Digital Activism in Times of Pandemic, Disinformation, and Post-Truth

Covid-19 pandemic won’t end soon, but the opportunity of a global connection and digitalization’s enlargement can foster the public debate on crucial political issues. Virtually connected with a worldwide sample-public, panelists addressed digital activism’s new opportunities as well as global concerns and challenges due to the worrying rise of disinformation, censorship, and authoritarian regimes in some countries.

Opening the discussion “Digital activism in times of pandemic, disinformation, and post-truth” Azerbaijani columnist and writer Arzu Geybulla explained that digital technologies play important roles during the global pandemic, even though «authoritarian governments are limiting the access of Internet» to citizens. How to fight disinformation and censorship of illiberal regimes is a central issue: in the last years, digital tools have increasingly played an important role in enhancing civil society and individuals, but in Covid-19 time «finding innovative solutions is complicate». Denouncing fake accounts and hate- spreaders can be a positive start, and so is strengthening a sense of common-global responsibility, fostered by digital activism and based on everybody’s access to education. 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 lead by the youth leader of the Venezuelan Party Voluntad Popular, Hasler Iglesias. With digitalization – and its opportunities and threats democracy activists must reimagine and reframe their strategies: protests all over the world have recently gone digital but «how can we better use social media and digital resources to promote democracy and values?», asked Iglesias. The issue of having democracy activists migrating on digital platforms and facing authoritarian repressions and waves of fake news is crucial: peacefully discussion and raising recommendations on this issue is «useful for activists around the globe». Global connections and infrastructures spread of democracy and debate, but «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 / and authoritarian governments’ concerns over an Orwellian-like freedom suppression. Global connections empower individuals; after all, Arabs springs «were born through social media» and only later transformed into a concrete movement.

The challenges that emerged from the discussion with Iglesias’ guests were of high importance: all agree that digital activism is here to stay, and it should be fostered and implemented. Learning new good social media and digital tools’ practices to reach wider audiences can raise public awareness on important policy issues. Particularly, six challenges have been identified in the discussion. First, new technologies seem to 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; active digital activism is crucial more than ever. Many autocracies control social media and their country’s Internet providers: human rights – the second issue can be violated by noxious floods of online disinformation used by autocracies as propaganda tools. The third major challenge concerning digital activism 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 the fourth point, strengthening pluralism of connection, ideas, thoughts are important both for enhancing digital activism and weakening authoritarian control. New technologies can not only spread reliable information but provide also many opportunities for people to conceptualize new concepts, contents, and hot issues, enhancing democracy. On the other hand, fake news and disinformation are not simply opinions: they should be tackled with legal tools; democratic processes – such as political elections – should be closely monitored and protected against illegitimate (and sometimes foreign) interferences. A fifth challenge is to make efforts to create a long-term global strategy and community opened to new opportunities. «Sometimes» Iglesias warns, «some 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. Rediscover shared important values beyond differences is a main feature of democracy: digital tools and digital activism can foster the global debate in a positive, multilateral direction.

Connecting and rising awareness between people on global challenges and ideas are 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.

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Pubblicato da Amedeo Gasparini

Amedeo Gasparini, class 1997, freelance journalist, managing “Blackstar”, MA in “International Relations” (Univerzita Karlova, Prague – Czech Republic); BSc in “Science of Communication” (Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano – Switzerland)