. First, new technologies raise new rights. For example, rights of transparent information and fostering of human dignity. Covid-19 “empowered some authoritarian regimes in certain countries,” Iglesias said. Illiberal democracies started tracing and controlling common people with the excuse of security. Human rights, the second issue, can be violated by noxious floods of online disinformation used by autocracies as propaganda tools. The third challenge is climate change, a subject that should not be left to “noisemakers”, unwilling to listen to the science, and based on improvised and unreliable pieces of news. As for the fourth point, strengthening the pluralism of ideas and thoughts is important both for enhancing digital activism and weakening authoritarian control.
New technologies can not only spread reliable information but also provide many opportunities for people to conceptualize new concepts, contents, and hot issues, enhancing democracy. On the other hand, fake news should be tackled with legal tools. Democratic processes such as political elections should be closely monitored and protected against illegitimate interferences. A fifth challenge is to make efforts to create a long-term global strategy and community opened to new opportunities. “Sometimes,” Iglesias warns, “activists are not skilled to create positive digital content.” Promoting multimedia skills is imperative. The last challenge dealing with digitalization is to create bonds and bridges between people. Rediscovering shared important values beyond differences is a main feature of democracy.
And digital tools and activism can foster the global debate in a positive, multilateral direction. Connecting and rising awareness among people on global challenges and ideas is important for democracy. Not only it increases digital activism’s positive efficacy, but it puts authoritarian regimes in difficulty. Civil personal-individual responsibility should be strengthened if one wants to face the challenges of today’s world; illiberal democracy and disinformation between many. Deepen citizenship and personal commitment to “global self-responsibility” is crucial. It is up to individual citizens to connect in a wide and open network of responsibility. Responsibility is a concept going beyond the online/offline division. It helps to tackle illiberal democracies and is a symbol of digital activism. Simply put, it empowers human capital.
(Published on amedeogasparini.com)