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Why the US and India Should Collaborate in Creating an Alliance of ‘Digital Democracies’

It might be particularly interesting for India to present a digital democracy alliance plan when it hosts the G20 meeting in 2023.

Digital democracy is the use of digital technology to promote democratic rule, its the use of technology in governance. The digital tools strengthen political dialogue and active political involvement. With the new age of digital and media, the relationship between political authorities and citizens are changing. While the traditional connections between voters and elected officials are deteriorating, e-tools like the internet and social media platforms are helping in mobilizing voters and increasing participation in ways that will encourage innovation and strengthen democracy.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden sharing a light moment.

Digital democracy is connecting two developing domains - digital platforms and democratic governments. The ‘Age of Digital Democracy’ began at a time when technology and digital platforms became the backbone of civic activity. For example - The Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests to bring about a change in the society and to transform the country from authoritarianism to democracy was fueled by social media. Social media played an important role in enhancing dialogue and communication among the protestors. Thus in the early 2000s, the term ‘digital democracy’ referred to how digital technology could alter democracy, perhaps leading to more civic participation in governance.

Democracies are coming together, they can form an inclusive democratic space through digital media. Media and democracy are strongly correlated. In democracies, the media serves numerous critical purposes, including informing citizens and allowing them to form ideas, offering a place for public debate, and acting as a link between the citizens and the government. The media scrutinises the administration, political groups, interest groups, and so forth. The media is equally to blame for negative influence. As the digital platforms have largely overtaken editorial space, there is now potential for engagement-optimizing algorithms that prefer appealing and enticing material. Any news can go viral on internet media and can influence citizens.

For instance, a narrative misrepresenting the identity of a mass shooter may begin on a website, be shared by organised amplifiers or be tweeted by an influencer, and then spread throughout social media until it is picked up by mainstream media as a trending news topic. As a result, these platforms become centers of influence. Disinformation agents use platforms like digital technologies to target, hide the source of content, and stifle news from independent journalism in order to deceive citizens.

All this endangers democracy's foundations in many crucial ways. Democracy is dependent on the emergence of shifting coalitions of various groups. Citizens, however, are unable to participate in democratic negotiations when they are forced into believing that certain groups are a threat to them. Thus the media, the judiciary, and the rule of law, as well as civil liberties and free and fair elections, are all under danger.

The internet era has changed the political scene. Online propaganda and disinformation have corrupted public discourse. In addition, the countries have censorship and automated surveillance programmes which can result in citizen’s lack of trust in government institutions. The internet can be used to undermine democracies just as it can destroy autocracies and dictatorships.There are rising threats from authoritarian states, particularly China. In 2018, China was stated as the worst violator of internet freedom. Other countries are Iran, North Korea, Syria and many more

President of the United States of America, Joe Biden outlined his foreign policy agenda and stated that as the president, he will work to advance the security, prosperity, and values of the United States by taking action to restore their democracy and allies, safeguard their economic future, and reassert America's preeminence in the world by establishing the goals and addressing the most pressing global issues. All throughout the world, democracy is in danger. Democratic institutions across the world in countries like the United States, India, Brazil have been weakened in recent years by illiberal politicians. Economic inequality, backlash against immigration, and the quick spread of misinformation are just a few of the important issues fueling this rise in populism and decline in trust in governmental institutions. Democratic countries are thus coming together to work on major global challenges in a way that upholds principles that all democracies share. In order to maintain their democratic institutions, the democracies must also cooperate on a wide range of geopolitical, economic, and security challenges. Digital democracy can help democracies by allowing the general public to engage in democratic institutions and providing citizens a voice. There was no halt in the international regime during COVID-19, as the international community switched to digital means to engage with each other and hold summits and conferences. All of this was made possible by the creation of a democratic space in the digital media.

American President Joe Biden hosted the first of two Summits for Democracy in 2021, bringing together 100 government officials, members of civil society, and members of the business world to examine the problems and challenges that democracies face in the twenty-first century. New efforts were made to unite countries to protect democracy against developing digital authoritarian threats. The project will support free and fair elections, end corruption, improve political reforms, and promote the use of technology for democracy.

It is important for democracies to cooperate in the era of digital technology and the United States (US) is maintaining its democratic values and taking the lead in advancing digital democracy. The US has caused democratic countries to become more concerned than before. This also depends on how the participating countries and the civil society can seize the initiative to pursue meaningful cooperation. The world has witnessed many summits on climate change, military and political aspects, it's the first time that the focus has been on human rights and democracy.

India, which has the largest democracy in the world, attended the Summit for Democracy as well. As more people utilize the internet, more people have access to smartphones, and as more entrepreneurs create new businesses, India's digital economy is going through a historic change. The 500 million internet users in India today are rooted in a developing digital ecosystem, where the use of mobile phones, social media, and digital payments are spreading more widely among India's sizable rural populations. India is at a crucial turning point, and its next moves and policy decisions will define whether it is successful in establishing the leading digital economy of this century.India and the United States, as well as other like-minded countries, could be major allies in this effort and in the larger drive to develop the digital economies — and democracies — of the twenty-first century.

India today has one of the world’s biggest and most pioneering infrastructure in delivering public goods and services via digital means and, thus, promoting digital democracy. This digital infrastructure helped deliver much needed cash support to tens of millions during the pandemic, and also delivered instantaneously via mobile phone more than 2 billion vaccine certificates. India is now working towards building a definitive ‘health stack’ to digitise and make more efficient health services. The digitisation of India is one of the most important, if not the single most important, process in the world of digital democracy.

Therefore the US and India are natural partners in building a new global alliance of digital democracies. Social media giants must play a natural role as key stakeholders in bringing together this global grouping of countries committed to using digital technologies to further democratic goals especially in making the lives of citizens better and enhancing their voices in the democratic process.

Such a grouping would also address any concerns of information curation, with better processes to distinguish extremism from genuine criticism and enable democracies to create better feedback loops with their citizens. This would further create more sustainable policies and governance structures for the future.

An alliance of digital democracies is an idea whose time has come. Ideally the US or India should take the lead, supported by the US, and with the cooperation of major tech and social media companies, to start building such a coalition.

One platform where Prime Minister Modi might want to consider presenting such a plan is at next year’s G20 summit which will be hosted by New Delhi. This could well be the gamechanger at the G20 summit in 2023.


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