The tweets have it, the tweets have it. Social media and data – why we need to put it into context, part II

Can the use of data – without relating to its context – and the use of social media without political action offline combined with excluding practices in agenda-setting environments actually lead to a decline in good informative data and a further misrepresentation in the political system? Informative data needs to stand on elaborate and including democratic practices, and it must be used to not only to tell us how things are, but most importantly it needs to be used in political decision making in such a way that it does not maintain the status quo. It should be backed up by substantial political initiatives that commit to sustainable development.

The receiver of the data must first and foremost be interested in its quality –in its informative practice – but also willing to put the data to use. The interpretation of data, and the consequences data interpretation gets, is crucial. Therefore, context must play a bigger part, and definitions of data outcome must be internationally agreed upon in development. Take such a thing as the official measures of poverty (such as a §1, 25 per, suggested by Denskus), that are based on monetary indicators –they also miss out on the contextual factors such as the food cost succeeding this amount by far in many places, or the fact that this does not take into account the many political failures – or non-decisions on investment – that’s depriving people from access to water or children of schooling. To this, Denskus points to the absence of any dialogue with the actual concerned individuals and groups affected by this and how they define it and what ways forward that they identify. As suggested by Kleine, we also need to move away from measures focusing more or less exclusively on economic growth and take a more holistic approach. Zen’s capabilities approach, applied with the framework of choice theory, could be a way in to such a practice that combines both structure and agency. One significant implication for development initiatives here is that it cannot be designed on a grand scale with a specific outcome already in place – it must be more responsive to dialogue and context at the individual level. The use of ICT and new media can bring about possibilities for individual expression and an increasing sense of agency, while taking the context into account.  As Kleine put its – people need to be at the centre of development. No denying that this is a major challenge for data development and how it’s aggregated.

In allegory, to what is shown by Denskus/Esser as well as and Mayer-Schönberger/Cukier, a non-responsive political system – not committed to change – runs an obvious risk of data interpreted in such a way that it sustains political practices already in place, and can contribute to a status quo. There is a low cost in tweets, but a potential high cost for (some) political decisions. Could it be that what Shirky suggest are “long on bumper-sticker sentiment and low on any useful action” (2011:6) are prevailing in both the social media as well as in governance settings? Could it be that agency now within the political system is to carry on with policy-making in the realm of identity politics? Just as participation cannot be reduced to interaction, so too cannot international governance be reduced to joining a group on Facebook, or updating your picture with green tint, as in the case of Darfur.

Consensus, as part of a deliberative practice, may not be present in social media. It’s not a deliberative sphere in a Habermasian style, but rather a way to coordinate different collective action. However, the conflicts, the asymmetrical positions of power, and the drawing together of groups united in one-topic themes, must feed into a political system that is based upon deliberation, or more often, negotiations with its own internal logic. Therefore data collection and use must be elaborated combined with an increasing openness, transparency and an external deliberative character of the agenda- setting environment and practices of international governance.

(see reference list under part one)

One comment

  1. Hi Kristina! I agree with you there is no political willing to collect the “right” data. And this is the point here! The same powerful people taking decisions without counting on the Majority World and even deciding against them are the people designing the tools, methodologies and type of data that should be gathered. Isn’t it foolish? Politicians, large corporations and finance business are clearly not interested in listening to the people’s voices, let alone the poor people’s voices. Thus, how can social media intervene to change this trend? How can social media become a trustful channel for policy change?
    Amnesty international’s response includes the creation of an Activism Toolkit which shows how to use blogs, widgets, on-line petitions and others to denounce human rights violations:
    Also, there are a number of NGO’s and social media platforms boosting this cyber-activism. This type of participation or involvement is impressive figures-wise but very much questioned as a real way of changing things. Academics like Morozov (2013) have already raised a number of critics To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism . And critics are not only happening at the academic level. See this video from UNICEF full of sarcasm about how Facebook Likes do not safe lives.