New report shows online cultural and political participation may strengthen democracy

Report by Helmut K. Anheier uses cultural policy indicators developed for Council of Europe.

A new report, Online Participation in Culture and Politics: Towards More Democratic Societies?, prepared by the Hertie School for the Council of Europe, explores opportunities and challenges posed by digitalisation and the internet for cultural and political participation in Europe. Helmut K. Anheier, Professor of Sociology and past President of the Hertie School, was the report’s principal investigator.

The beginning of the digital age brought great expectations for the internet’s potential to promote understanding and tolerance, stimulate creativity, enhance diversity, and democratise cultural and political activity. But reports of manipulation, mis- and disinformation, and incivility raise the question of whether the digital age poses as much a threat to democracy as it offers opportunities to strengthen and broaden it.

Yet, enabling participation in cultural and political life, whether online or offline, individually or collectively, does indeed open up opportunities and encourage people to exercise their right to self-expression, to be active, and to play a role in society and in governance, according to the report. What is more, the report found, “online engagement in cultural and political life can have a positive impact … (T)hose who engage online tend to have more tolerant attitudes (at least toward migrants) and less populist leanings. People taking part is certainly not the only path toward inclusive, democratic societies, but it is undoubtedly a crucial one.”

The report brings together data from the Indicator Framework on Culture and Democracy (IFCD), a tool for assessing and optimising cultural policies, the results of a novel survey of internet users conducted by Dalia Research, and other comparative data. The indicator framework and the report, published in July 2018, were part of a process initiated by the ministers at the 2013 Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Culture on “Governance of Culture – Promoting Access to Culture”.

The co-authors of the report are Regina A. List, Marcel Hadeed, Rafael Schmuziger Goldzweig and Jessica Leong Cohen, all of the Hertie School at the time of writing. Matthias Haber, Sonja Kaufmann and Olga Kononykhina, all formerly of the Hertie School, also contributed.

Read the full report here.

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