Mind the Gaps? Connecting UK Digital Advocates

Politicians have failed us: that seems to be the consensus after last week’s Digital Economy Bill fiasco. So now what? The social media sphere is still buzzing, and the Open Rights Group has experienced a surge in membership. Their web forums are beginning to identify opportunities for local campaigns. There is increasing acknowlegement that digital rights issues are fundamental to democracy, and that the interests of rightsholders whose business models depend on exclusion of access should not trump the communication rights of innocent individuals. Yet much remains to be done to capitalize on these opportunities to galvanize digital democracy. The UK is the site of much innovation in democratic social media from mysociety’s TheyWorkForYou which connects Hansard data to voters by location, to more mundane (but essential) projects like CTC’s FillThatHole which allows you to report dangerous potholes. But there’s still a risk that all of this innovation is contributing to an echo chamber.

I will be commenting on the Digital Economy Bill wash-up vote and the risks and benefits of social media democratic action as part of a virtual panel organized by Christian Sandvig for the HASTAC conference held online from April 15-17. Check out the conference and the panel, and please share your comments and thoughts.

I’m also interested, in a more scholarly way, in how all of this advocacy fits together. As anyone who studies social movements knows, digitally-organized coalition and issue based movements risk propagating “electronic panics.” Not only that, but coalition members may have to focus on narrowly shared goals and step carefully around issues where they don’t agree. I’ll be exploring how this works with UK PrivacyOS workshop in Oxford this week, digging down into the relationship between privacy and Net Neutrality advocacy. These both seem like especially niche areas, but I’m hoping that understanding their relationship can help to model other ways of connecting advocates at this especially important time.