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Status 2022
Digital democracy

My vote counts

Participate, claim rights, get informed. More and more people use the internet for their political goals. With success.


  1. Laws for the net

    This is what’s in it for you

    Who says the European Parliament is only interested in crooked cucumbers? Five laws from Europe and what they do for you.

  2. Story of an assassination

    It all began with bloody conflicts over power and dominance. And in fact democracy would have died out long ago. If it weren’t for...

  3. Democracy reloaded

    Ever greater numbers of people are parti­ci­pating in democratic processes via the internet. But fake news, bots and filter bubbles can so easily lead us down the wrong path. Digital democracy – its implications, and what you need to know.

Laws for the net

This is what’s in it for you

Who says the European Parliament is only interested in crooked cucumbers? Five laws from Europe and what they do for you.

All weapons exported from Europe are required to have two centimeters of curvature for every ten centimeters of barrel. This great idea for world peace came from the mind of Martin Sonneborn, an MEP who pro­posed a motion to this effect in the Euro­pean Parliament. But was he just having a bit of fun? Sadly, yes – it was just a joke. For who isn’t aware:
Martin Sonne­born represents Die PARTEI, a German parody party that won a seat in the European Par­lia­ment in 2014. His motion was to fall by the wayside, as was his at­tempt to re­intro­duce the long-repealed regu­lation on crooked cucumbers.

But the European Parliament is about much more than just twisted cu­cum­bers and curved gun barrels. In fact, it produced count­less laws that turn out to be very useful to you. To follow are just five of the more notable of them.

1Let the buyer beware ... or not?

Online shopping is more than just a handy and easy way of acquiring things you need, thanks to the EU you as a buyer now enjoy many rights all over Europe that make online shopping safer across 28 Member States. For example, you have the right to expect your order to be delivered within 30 days. And if it hasn’t arrived within that time you have the right to cancel the order. But what if you have received the goods, but they’re not to your liking? No problem. You have 14 days to return the delivery, without hav­ing to give a reason for doing so. Let’s say, though, the goods are what you want, but they’re not working correctly? Well, in that case you have the right to demand that they be repaired or replaced. And if that doesn’t work, you can claim a discount or return the goods. You have a minimum two-year gua­ran­tee on all goods. And on top of all that, deal­ers are required to offer their goods and services to every­one in every EU member state at the same price.

2Hate is not an opinion

It’s not hard to find hate on the internet. According to a scientific survey conducted by the Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia, almost every 14- to 24-year-old in Germany has come across hate speech on the internet. And according to a survey commis­sioned by the Council of Europe, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter­sexual people are the most frequent targets of such hate speech, though Muslims and people who stand up for these groups are also victims. The European Union strongly opposes internet hate speech and has agreed on an EU Code of Conduct, which was launched in 2016, with Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and some other social platforms. "You victim" and similar insults, but especially racist and xenophobic comments should be deleted as soon as possible by the platform operators, the Code of Conduct suggests. And it is effective: 89 percent of the reported comments are now under conside­ra­tion and 72 percent of illegal hate comments have been deleted, as the fourth movement of the EU Code of Conduct shows.

3Digital slavery no longer on the menu

An ever increasing number of people are now earning their daily bread wielding a mouse or swiping a touch­screen – they’re composing texts, researching on the web, delivering food for delivery services, or whatever it is their clients need at whatever the time. These microjobs, which form part of what has come to be known as the “gig economy,” can take as little as a few minutes to complete – think, for example, of the task of researching an address on the internet. Exchanges designed to match jobs to available clickworkers are sprouting like mushrooms all over the web. So, the digital revolution is matching demand to supply quickly and conveniently, and everyone’s a winner! ... Or not, as the case may be! According to Welt, the European Commission is worried about the potential to exploit clickworkers, fearing even the risk that a form of digital slavery might emerge from the phenomenon. Enrique Calvet Chambón, a rapporteur in the European Parliament, takes a critical view of these new developments as they emerge all over the world. For example, the parliamentarian considers it neither true nor fair for a delivery service to claim that no real employer-employee relationship exists between it and its messengers. The EU is now moving to lay down a set of rules to govern when clickworking counts as a genuine employment relationship and the conditions under which employees begin to enjoy the corresponding labor protection rights. For example, the EU wants to introduce laws to prohibit platforms from simply canceling microjobs spontaneously without payment, and to draw up rules setting minimum daily working hours in advance so that gig workers can better plan their daily lives. EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen sums it up: "Today's economy needs flexible labour contracts, but flexi­bility must be combined with minimum protection.".

4Networked to better safety on the road

Cases such as the racers on Berlin’s Ku'damm underline the fact that far too many people are still dying on Europe's roads as a result of irre­spon­sible behavior or simple human error. In an effort to make our roads safer, the European Parliament has decided that intelligent net­worked assistance systems will become manda­tory in all new vehicles from 2024. These systems should make it possible, for example, for cars to tell whether their driver has been drinking and block the ignition if so. And the system will also detect if the driver is driving too fast and issue a warning. If the driver still doesn’t slow down, the car will automa­tically restrict the fuel supply to reduce its speed. The European Road Safety Council has described this decision as the most important milestone in the history of road safety since the intro­duction of the seat belt.

5EU General Data Protection Regulation

This sounds bulky, but it's a real innovation for the protection of your data: Information may only be collected about you, or even passed on to third par­ties, with your agreement. If you want to know what companies have stored about you, they have to tell you – and erase everything if you want that.

The history of democracy

Story of an assassi­nation

Story of an assassi­nation

It all began with bloody conflicts over power and dominance. And in fact democracy would have died out long ago. If it weren’t for...

It all began with a bloody murder. At least the Athenians of the 5th century BC saw the assassi­nation of the tyrant Hipparchus in 514 BC as the decisive turning point towards democracy in their city. They celebrated his killers as liberators and put up a monument in their honor in the center of Athens. What actual effect the killing had on the develop­ment of Athenian democracy is impossible to say from the perspective of today. In reality, democracy was the product of a long period of development.

Popular sovereignty in Athens was based on the active partici­pation of all male citizens, rich and poor. Women, slaves and foreigners were all excluded. Athenian democracy was to last for almost 200 years. The city finally fell to the Macedonians, who took away the citizen­ship rights of the city’s inhab­itants. And that was almost the end of democracy, if it weren’t for...

  • Riots

    594/593 BC – The gulf between rich and poor is huge. Riots ensue. The Athenian statesman and lyric Solon is elected into the highest state office to restore piece in the city state. He cancels the debts of the poor and thereby liberates them from servitude under the nobility. All free (male) citizens are allowed to participate and vote in the people's assembly. As a counterweight to the nobility's power, Solon establishes the council of the 400 as well as a people's tribunal. However, the rights of the people to assume a political office are restricted to members of the four wealthy classes. This let's the nobility keep far-reaching influence. Solon writes laws for many spheres of life and has them recorded.

  • Suppression

    546/545 BC – A new period of tyranny starts under Peisistratos. In 514 BC, his son Hipparchos is murdered during a festive procession. His brother Hippias consolidates his reign at first, but is forced into exile in 510 BC.

  • Reforms

    508/507 BC – With his ideas for profound reforms Kleisthenes can win over many Athenians and gets a mandate to implement these reforms. He performs a reorganisation, allows more political participation for the citizens and thereby weaks the position of nobility. He founds the council of the 500, which is the highest political office. Annual rotation of its members guarantees the highest possible participation of citizens from all regions. The highest offices are still retricted to the upper class of society. In order to secure democracy, individual citizens can be ostracized by a people's vote.
    This is intended to avoid a new tyranny.

  • Advancement

    462 BC – The Areopagis (council of nobles), which is mainly responsible for justice, is deprived of power. Its competences are given to the council of the 500 and the people's tribunals. This advancement of democracy during the nex thirty years is mainly connected with Pericles. As a great orator, he gets elected into many important offices. He introduces daily allowances for participation in the people's assembly and a salary for offices in the council and in tribunals. These are a compensation for missed earnings and therefore allow even poorer citizens to take on offices.

The fate of democracy had almost been sealed. If it weren’t for...

... Aristotle. It’s not that he was a champion of democracy or anything like that, but he recorded its existence in his writings. And so the idea of democracy slumbered over the 1900 years of the rule of emperors, kings and feudal lords. Until democracy was rediscovered in modern times. But the philosophers were anything but in unanimous agreement about it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, championed a direct version of democracy, as had been practiced in Athens. John Locke and Charles Secondat de Montesquieu were among the spiritual founding fathers of the principle of separation of powers and of representative democracy.

The great breakthrough in England

One great step on the way to democracy was taken in 1689 by the people of England, who managed to wrest a "Bill of Rights" from their King in that year. In the document they forced him to agree were set out the rights of parliament in relation to the king, also listing out for the very first time a set of inalienable rights for citizens. This spark was to spread into other countries, including France and Germany, for example, and was to find expression in the revolu­tions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Develop­ments in England were also influential on the emer­gence of democracy in the United States. About 100 years after the conclusion of the “Bill of Rights,” the first represen­tative democracy under the principle of separation of powers was born with the foundation of the United States of America.

Universal male suffrage was introduced in such countries as the USA, France and Switzerland towards the middle of the 19th century. The suffrage for women was to take much longer. Democracy was only to see its definitive victory after the Second World War – 2,500 years after its original invention and birth in Athens.

Digital democracy – the network changes everything

In modern democracies we elect repre­sen­tatives who govern on our behalf, and who discuss and agree the laws of our countries (under a system we call repre­sen­tative democracy). With the coming of the concept of digital democracy in the information age, it may well be that the circle comes round again to a direct model of democracy. Because the internet provides us with new opportunities for further developing and shaping democracy.

The concept of “liquid democracy,” for example, proposes that each voter may choose between agreeing new laws directly online and lending their vote to the representative of their choice – to a politician they trust or simply to a friend. Under such a system you are always free to choose when you want to vote yourself and when you’re happy to pass the right on to your chosen representative. Whether such a concept is practicable must be called into question. But such considera­tions show that the network could allow more participation and bring us closer to direct democracy: how the Athenians gathered on the hills before Athens to decide on laws, we gather in the network - only virtually. But digital democracy means much more than this. More on this in “Democracy reloaded.”

More sun Bye glyphosate No plastic bags Lower the taxes Speed limit 130
Digital democracy

Democracy reloaded

Ever greater numbers of people are participating in democratic processes via the internet. But fake news, bots and filter bubbles can so easily lead us down the wrong path. Digital democracy – its implications, and what you need to know.

Campaigning to stop massive bee death, introducing a speed limit of 130 km/h on German freeways, blocking plans for a European upload filter – an ever increasing number of people choose to advocate their causes via the internet. Helping shape politics effectively - on the sofa at home, standing at the bus stop or lying sick in bed - the internet makes it pos­si­ble. Digital democracy facilitates new ways of par­tic­i­pating and new ways of exerting influence.

At the same time, though, there are forces at work on the internet that threaten to damage democracy. Populists seek to manipulate us using fake news and hate speech. Data behe­moths can now x-ray our behavior and use the knowledge to influence our future conduct. Filter bubbles put blinkers on us and – whether we’re aware of it or not – narrow down the range of influences that help form our political opin ­ions. So how can we maxi­mize the benefits of digital democracy and at the same time minimize the risks?

Imagine there’s an election on, and everyone’s on their way to vote

My vote counts! That at least seems to have been the attitude of most Germans in 1972 – when more than 91 percent exercised their vote in the elections to the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. Since then, however, interest in democracy has been steadily waning. In the last federal elections in 2017 the participation rate was down to around 76.2 percent. And the situ­a­tion is even worse for European elec­tions. While 63 percent exercised their right to vote in 1979, in 2014 just 43.1 percent of Europeans bothered to cast their vote for their represen­tative in the European Parliament.

But what’s making us so unwilling to take part in elections? Some argue that “the guys at the top are going to do what they want anyway,” while others just shrug and say that they “don't know who to vote for,” and simply abdicate their voting power.

But digital democracy has the potential to turn this trend on its head. The concept of a "grassroots move­ment" has recently become a new buzzword: Increasing numbers of peo­ple are putting their feel­ing into action that they can have an effective say in politics and their own lives by using clicks to express their views: using online petitions, for example.

According to the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation, 40 percent of Germans are either already participating in e-petitioning or are interested in doing so. “Our oceans are not an enormous trashcan,” is how internet user Tobias Kremkau explains his support for an online petition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to prohibit non-recyclable packaging. In his lobbying efforts he uses the political platform, which is a non-government organization, along with other tools, such as openpetition and Avaaz. He also sends questions directly to the relevant parliamentarians in his federal state’s par­lia­ment via a platform called Abge­ordne­ten­watch (“parliamentarian watch”).

Estonia goes a step further, allowing its voters to elect their parliament online. That makes the Baltic state the first and so far only coun­try in the world to have introduced e‑voting. Since its intro­duction in 2003, parti­ci­pation rates in elections have risen from 58.2 to 63.1 percent in 2019 – and one in every four voters now chooses to vote online. The new digital platforms now available for parti­ci­pation in democracy seem to have captured the zeit­geist. Digital democracy seems to have the potential to improve parti­ci­pation rates, thus helping secure the survival of our democracy.

From childhood on, we struggle to decide for ourselves on how we are to live our lives. So we really shouldn’t be willing to give up on that struggle when we reach adulthood. Democracy and liberty are not something we can take for granted. A quick look back into history and at the world around us makes crystal clear the risks we run if we leave it to the few to decide how we live our lives. It’s clear that “the sovereignty of the people” can only triumph as long as the people are willing to take part in it. What many forget is that not bothering to vote is also effectively making a decision: the decision to allow other people to decide who makes the decisions over your life in the future. If the political center decides to take the back seat, the effect is to give extra weight to the votes of the radicals, putting our democracy in peril. The jolt towards the right happening all over Europe should be a warning to us.

How to help shape your future!

Filter bubbles ... or: Grandpa always said that you should read two newspapers

If you don’t know what a filter bubble is, then the chances are that you’re living in one. And that’s not a good thing. But what exactly is a filter bubble? Let’s take an example: a business student who runs a Google search on climate change is almost certainly going to receive totally different results from a lawyer who has tapped in the very same query on the latest iPhone. There is one thing the two Googlers have in common, though: they’ll rarely encounter any sur­prises in their results. Because Google always brings back whatever matches their previous internet be­hav­ior. The situation is similar in social networks: once you have created a profile, including your age, gen­der and all the rest, have liked content from a particular group and followed a particular user, you’re only going to see information that matches your choices. And if social networks are your main source of information, you’re going to get the im­pres­sion that there is no other way of looking at things – your horizons become ever narrower.

The influence of the filter bubble is dangerous pre­cise­ly because it’s so effective. Every click you make on the internet leaves behind a digital trace that makes you that little bit more transparent and that little bit more open to manipulation. More on this to­pic in “Cache me if you can.” But how can you esc­ape your filter bubble? Check out how in the infobox.

Escaping the filter bubble

Alternative facts ... or: the lounge bar goes online

What used to be the table in the lounge bar is now to be found on Facebook, Twitter and the rest. At the bus stop, in the line at the super­market – and even within the first minute after waking up – we visit digital lounge bars to check what’s happening in the world, and to feel a connection with our friends. And just as our cronies around the table in our regular lounge bar always informed our opinions, the digital lounge bar does the very same thing today. And the digital lounge bar – just like its real world predecessor – provides a bountiful marketplace for “alternative facts,” following the principle that the meatier the assertion, the more attention it’s bound to receive. Because fake news is by no means an invention of the internet.

Any yet we always used to be able to pick and choose the people we sat around the table with in the lounge bar. Things are different on the internet: populists and nationalists slide in uninvited beside us at the table, especially during election campaigns, and blab out their half-truths, repeat their poisonous slogans and propagate their brazen lies. If you’re not careful, you might end up believing that Hillary Clinton is running a porn ring from a pizzeria. And, quick as a few clicks, our political views are twisted all out of shape.

The populists use bots and algorithms as megaphones in their efforts to spread such content right across the spectrum in a form tailor-made for its target listeners. The personal information that we leave in our digital footprint as we surf makes this sort of precise manipulation possible. It can produce the illusion every time we visit our digital lounge bar that just everyone is against Hillary Clinton, for example, simply because a minority of users – whether they’re real humans or social bots – are particularly energetic in telling us about her real and imagined faults. This phenomenon is referred to as the “majority illusion.” And the concept has its effect in the real world: populists use it to take control of the political debate, endangering our democracy and our freedom.

Leave no traces in the internet

Protect yourself from fake news

Scout the territory

The internet offers enormous oppor­tunities for democracy, but it also poses dangers. But there is really no need to be afraid of trolls and algorithms. Because the good news is that we can minimize the risks. The first thing to do is to scout the territory tho­rough­ly. That’s why we at Deutsche Telekom created the “Medien aber sicher” platform (a play on words meaning roughly “Media, sure! But secure.”) with the goal of equipping people to deal with the digital revolution safely and competently. The “teachtoday” initiative, aimed primarily at children and teens, is there to promote safe use of the media from an early age. Those of us who know how the digital world works, what forces are present within it, and what goals those forces are pursuing, are equipped both to protect themselves effectively and to use the opportunities that the internet offers for the benefit of our democracy and our freedom.