BreakThru News, Ep. 17: Can Technology Save Democracy?


By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein

Every single country in the world, except for four, claims to be a democracy. This is testimony to the idea that democratic governments are the best political systems for minimizing power’s corrupting tendencies: they spread out power over multiple branches, officials, and representatives, in many cases for limited intervals of time. Most importantly, those governing politicians are chosen by the population they serve.

No system is perfect, but most people acknowledge democracy to be the best one for dealing with human imperfections. The lack of better alternatives makes current doubt about democracy’s health all the more worrying.

Nowadays, there is a theme recurring in political discourse—democracy isn’t working quite right. American politicians talk about a ‘civic disconnect’ and ‘broken political machinery’ (well evidenced by debilitating partisan struggles); “the decade of the protest” has exposed the crisis of representation further afield, albeit in very different ways, particularly in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Not only is there a divide between people and their governments, but there is also a lag between our political structures (in the case of the United States, designed over 200 years ago) and modern technological advancements which continue to progress at breakneck speed. Addressing the latter might solve the former.

This week BreakThru News spoke to Pia Mancini, political scientist and founder of the Net Democracy foundation, a not-for-profit that explores how technology might improve civic participation. Its first project is Democracy OS, an online platform already being used by the Mexican government and a watchdog organization in Tunisia. The tool allows citizens to debate, and then vote on, issues being decided by their politicians. Is it possible to return every single voter to the center of politics? This sounds paradoxical. However, optimists look to technology, and particularly the internet, for new ways in which every citizen can influence decisions being made for them, and do so intelligently.

Video Credits
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell
Script Supervisor – Matthew DeMello
Research Assistant – Kenneth Miller

with guest – Pia Mancini