like-minded degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better

like-minded
individuals. According to him, citizens have a tendency to look only to
reinforce their own pre-existing opinions on the Internet, weaving themselves
into “information cocoons.” (Sunstein, 2001, 2006)

However,
most debates around open government and Web 2.0 are based on the values of
social networking1
and on the hypothesis that networking enabled by digital technology will
fundamentally transform the way citizens relate both to institutions and to
each other (DiMaio, 2010).

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The
question as to whether the Internet will democratize our society is one related
with crowds and power, but also of the nature of the problem. Decisions borne
by as many people as possible do not necessarily have to be better.

Suroviecki
highlighted this important lesson:

„The fact that a cognitive diversity
matter does not mean that if you assemble a group of diverse but thoroughly
uninformed people, their collective wisdom will be smarter than an expert’s.
But if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees
of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions
rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart
those people are. If this is difficult to believe— in the same way that March’s
assertions are hard to believe—it’s because it runs counter to our basic
intuitions about intelligence and business.” (2005, p. 31)

The
failure or success of a decision process is to a certain extent based on problems
‘essence. As Surowiecki argues in “The Wisdom of Crowds,” (2005)
cognitive problems can be solved easily by a group of persons; however, making
policy in a democracy is not cognition, but rather a coordination problem with
less than definitive answers.

Another
setback is posed by the digital gap between different age groups (Balea, 2012; Yao, Okoli,
Houston, & Watson, 2005/2007),
most particularly between groups of different social status, gender or
migration background (Khorshed A., Sophia I., 2015).

What
the Internet does is to reduce the number of difficulties to engagement, hence decreasing
the motivational threshold at which citizens decide to engage. Nevertheless,
the current tendency of promoting the use of digital media as a tool in citizen
engagement also includes the risk that those people who best know how to use
the Internet as a tool for information gathering and engagement will become the
new digital elite2.

Experts
on the digital divide, such as Ismael Peña-Lopez (2011),
point out that digital literacy in Europe is still limited, as European
citizens are not skillful using computers and the Internet. This limitation is
particularly important when abilities rather than technical access are the
subject of focus. Insufficient level of e-literacy is thus amongst the biggest challenge
to e-democracy3.

We
can currently observe that the digital gap between certain segments of society
is increasing rather than decreasing (Stoica, 2015),
and that sizeable differences concerning patterns of usage can be identified4.
As a complex concept with many dimensions, the digital divide or digital gap
has its own dynamics. Initial studies about digital gap considered the access
to technical infrastructure, after the broadband extensions in Europe, the academic
and policy studies shifted their focus on capabilities, and skills as the main
study area.

Despite
all positive and negative effects of engagement via online and digital media,
100 % participation is not the goal. But we can draw on the potential of the
Internet to strengthen democracy through transparency to achieve better decisions
as a result of a more knowledgeable society.

1 For an extensive study  about social networking positive impact see Petrizzo-Páez and Palm-Rojas
(2010)”In this concert of tools, procedures, motivations and
citizen causes, interactions among individuals linked to local activities also
take place, taking advantage of Web 2.0 for collective action, be it local or
not (surveillance tasks, popular initiatives, control and deliberation among
others) and between these and public institutions (through public consultation
of proposals for regulations or laws for instance). In virtue of this it weaves
a web of ties to dialectical relations too which shape well differentiated
dynamics between citizens and between them and the government institutions and which allow the
construction of a sort of socio-political networks that incorporate, in
addition to individuals, public institutions.” (p. 191)

2 For a political
anthropology perspective on the digital elite see Coleman  (2010).

3 More
recently Ilomäki, Paavola, Lakkala, and
Kantosalo (2016) proposed a
comprehensive boundary concept, digital competence. „We suggest that digital competence is defined as
consisting of (1) technical competence, (2) the ability to use digital
technologies in a meaningful way for working, studying and in everyday life,
(3) the ability to evaluate digital technologies critically, and (4) motivation
to participate and commit in the digital culture.” Ilomäki
et al. (2016)

4 It is important to
notice that the ageing population in Europe plays a significant role.