Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Digital Democracy in Britain: Big Data, Social Media and the Open Society

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Digital Democracy

Who this event is for

  • Everyone


John Henry Brookes Lecture Theatre, John Henry Brookes Building (JHB), Headington Campus


A one-day symposium on how digital technology is transforming our democracy - for better and for worse.

The development of digital technology and media marks a radical change in the way political communication works. In particular, they allow participation in dynamic, peer-to-peer interactions in which politicians are participants rather than controllers. Yet the apparently democratizing role of digital media is fraught with challenges, two especially. First, the algorithms used to filter content on many digital media platforms encourage users to seek out like-minded individuals and mutually reinforce one another's views. As well as being a forum for deliberation, digital media has served to amplify entrenched and sometimes extreme views, leading to increased polarisation. Second, digital media can be captured by interests intent on subverting the principles of liberal democracy. As the recent case of Cambridge Analytica shows, the use of psychographics for “smart targeting” political messages reveals how digital media can be used to rally support for populist and demagogic causes. If these interests are fuelled by “big money” from powerful state or non-state actors, then there is a very real risk that our politics will be undermined. It is the aim of this symposium to debate these two negative phenomena–crudely, “digital rage” and “digital corruption”- and ask how we might better control the dark side of our evolving digital democracy.


09:30 – 10:00: Coffee & tea

10:00 – 11:00: Welcome and introductory talk: "Digital Democracy: History, Theory and the Present (Barrie Axford, Tom Crook and Glen O'Hara).

11:00 – 11:30: Coffee & tea

11:30 – 13:00: Panel 1: Digital Rage
Social media is often thought to encourage political anger and division. But are we really as divided as we think - and might voters in fact be more amenable to compromise than recent sensationalist headlines suppose? This panel considers the reality behind our fractious and seemingly polarized digital democracy.

Matt Singh (Number Cruncher Politics)
Christabel Cooper (Labour councillor and data analyst)
Keiran Pedley (Ipsos-MORI)
Anneliese Dodds MP (East Oxford, Labour MP)
Mike Smithson ( politcalbetting.com)

13:00 – 14:00: Lunch

14:00 – 15:30: Panel 2: Digital Corruption
Is digital technology good or bad for democracy? Whilst some have celebrated the new forms of community and information sharing it has enabled (e.g. crowd-funding and online petitioning), others have suggested it represents a danger - a democracy undermined by “dark ads,” dodgy donations and disinformation. This panel considers the perils and possibilities of digital democracy, and the extent to which we really should be worried.

Nick Anstead (LSE)
Kate Dommett (University of Sheffield)
Jess Garland (Electoral Reform Society)
Adam Ramsay (Open Democracy-UK)

15:30 – 16:30: Concluding Roundtable: Digital Governance
So what’s to be done? This final roundtable discussion will invite discussion on how we might reform and better manage our new world of digital communication and community.


Organised by Barrie Axford, Tom Crook, Glen O’Hara and Jon Wheatley

Friday 14 June 2019, JHB Lecture Theatre, Oxford Brookes University