WebRoots Democracy Festival was an online festival of talks, debates, and discussions examining pressing matters related to technology and democracy. It was held between 16-20 November 2020 and marked the close of WebRoots Democracy after 6 and a half years. All of the discussions are available to watch below. If you would prefer to listen back to them as a podcast, they are available on Spotify (and will be made available on other podcast providers) here.
Monday 16th November
Free speech in the Internet age
The line between free speech and hate speech has become harder to define and enforce in the Internet age. Has the concept of free speech fundamentally changed? Is content moderation the same as censorship? How can we protect free speech whilst clamping down on incitements to violence in an online world?
We explored these questions with Charlotte Jee (MIT Technology Review), Jamie Bartlett (author of The People vs Tech and host of The Missing Cryptoqueen), and Alex Krasodomski-Jones (Director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media).
Online voting: Will it ever happen?
Online voting has the potential to future-proof elections and increase access to democracy for the most marginalised people in society but faces significant challenges on the grounds of trust and security. Will it ever happen?
We discussed this question with Professor Mark Ryan (Computer Security, University of Birmingham), Max Beverton-Palmer (Head of Internet Policy, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), Rebecca Ogbonna and Charlotte McMillan (Royal Society for Blind Children’s Youth Forum), and Areeq Chowdhury (WebRoots Democracy).
Tuesday 17th November
Disrupting Democracy: In conversation with Magid Magid
Magid Magid is a Somali-British justice activist, author, and former elected politician. He was a Green Party Member of the European Parliament and was previously the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Sheffield.
In this event, BBC journalist, Catrin Nye, interviews Magid about his debut book ‘The Art of Disruption’ and his thoughts on radically reforming democracy in the UK and Europe.
Unmasking Facial Recognition
The increased use of live facial recognition surveillance by police forces across the UK has been the subject of heated discussion in recent years. Our report, ‘Unmasking Facial Recognition’, found that it is likely to exacerbate racist outcomes in policing and revealed that London’s Metropolitan Police failed to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment before trialling the technology at the Notting Hill Carnival.
We discussed the report and the future of the technology with Gracie Bradley (Interim Director, Liberty), Mutale Nkonde (CEO, AI for the People), Sarah Chander (Senior Policy Adviser, European Digital Rights), and Areeq Chowdhury (WebRoots Democracy).
Wednesday 18th November
Decolonising the Internet
Is the global extraction of data and the online export of Western cultural values establishing a form of ‘digital colonialism’? A growing amount of research is being published on the concept with some arguing that the rise of big tech is exacerbating inequality between the Global North and the Global South.
Writer, author and broadcaster, Yassmin Abdel-Magied explored the concept with PhD researcher and former Editor of Media Diversified, Henna Zamurd-Butt.
Turn up: Maximising the youth vote
Young people are often the generation with the lowest levels of voter turnout, not just in the UK but across the world. At the same time, they are a generation which is increasingly political, using the internet to organise high profile campaigns on racial and environmental justice. How can we harness this energy to ensure that young people are having their voices heard at the ballot box?
We explored this question with Abena Oppong-Asare MP (Labour Party), Mete Coban MBE (My Life My Say), Rachael Farrington (Voting Counts), and Khadija Said (WebRoots Democracy).
Thursday 19th November
Online harms: How should we regulate big tech?
The challenges with the big tech companies are well-documented. Disinformation, trolling, and taxation are all issues which policymakers have been rushing to grapple with in recent years. The global nature of the internet makes this a particularly difficult challenge and it is one which the UK Government is planning to overcome with its upcoming legislation on ‘online harms’. Does it go far enough or does it go too far?
We explored this with Darren Jones MP (Labour Party and Chair of the BEIS Select Committee), Dr Elinor Carmi (University of Liverpool), Alvin Carpio (Facebook You Owe Us), and Rachel Fielden (WebRoots Democracy).
The Internet and Islamophobia
Islamophobia has been on the rise over the past 20 years and has become normalised across social media. Researchers have found that online Islamophobic abuse in the UK to has been perpetuated by foreign disinformation actors as well as domestic citizens. Furthermore, this online hate can often translate into physical acts of harm offline.
We explored this and considered the potential solutions with Zahed Amanullah (Institute for Strategic Dialogue), Faima Bakar (award-winning journalist), Miqdaad Versi (Muslim Council of Britain), Fahmida Rahman (WebRoots Democracy).
Friday 20th November
Disinformation and the 2020 US Presidential Election
QAnon, suspicious dossiers, and dubious claims have all been key factors of the 2020 US Presidential election. Much like the 2016 election, this election has been dogged by attempts of online disinformation. The integrity of mail-in ballots have been questioned, rumours about Joe Biden’s son have gone viral, and the FBI have said that Russia and Iran have been targeting the election online. How significant was the role of disinformation in the election? What’s changed since 2016 and what can be learned for future?
We explored this with Carl Miller (Research Director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media), Siddarth Venkataramakrishnan (European Technology Correspondent, Financial Times), Marianna Spring (Specialist Disinformation Reporter, BBC), Christine Jakobson (Tech Ethics Researcher), and Areeq Chowdhury (WebRoots Democracy).