The Internet now lies at the heart of democratic society,
according to the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.
It has enabled citizen groups to mobilise and hold governments and
politicians accountable as never before, expanding public participation
in democratic processes. Social media, in particular, can reconnect
citizens with their democratic institutions, whether parliaments
or political parties, in new and dynamic ways.
On the other hand, fragmented web-based decision-making is
not necessarily suited to complex policy-making, the committee points
out. Replacing representative democracy with some form of “direct
democracy” via Internet voting would bring the risk that small groups
with greater resources could dictate final decisions without being
known or required to account for them, wielding illegitimate power.
The web can also facilitate abuse: it hosts intolerance and hatred,
allows organised crime syndicates, terrorists and dictators to flourish,
and enables the insidious monitoring of private life, not least
– as recently revealed – unacceptable intrusion by State secret
The Internet belongs to everyone, and ways must be found to
preserve its openness and neutrality while preventing it from becoming
a gigantic prying mechanism, beyond all democratic control. Web-users
and operators must be encouraged to regulate themselves, while parliaments
should lead the way in ending the digital divide and setting new
norms in areas such as “semantic polling”, data-gathering, evaluating
search algorithms and curbing Internet trolling. The ultimate aim
will be to be find a model of Internet governance which ensures
web freedom and guarantees online safety while respecting human
rights, especially in countries where these are most under threat.
To this end, the committee proposes that the Council of Europe begins work
on a White Paper on “Democracy, politics and the Internet”.