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Digital Democracy: Political Participation and Citizen Engagement through the Internet

Published Tuesday, October 13, 2015

This Library Note provides an overview of developments around citizens’ political engagement and participation through the internet. It has been written in light of the 2015 'Open Up' report by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, which set five key targets for the House of Commons and made a number of recommendations to the administration and MPs in how to meet them. Reference to the report and its recommendations are referred to within.

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Over the last 20 years the internet has changed society, and it has not left the political landscape untouched either. Changes in communication technology have historically had a great impact. As Haverman and Rider have argued, the printing press helped seed the Reformation and the French Revolution, while the postal system facilitated the growth of trade unions and other membership-based organisations. Though it remains to be seen whether the internet will make this much of a difference, some effects have been observed. While traditional forms of political participation have trended downwards, the internet has opened new avenues for citizen engagement. Citizens have been using these political opportunities; from sending emails to MPs, to using the internet to initiate social movements, such as the Occupy Movement.

This Note provides an overview of recent developments in digital democracy based on the latest academic research. It clarifies how, instead of becoming disengaged, some people are shifting from formal to more informal forms of political participation. It also sets out how the internet affects the interaction between citizens and parliamentarians, and how Select Committee e-consultations and e-petitions have been used in the past. The Note then describes developments in online citizen media, online activism, delegative voting, and the use of the internet for the data-mining of political opinions and trends from Twitter and other forms of online communication.

Lords Library notes LLN-2015-0035

Author: Wybo Wiersma

Topics: Elections, House of Commons, House of Lords, Information technology, Parliament

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