The Progressive Post

Social Democracy in the time of cyberdemocracy

Social Democrats need to embrace democracy 2.0 - without watering down their message.

President of the PES Group in the Committee of the Regions and Mayor of Coulaines, France

How to bridge the gap between technology and Progressives? In favour of training progressive elected representatives and activists, Christophe Rouillon encourages Social Democrats to join democracy 2.0 – a challenge for the upcoming European elections.

The cyberspace is a new space of public expression that politicians can no longer ignore. This is a step forward in that the public debate is broad and participatory. But it is also a risk because of a perpetual questioning of the democratic value of the delegation of power through elections, of the inequality of access to digital technology, a source of social inequality, of the priority given to polemics and the present moment, rather than to reflection and long-term politics.

Social Democracy in government at both local and national levels integrates the idea of compromise, step-by-step progress, constructive confrontation of ideas within the framework of representative democracy and moderation. Is it a coincidence that the weakening of Social Democracy began with the arrival of the internet and accelerated with the rise of social networks?

The digital society pushes for the radicalisation of opinions, disruptive provocation and the culture of post-truth. The exacerbation of fears, hatred of elites, rejection of constraints and political simplism discredit our model of political legitimacy based on the conquest of knowledge, academic success or popular education.

Social Democrats rely on reflection, analysis, Cartesian reasoning, the fruit of experience, the long time of explanation. As Jean Jaurès said in his speech to young people in Albi in 1903: “Courage is to seek the truth and to tell it; it is not to be subjected to the law of triumphant lies that passes, and not to echo stupid applause and fanatical boos from our soul, our mouth and our hands.”

Social media gives favors emotions, the irrational, the image rather than the written word, the instrumentalisation of hate. The big winners of this new game are the likes of Beppe Grillo, Matteo Salvini, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and Jair Bolsonaro. The wave that is submerging Social Democracy comes from all sides. In Italy, it is the Lega and the Cinque Stelle. In Germany, it is the AfD. In France, it is La France Insoumise (‘Untamed France’) or the Front National. Of course, Social Democrats are active on social networks. But have we taken the measure of the revolution on the way? I don’t think so.

Faced with the dictatorship of emotion, derision, slander, hatred, we will never win on the register of truth alone and rationality. We must articulate reason and emotion, the brain and the heart, the heart and the guts. The media success of the Yellow Vests should make us think about the power of the image, of the testimony in the living room or in the lorry, the power of video in less than a minute.

Social Democrats remain attached to the model of big speeches and section meetings, while political expression has shifted to B2B, to the streets, roundabouts, squares in our cities and villages. Political communication is also a geostrategic weapon, the continuation of the war by other means. We were naive in the face of Brexit and the Cambridge Analytica manipulations. Are we more lucid in the face of Steve Bannon, the troll factories in St. Petersburg, RT (Russia Today) or Sputnik? We must take into account the external interference of Demokratur sup- porters who perceive the Social Democrats as an obstacle to the destruction of the liberal and democratic European model.

Faced with the dictatorship of emotion, derision, slander and hatred, we will never win on the register of truth alone and rationality. We must articulate reason and emotion, the brain and the heart, the heart and the guts. 

Social Democrats must move up a gear by using democracy 2.0 specialists, by train- ing activists, campaigners and elected representatives in the culture of posting, tweeting and video expressing. In the run-up to the European elections, the training of its mayors, regional presidents and local representatives in the use of social networks will be the priority of the Socialist Group of the European Committee of the Regions.

In politics, nothing is a given, the last presidential election in France made this totally clear. The Tarpeian Rock remains close to the Capitol. Social Democracy is vital for Europe’s future and cohesion. Left-wing populism is only the antechamber of right-wing populism. Social Democracy can still provide a credible and sustainable alternative to ultra-liberalism. Without denying our values, let us change gears and strengthen our digital communication. Let’s articulate rationality with emotions. Let’s still make people dream, even if we must always combine the desire for change with a culture of government. Let us be popular without being populist or “coarse” in Cicero’s words in the face of the conspirator Catiline!

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