I am currently reading a book called The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy written by political sociologist Paolo Gerbaudo, which talks about the rise of digital political parties in these recent years.
So what are digital parties? They refer to the rise of political parties which adopt the platform model of digital companies – like Facebook, Google & Twitter – to facilitate direct participation of the citizenry in all the important decisions concerning public interest. This model of political parties can be seen from the European parties such as Italy’s Movimento 5 Stelle, Spain’s Podemos, Pirate Parties, France’s La France Insoumise, as well as the movements behind Bernie Sanders and to those backing Jeremy Corbyn. Some of these parties have their own digital platforms, allowing their own members to log in and have their own say about important issues.
This new digital formation allegedly professes to be more participatory (as everyone has their say), more democratic, more open to ordinary people rather than the political elites running the countries, more immediate and direct, and more transparent. They were born out of long-term increasing distrust towards institutional representation as citizens feel increasingly disillusioned about the accountability of political leadership, which were deemed to be more concerned with winning elections and maintaining their own power rather than addressing societal and policy issues.
One interesting observation is that these digital parties are over-represented by young people, given the fact that they are the ones often much savvier about the Internet:
Digital parties are parties of outsiders, of people who, because of their age, professional situation or economic security, feel excluded from society, and therefore harbour grievances against the existing system and establishment parties that are seen as keener on representing insiders. The outsider can be understood as a person who experiences an unstable social and economic condition, who is struggling to make ends meet and who often finds herself stretched because of the lack of welfare state provisions. This is a condition that has become widespread since the financial crisis of 2008, after which digital parties have emerged and grown, and which is particularly strong among millennials, the cohort providing the bulk of support for these movements, that face high levels of unemployment and job security.
On how digital revolution, despite all the shiny qualities it brings, also herald the worsening of working conditions (this is where towards the end I let out a yelp: hey that’s us!):
The digital revolution has also contributed to significantly worsening working conditions around the world as has been documented by Nick Dyer-Whiteford in Cyber-Proletariat. It is true that if one looks at the shining top of the digital economy, one will see the cropping up of highly qualified and highly paid jobs, from software development and engineering to marketing, community management and Web design, sometimes working in pretentious ‘campuses’ with lounges, sports facilities and the like. However, these jobs continue to account for a very small share of the overall workforce. The bulk of the new jobs that have been created by the digital revolution and its transformation of the world of work tend instead to be lowly qualified and lowly paid jobs.
This trend is epitomised by the rapid growth of causalised workers such as call centre workers, riders for delivery companies such as Deliveroo, Uber drivers or warehouse workers as those of Amazon, among many other typical profiles of the so-called ‘gig-economy. These figures can be considered as part of the ‘precariat’, an emerging class, which, in his General Theory of the Precariat, Italian activist and theorist Alex Foti describes as ‘the underpaid, underemployed, underprotected, overeducated, and overexploited’.
I’m only about 40% in, and it has been a good read so far. Digital parties are interesting in my view because from a techno-deterministic standpoint, by allowing digital media to help enhance political participation can help in many ways: lowering barriers to information and discussion, opening doors to how citizens can also have their own say on policymaking, and giving them all the transparency to follow the policymaking more closely. In short, it offers the opportunity for everyone to evade the bureaucratic process of representation through the participatory affordances that digital platforms allow. However, this ‘platformisation’ trend comes with its own vulnerabilities – and so this is how the rest of this book will continue.