When french politic, hacktivist and sociologist discuss Internet democracy …

Listened recently to a radio show, broadcasting discussions held during ‘Les Rencontres de Pétrarques’ in Montpellier, France [1].

Great topic : Internet, ultimate step of democracy ? The program was driven by a wish to make a status on the Internet. Everyone admits that from Internet development in the 90’s, allowing the simple exchange of basic ping messages to the recent boom of social media where anyone can talk, share and participate, things have drastically changed. To discuss such large topic, the audience listened to Fleur Pelerin @fleurpellerin [2], minister of SMB, Innovation and digital economy, Fabrice Epelboin @epelboin [3], qualifying himself as infowarrior and hacktivist, and finally Dominique Cardon [4], sociologist analyzing the impact of new technologies on our society. The round table was chaired by Emmanuel Lorentin, a smart presenter of the daily morning program ‘La fabrique de l’histoire’ on France Culture radio.

Before the actual debate with the  public, each of the guest exposed his or her view about the topic, and this is where I believe the contrast was really interesting.

Fleur Pellerin, representing the recent left established government spoke first. After the expected list of buzz words such as cloud, opendata, twitter, she mentionned that for her the main changes brought by the internet in politic was the new politic time. Just like internet sped up the exchanges of information between people or companies, internet is making  citizens able to question politics and increase the pressure related to success expectation. She reminded that the direct link created by social media was often irrelevant or incompatible in a space where politics need to keep mid-term vision and cannot always comment or demonstrate result immediately. Fleur Pellerin re-assessed also that not everyone had the possibility to use internet and some further efforts should be made to make all citizen equals in front of this technology.

Then came the voice of Fabrice Epelboin, the voice of the infowarrior, the guy supporting an internet free – in the sense of without control – for everyone and fighting government willingness to monitor this media. Fabrice reminded that the massive communication capability of internet was inducing highly complex and conflictual situations which were not solved at the moment. The notion of goods being dematerialized and multiplied by thousands (aka your old good MP3 that you used to download on megaupload), which was creating an overreaction of governments, trying to  control peer exchanges, inducing spying internet. He reminded that serious and independent studies demonstrated that impact of ‘illegal’ download was almost null for the music business. Fabrice also pointed that behind the control of internet, a huge business opportunity was relying for the french industry. He gave examples of IBM and Amesys exporting technologies allowing to monitor citizen communication over internet.

Finally, the mic was given to Dominique Cardon, who commented the new ways for citizen to engage in the society. He reminded the new forms for people to interact : from collaborative work such as W3C, wikipedia or activism such as alter-mondialist Occupy or Indigné, to political party such as Pirate Parti. He reminded what were the three fundamental basis of such democratic activism, using internet as a media. One. Top to Bottom organization is banned. No way to get a leader in those movements. No one could say ‘we’, on behalf of the group, except if he or she has a mandate – which always last a short period of time. Two. The program of the group is designed by the group at the same time the group evolves. As such, the group can only make a decision after a series of consensus, progressing slowly and taking into account the voice of all individual raising their hand. Three. The actual investment of citizen is at the heart of the political engagement. And, just like the movement is designing its objective while it grows up, rules for making decision are built by the same people who actually make decision. Tthis is what he called the libertarian internet.

Those three very different filters on the actual democracy state of internet lead to an interesting debate with the public – without Fleur Pellerin who had to leave (well, politics never have time !). On my side I would keep in mind a major question that 21rst century will naturally have to address : how internet will allow a vast majority of citizen to self organize with enough freedom to learn, grow up and light up.

[1] France Culture ‘Les Rencontres de Pétrarque’ podcast ; [2] Fleur Pellerin wikipedia page ; [3] Fabrice Epelboin info website [fr] ; [4] Dominique Cardon book ‘Démocratie Internet‘ and conferences on public space and social mediaopen data.

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