The time when the internet epitomized progressive, innovative, bottom-up politics has passed. The business-models of platforms, intelligence services, the use of the internet for propaganda purposes, the proliferation of online political bubbles and the proliferation of trolls and bots have tarnished the romantic image of digital democracy. Questions about the potential impact of the internet are now routinely raised in relation to political events and elections in most places. The internet is an infrastructure selecting, directing, conducting, generating and delimiting the terrain of democratic contestation. Even if people are no digital dupes, concerns about how the internet relates to democracy are amply warranted. In this project we speak to these concerns. We ask how the digital infrastructuring of democracy unfolds through regulatory and political processes, with a heuristic focus on both its transnational dimension and its specific reverberations in democracies of the Global South. We emphasize a regulatory politics located within digital infrastructures and working with ICT rather than from the outside and against them.
The project will focus on the three main aspects of the digital infrastructure: codes, content, and circulation. It will analyze the place of these in the political and regulatory processes that form one aspect of the broader infrastructuring of democracy. To do so, we concentrate on one thematic controversy related to each aspect of infrastructure: the accountability of algorithms for code, data protection for content, and encryption for circulation. These controversies will be studied at an overarching level as well as in relation to their unfolding in the Brazilian context. The project will comprise studies of the debates surrounding Facebook’s automated removal of content, the leaks leading to President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, and the contested place of Whatsapp groups. It uses process-tracing methods, combining text and document analysis with controversy mapping and ethnographic methods. The project is interdisciplinary and problem-oriented, and focuses on work packages on the thematic controversies and the related case studies.
This project is conducted by researchers and professors at the Graduate Institute of International Development Studies, Geneva (IHEID), the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) and University of Edinburgh. The project is funded through the Brazilian-Swiss Joint Research Programme (BSJRP).
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