Digital Democracy in Taiwan, basic 8 for Synthecracy

Audrey Tang

Audrey Tang, Photo by Billy H.C.Kwak

Below is my translation, with permission of the author, of an interview by Julie Blussé in the NL quality newspaper NRC June 8 2020, page 14-15, with Audrey Tang, Minister for Digital Policy in Taiwan.

And also below the translation, with permission by the author, of a second article about Tang by Anouk Eigenraam in Financieel Dagblad (FD) a couple of days later.  Here is the link to that article:

But the essence of this blogpage is not only about Audrey Tang, but  is to show that, after the present transitions and class/ generation revolts, Digital Democracy can be put in practice with success by young activists who are brave and able to do the right things at the right time.

It is very superficial to think that Democracy = taking decisions by majority of counted  votes. It is much more, and more  clever, deeper and more broad.

  1. It is essential that an issue can be commented on, discussed and percieved from as widely different angles of background and perception as possible. Idea formation. Contradictions. Broadness bypasses bubblevisons, prejudices. Innovation, creativity. Audace.
  2. These views can be combined into proposals to tackle/solve the issue by a number of fractions. Clustering and design by specialists and experienced & competent.
  3. There should be an “house” of representatives who can then vote=choose the best policy and ways to tackle & solve the issue.
  4. Those representatives should be held accountable for their decisions, be officials for a limited time.  The majority should listen and use suggestions by the minority. Because they can be the majority the next time around.

During this democratic process digital transparency is important (all should be informed and have same info <hologram>, possibilities of comment and contributions), everybody should be involved in learning from how unexpeced things where handled, and it should be able to react fast with solutions. And learn together.  Sure, mistakes will be made, but not repeated. Concensus and quality can only be achieved by working in parallel and distributed like light in a lens. And taking local circumstances into account. Digital tools and communication links are making new distributed ways of democratic communities possible. And by distributing it the community can handle complexity (not reduceable) better than a central point diktator who has to simplify in order to rule.

5. Crux of democracy is that the general & long times interests are connected in a loop(s) with the well understood short time & self interests of the participants. If such loops are formed, all ships will rise ! (non zero sum games)

6. In such networks < information, knowledge and wisdom>  can digital percolate P2P through society, and will be holographic: everywhere and nowhere, without the need for endless meetings and without the endless speeches of ‘leaders’, thank heavens.

Hierarchies and power/central authority no longer play much of a role. Napoleon invented them to control a large army in the field, by vertical command and control, but that was because there was no way to inform soldiers and lower ranking officers in a two way mode about the overview and reasons for commands. But now we CAN. Information from bottom to top flowed fast and simple enough for those Napoleontic times. But this way of command and control is now seriously outdated, even for businesses and states and cities,  and has to be replaced. And it now is possible to communicate many-to-many and handle complexity by distributing updates and info from the field with the help of ICT.

This transition to a functioning digital democracy is one of the key changes towards #Synthecracy we see happening, and it is what the low wage workers are essentialy demanding in their revolts and demonstrations. Yes, the DEMOS in Democracy means ‘Civilians in Power’.

PS. A demonstration of the POWER that the Digital Demos can suddenly have, is what K-Pop fans did to the Trump Convention in Tulsa: a Flash NON-mob 🙂 organized with Tik Tok (popular with young population):

K-POP flash mob

What do you mean, you got forty tickets?

Digital Democracy is no long a soft and idealistic movement. The activists that participate have AGENCY. They aim to get things done.

jaap van till, TheConnectivist

===================translation with permission of the author==========

Julie Blussé

She preaches the blessings of Digital Democracy

Until recently she was considered, inside and outside Taiwan, as an inspiring utopist. But since ‘Corona’ she is taken very seriously. “Democracy is in for an UPGRADE” !

When a run on toilet paper started in Taiwan, the government very quickly distributed  a cartoon-like picture, in which the vice-president, with butt turned to the camera, calmly pointed out the facts to the population: “You have only one butt”. Under that text was explained in a businesslike fashion why the Taiwanese did not have to fear a shortage of toilet paper. Sure, this was not very sophisticated, but in Taiwan the joke was widely shared and forwarded.

This is just an example how the Taiwanese government updates, with digital media, the population on the Corona Crisis: blindingly fast, full of humor, and often with animal pictures: “Keep three shiba inu’s distance”.  This tactic is called “Humor over Rumor” by minister Audry Tang, in an interview via Skype. The minister for Digital Affairs developed this approach originaly in reaction to dis-information campaigns from the area of China, who still consider the de-facto independent island as a renegade province.

“We do not appy that strategy because we are a country of jesters”, she says laughing, “although that is correct.We use it because that is the only way that WORKS.” Furthermore a more authoritarian approach, like censorship can count in Taiwan directly on critique. “A large part of the population would immediatly say: ‘isn’t that exactly what they do in China?’ So we are more or less forced to innovate, nearly in the opposite direction of China.” And what makes Tang hopeful: “That optimistic way works, also for facing Corona.”

Until recently Audry Tang was considered, inside and outside Taiwan, as an imagination inspiring utopist. In a TedTalk she told how in Taiwan they are constructing “the Democracy of the Future“, for instance with online discussion fora. Since the coronacrisis her larger than life ideas are proving themselve in practical reality: technological knowhow plays an important role in the succesful fight of Taiwan agianst the outbreak. Only 440 people where infected on the island, only 7 people died thusfar. The densely populated country, with 23 million people ((NL: 17 million)) did not even have to go into lockdown. That is surprising if you realise how much Taiwan is connected with neighbour China.

Tang (39) is Digital Affairs minister since 2016. She emphasises not  to work “FOR the state but WITH the state.” For instance with “presidential hackathons” she made it possible that civilians can help shape governmentpolicy, improve it and discuss it.  “Democacy is a Technology” expresses Tang. “We no longer think it is sufficient to vote for a president or major once every four years. With that act you upload as a matter of speech only 5 bits of information to the system, and with a referendum every two years only 10 bits or 20.”

Silicon Valley  Since 2014 she is active in politics. That year the tech-enterpreneur returned from Silicon Valley to participate in Taiwan in the progressive Sunflower Movement. That movement of young activists occupied the building of Parliament as a protest against a disputed commercial treaty with China. Tang ran the ICT services for the movement so the whole country could follow livestreams of the meetings of the young activists online. The Sunflower Movement was not only a protest, it was foremost a demonstration of Digital Democracy” she says. Everybody could see that civilians aided with social technology could together form deeply thoughtful plans.”

When two years later the progressive opposition party came to power, Tang was asked to take the position of minister for Digital Affairs, especially created for her. and she made it her mission to Upgrade the Taiwanese Democracy with digital tools. In recent months Tang sees that civilians take the lead in developing  technological solutions for the crisis. A favorite example of Tang is an app that a software programmer developed in February, when facemasks where baught and hoarded. By way of the app users could online exchange information where facemasks where still available. Tang describes that this app was so popular that it crashed within days. “But it was a huge social innovation, a kind of gps-system that guided you to the nearest apothecary where they had facemasks in store. Coordinated by Tang the Taiwanese govt helped with network processing power to keep the app online available. In addition to that the ministry enriched the app with extra govt data that gave users an even more accurate picture of the actual nearest facemask storage situation. Later the ministry added the personal service to reserve a weekly quotum of facemasks or donate to countries where there is a shortage.

Apps with hotspots  Since the beginning of the corona crisis Taiwanese civilians have developed hundreds more of such technological tools, most often based on data available for the public. For example there are apps with which you can check yourself if you have been on or near hotspots for infections. There are chatbots with which you can factcheck dubious corona news or gossip. According to Tang these tools help to increase the “collective intelligence” of the population.  “It is a collective learning experience, instead of a top-down authoritarian approach.”

Nevertheless civilians are not allowed to join in employing all technological tools in the fight against the Corona Virus. take for instance the “digital fence” that played a key role in Taiwan’s Containment Policy, that was activated as early as January by the government. Nearly everybody that enters Taiwan is as a result ordered to stay two weeks in home quarantaine. With mobile phone user data digital location surveillance is done to check this. Tang admits “that it is a violation of privacy”.

No sneaky step She does not see this Fence as a first step in the direction of a survellance state- although she understands that fear. “We also had that fear during the SARS-epidemic in 2003.”  Tang describes how a SARS breakout forced the govt to take the rigorous meaure to bring a whole hospital under quarantaine for indefinite time. for weeks nobody was allowed to exit it, while inside the building more and more doctors and patients got infected and died.

“That was a collective trauma”, tells Tang. “Everybody thought: we do not want thar ever again. Afterwards we had a lenghty public debate about the question in what extent breaking into privacy is acceptible to safeguard public safety.”  That debate resulted in a verdict of our suppreme court that sets clear boundaries for the government: it is allowed to put civilians, during a public health crisis, digital under homequarantne for a maxmuim of two weeks, after which all collected data must be erased immediatly. Tang calls it a lucky coincidence that the incubation time of corona is two weeks.

” I will not fake it that everybody is happy with this policy” says minister Tang, “and I also will not say that the Taiwanese solution is best. But I do think that other countries should have the same kind of public debates, which in our case SARS had allready forced us to do. Thát Taiwan learned important lessons from the SARS epidemic gives her nevertheless hope that the rest of the world will learn from Corona too. We did have to undergo a kind of societal inocculation back then.”

Time for Reflection  Until quite recently the succes of Taiwan went by unnoticed on the world stage. Under presure of China Taiwan is not allowed to be member of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which makes it difficult for Taiwan to exchange information with the rest of the world. “Let me be loud and clear about this, everybody suffers that we have no access to the WHO” states Tang. But meanwhile we have established a number of bi-lateral realtions with epi-centers of the pandemic, like New York.”

On the technology plane this means that other countries are encouraged to work, like Taiwan, with open source software. Also we help guide them to copy and adapt Taiwanese code for their own use. The UK has adopted parts of Taiwanese code to devellop a social distancing-app, tells Tang, and South Korea has develloped their own version of the face mask app.  But we try foremost to spread the idea that it is NOW to go through the debate, where Taiwan took years to do that:

  • ” what are our core values ? ((see other blogposts of me))
  • what do our constitutional laws mean ?

Soon you will find your country in the same situation as Taiwan in January: a low number of infected and the experience of an epidemic as hindsite.”

“The coming month we will have to choose direction.” sees the minister in our future. “If people decide that they are willing to move in the direction of a surveillance state and sacrifice their freedoms in exchange for public health, than that will happen.” Technology can then nearly instantly realize that, thinks Tang.

But she remains optimistic: in the time before us also “something UTOPIAN can happen ((my guess: #Synthecracy)).  “Technology scales, but what you scale up with that are the fundamental ideas that are dormant in society.”


=============article from FD translated here with permission by author=======


About broodjejaap

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This entry was posted in agency, democracy, Digital Democracy, infodemic, K-Pop demonstration, P2P Collective Intelligence, P2P Power, participation democracy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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