Governments and political actors must be liable for their performance and the virtual realm is not a playground anymore.
This article is part of the series — The Future of the Pandemic in 2021 and Beyond.
Frameworks, habits and mindsets turned upside down after this devastating year and its implications. With their deepening cultural impact, “disruptive technologies” ultimately showcased their relevance in every single aspect of the population’s development, pointing the way forward as means of communication, information, access to goods and services, work methods and social interaction as whole.
Bearing in mind that the virtual is no longer optional but constitutive of the new normal (with its own standards), this sets several challenges in order to accomplish connection for inclusion. But the pandemic has put on the table an additional matter, which had been underestimated until now: The government’s huge responsibility to put to disposal appropriate formal channels both to communicate vertically — from the administration to the general public — and within its different levels — amongst public personnel. The e-governance structure after 2020 will shift from static to dramatically dynamic due to its expansion from websites to social media. It consolidated public offices online and turned politicians’ accounts into undoubtable battle fields, which were neither that important nor decisive before.
Despite this not being new, it definitely can be seen as empowered throughout this year. Digital divides in access (first DD), in appropriation (second DD) and in permanence in the virtual lane (third DD) have a meaningful role in the use of social media to claim for public services, to ask for information, to be updated with the latest news about the government and to get opinions and updates from politicians towards each step to be taken. The positive uses of social media are evident but so is the lack of management of tech and digital — two extremes that have come together to redefine e-government from now on.
E-government and its motives used to be seen as accomplished when digitising public services through websites, as can be seen in Latin America. Emails and online contact forms, however, are barely responded to by officials, with the final most efficient solution being to appear at the public office at issue. Latin America has not had enough practice of e-government and the lack of a framework holds catastrophic results in terms of vertical relationships as well as trust in the public management. This leads people to use, relentlessly, what they are more familiarised with: social media. The landscape changed immediately with the pandemic and the consequent restraints and lockdown: If public office accounts did not keep up with the trend, the general public’s needs would end up unmet or worse, denied. No surprises then — since most can reach this assumption really quickly — that e-governance on social media has not meet expectations yet, but it is definitely the path ahead. Countries in Latin America should acknowledge and introduce it as a matter of urgency.
Digital rights are fully involved across and are part of all these statements. Not only access and connectivity are highlighted but also privacy and anonymity, as well as self-determination over personal data and the always underestimated digital footprint. The above mentioned fundamental rights in the Digital Age had been totally unspoken in Latin America before 2020 but, now, they are starting to take the shape of daily issues. A true triumph, which should be incorporated to the public agenda in parallel, are politicians on social media. Not only through their accounts but also because of their accounts, politicians’ digital footprint due to past content and their previous lack of knowledge on how to use social media has pushed them to train in e-politics, instead of continuing to turn a blind eye to the matter. In the process, the importance of e-politics, in terms of leadership and governance, ends up being imposed on governance processes. If social media is considered the ultimate channel to keep pace with public management and the latest political decisions, voices and statements, politicians must be not only fully aware but totally ready to respond to digital media effectively.
Over the last five years, e-politics has shown its relevance and power over people as voters, and yet Latin America stands several steps behind — except for Brazil and Jair Bolsonaro’s social media savvy approach. Argentina sets an example. A bad one. Over the last three weeks, the Twitter community in the country, started seeking past content by celebrities and political leaders on social media to expose racism, insensitivity and discrimination. The current president of Argentina himself was exposed with critical tweets advocating male violence, offensive comments to random digital users and the use of inappropriate vocabulary just before he was elected to his position. Whether it was done for fun or with partisan interests involved, the result was absolutely representative of the need to focus on the digital footprint and in how politicians should be handling their accounts and political communication. Tackling the past is not a simple task for anyone but let’s picture the major impact it has when applied to public personnel and their absolute inadvertent use of social media — live records of past slipups are just too much to swallow.
The need for accountability, at the end of the day, lies in respecting transparency and democracy and not in politicians’ shame. But this might be the starting point to set renewed strategies with a powerful digital rights policy to drive it. There’s no doubt that social media has redefined e-governance, e-government and techno-digital politics. It is not only a matter of posting and oversharing on social media. An effective e-politics development should also contemplate preventing the spread of fake news and the sharing of unverified data or enlisting in fake news campaigns to favour own positions, as well as promoting a pacific virtual environment without contributing to spam, offenses and empty or meaningless messages all along the path.
A positive use and appropriation of social media should be a priority for those who are in public management for one main reason: Governments and political actors must be liable for their performance and the virtual realm is not a playground anymore. It is, let’s face this once and for all, a fundamental rights exercise field. And ultimately, a tremendously unknown one.
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Dr. Marina Bentez Demtschenko is a lawyer specialising in promoting women rights in the digital era and the study of ICT law with a gender-sensitive ...Read More +