Information and communication technology (ICT) constitutes an essential element of people’s daily lives in 2020 and the world could not be imagined without the use of digital technologies. People do their shopping online, consume media on their electronic devices, rent cars with apps, and meet friends virtually – and this is just a snapshot of the current use of technology. Today, a great part of people’s day-to-day activities rely on digital applications and services. Imagining a world without the internet becomes increasingly difficult – and the number of people online is constantly rising.
However, it appears that this is less valid for democratic, political, and public life. Despite more and more online activities and campaigns possibly impacting political decisions, a great deal of political activity is still happening offline, following traditional and established modes of democratic participation. It was only due to the developments related to COVID-19, that a number of Parliaments explored new ways to digitalise their activities. There is not only unexploited potential for more online activities when it comes to elections (amongst EU Member States, online voting is only possible in Estonia) but also for public administration services.
Nonetheless, the great potential of digitalisation does not only apply to businesses or social connections but, in fact, also to democracy and citizen engagement with politics. In this regard, it does not come as a surprise that there has been a rich discussion on the topic in the academic world in recent years. Even before the widespread emergence of the Web 2.0, academics researched pioneer e-democracy pilots, the potential of online fora and the opportunities presented by electronic democracy more generally – amongst others. With growing progress in technical and societal innovation, the research in this field has also become more specific. More recent studies have, for example, included a clear focus on e-participation in Europe, e-participation and social capital, digital democracy at the EU level and EU public consultations.
Based on these studies that have sought to understand how the use of digital tools can be applied to enhance citizen participation in democracy, it is, firstly, possible to assume that digital technologies could have growing potential in relation with democratic processes.
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