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Blog post

Can deliberation renew democracy in a digital world?

Community participation Deliberative democracy Democracy Fake news Policy Social media

Democracy is, seemingly, under threat the world over. Diversely labelled “democratic recession” and the “death of democracy” in the extreme, this has also given rise to “post democracy,” where parameters determining people’s living conditions are set by entities out of reach of national policy-making. Add to this, the waning number of recognised democratic countries while some apparent democratic countries are undermining rights and liberties that ensure a working democracy. What’s more, public discontent furthers the gap between citizens and political decision makers, themselves widely distrusted by citizens who, in turn, fuel narrow populism and polarised thinking.

With the rapid loss of trust in political decision makers, disillusioned citizens are fatigued by fake news, its threat to public participation, and a loss of confidence in processes of electoral representative democracy. Just look to the UK’s Brexit referendum or the 2016 US presidential election to name the most prominent. Indeed, a recent poll in Canada suggests that public disconnection from democracy creates a wider risk of unhealthy populism that undermines the values and principles of democracy.

But the legitimacy of democracy depends on a real – and tangible – link between the public and public policies. Enter deliberative democracy. Ideally, this might respond to legitimate ways governments can engage people so they feel more engaged in public decision making beyond voting. But, is this possible in an era of fake news, social media and public discussions among the like-minded? That is, how can we make deliberative democracy practical in the cacophony of self-sorting, information bubbles on social media? But first we need to unpack deliberation.

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