Experts warn: People are missing the alphabetization in the virtual world

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Easier communication, better access to information, faster interaction. All of this was brought by the development of digital technologies and the internet. Nowadays, digital technologies are far more developed than anyone could have ever imagined. Digital data have become some of the most important economic staples in the 21. century. Today, data usage and data protection are important key issues, not only for entrepreneurs, but also for the people and state administration. What are the consequences for democracy?

These and other questions have been answered by Czech and German experts at the conference “Digital Revolution and democracy“ that took place at the faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno on October the 6th. The event was organized by the International Institute of Political Science of Masaryk University in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. It was part of the 8th German-Czech Day and the first academic debate about this issue in the Czech Republic.

All experts shared the opinion that the people are missing the alphabetization in the virtuality. This, especially, is a task for the educational policy. It’s not only about how to handle digital programs or knowing how to program but also about the conscience that we openly share personal data and how we can protect them.

“In social networks people lose their inhibition” claims Tobias Wangermann at the beginning. The keynote speaker who devotes himself to digitalization for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung opened the conference. He continues that internet user would say things which they would never express in reality. Along with another German expert Frank Niebuhr from the CDU in Germany he pleads to fight actively against hate, insults and threats, so-called hatespeech.

In the first panel Miloš Gregor from the faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University expressed that we cannot judge election campaigns by the feedback in social media. He talked about the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 who was the first presidential candidate that profited massively from the potential of social networks, not only in his own campaign but also to receive financial aid for the campaign. However, not all good campaigns in social networks lead to better results, such as the campaign of the Czech party TOP 09. Analyst Michael Skřivan, focusing on the low turnout by young voters, claims that the effect of social media can only be judged limitedly. One important contribution of the new media to the improvement of democracy is easier access to information, says Petr Kolman from the faculty of Law of the Masaryk University. According to the law Czech people have broad access to information but state authorities are not always willing to reveal the data.

The second panel was focused on questions concerning data safety. “You recognize a good cyberattack when the person responsible for it cannot be traced”, says Jakub Fučík, expert for cyberterrorism at the University of Defence in Brno. He emphasizes the seriousness of such threats that not only concern state institutions but also sensitive data by the people. Tomáš Rezek from the association for International Affairs and Jiří Skuhrovec from the faculty of Social Studies of the Masaryk University underlined that although the technologies brought an unprecedented development of society concerning transparency, they can also be a threat to them. Petra Vejvodová from the faculty of Social Sciences at the Charles University warned against the propaganda in the internet and illustrated the whole spectrum of manipulative techniques propaganda networks use. Most of these attacks are conducted by Russia.

In the end discussion journalist discussed with representatives of successful internet projects like “Kanál Maryško“ at Strem.cz or “Factcheck-Web Demagog.cz“. According to them the biggest advantage communication technologies brought to democracy is the empowerment of civil society.

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Czech Republic, October 18, 2016

Jiří Jirsa, Tobias Wangermann, Miroslav Škultéty, Jan Klesla, Alena Macková