Democracy as a Platform: Learning from Taiwan

  1. The Captured State as a Platform Wherein increasingly weak and corrupted institutions act as a state in name only – in reality both Gov and state functions will be outsourced and owned by a small group of powerful lobbyists and rentier companies providing closed, often poor quality services, harvesting citizens data and acting largely in their own interest. This includes looking the other way when it comes to protecting citizens rights and wellbeing.
  2. Authoritarianism as a Platform The full Orwell. Where a strong state uses the web and digital methods as a tool of strategic power to centrally control markets and citizens behaviour, with little regard for privacy or citizens rights. (Basically, China. It is not a coincidence that it is Taiwan that is energetically demonstrating a counterpoint to this model. China’s looming geopolitical shadow must have the effect of sharpening the mind considerably.) But it is not a binary choice between state surveillance and surveillance capitalism. There is another way:
  3. Democracy as a Platform Where capable, well-resourced and accountable institutions use lean, open digital tools, infrastructure and funding to create and regulate prosperous markets and protect citizens rights. This, I would suggest, is what Taiwan are pursuing. I wouldn’t say it is utopian, it’s just asking the question: what does democracy look like in a digital era? How do we apply the principles of liberal democracy in an age where information, money, goods and people can move much, much faster, and digital devices can collect unprecedented amounts of data? The image of competent, digitally-savvy, democratic institutions using open infrastructure and drawing-on citizens’ creativity only looks utopian to us because we have neglected our own institutions and ideals so badly. Digital interventionism should not be mistaken for infringement of rights. As this piece points out, Taiwan’s digital tracing app seems to have had the principle of protecting citizens confidentiality inscribed into its code. As a result, it was trusted, and Taiwan’s citizens ended up experiencing far less imposition on their liberty than those of us in countries with no contact tracing app.
Taiwan’s ministers at a press conference wearing pink face masks, as part of a deliberate campaign to de-gender the colour.

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