Digital Inclusion and Policy Recommendation

Many factors influence the level of civic participation and political culture in general. These are the features of a digital society that make adjustments to socio-political processes. The impact is exerted by processes associated with the development of civil society in the EU as a whole and in France in particular, which transform social relations and orient citizens towards a course of social responsibility. As a result, new actors, forms, methods, and models of civic participation are formed. Civil participation itself is carried out in the field of the public sphere, with the help of its mechanisms and according to the rules of its functioning. Adapting, actors of civic participation took the position of horizontal interaction with authorities, which leads to the subject-subject paradigm (Goldstein 10). The source of such activity is society itself; both organizations and individual initiatives gravitate toward the use of effective network forms and principles of civic engagement, mobilization of citizens. The use of common mechanisms of effective civil participation is traced, the development of which must be promoted, observing a balance of interests in the relationship between the state and civil society.

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In view of the influence of many factors on citizens’ perceptions of the proper functioning of socio-political systems, their orientation, as well as on the general level of political culture development, over time, there is a change in values in the worldview of the population and a partial reorientation to building new types of social relations. Today, it is already possible to talk about a digital society that took place, which has come into its ‘rights’ and is fully operational, with the features making adjustments to modern socio-political processes in France. It combines those who were born in the century of digital technologies into a single digital community (Porter 2018) and forms a special cultural context that forms the characteristic ways of citizens’ actions and thinking.

The widespread use of social media resulted in the design of such forms of civic participation and interaction with the authorities, upholding the interests of social groups, such as electronic mobilization of citizens, the use of electronic government, etc. Over time, in the EU and France, all new categories of people and social groups are included in the process of civic participation, thereby forming new actors and new ways and models of civic action. This is most relevant in connection with the problem of migrants and the related multiply increased tension of the socio-political situation in French society. Moreover, a number of economic contradictions also have a negative impact on social stability in the form of a “yellow vests” protest movement trying to combat social injustice by violent and vandalized methods of protest.

In connection with all of the above, state support for individual initiatives, spontaneous activists, whose civic participation is often characterized by protest, can be a timely political decision and can direct them into peaceful forms of civic activism. Despite the fact that the government is the source of governance and the regulator of civil society, this society and its institutions still represent the source of local initiatives. Through the development of a state course on the “cultivation” of such activists, updating and strengthening their knowledge of the relevant mechanisms of civic action, it is possible to enable a higher culture of civic participation in everyday life, as well as the formation of a more systematic civic participation. In some cases, measures to stimulate the development of the potential of informal activists can identify professional community leaders among them who are ready to formalize their activities in the work of NGOs and through inclusion in the expert community, thus increasing the quantitative and qualitative composition of those representatives of the third sector who have the highest potential for effective civic participation.

Digitalization of these processes seems to be very appropriate. To achieve the goals of civic participation, public activists confidently use the wide range of tools that the Internet provides them with. For example, here activists exchange resources, interact, coordinate actions, seek partners, volunteers, etc. The modern model of citizen participation in public life involves the establishment of socially active roles in the Internet space, an important feature of which is that the user, from the recipient of information, turns into its producer, becomes the subject of Internet communication. The emergence of the subject-subject paradigm entails a change in the direction, conditions, roles of communication and its tasks, significantly transforming the public sphere. However, providing actors with official, highly effective platforms for digital interaction between themselves and with the government has the potential to channel civic activity into a civilized direction and foster a high level of civic responsibility. By joining various forms of civic participation, activists will not only be able to initiate their own projects, but also join projects and activities of NGOs. The advantages of this model of civic participation today are related to the possibility of gaining the trust of the population, as well as the ability to influence the management of civic activity on an ongoing basis.

Sociological studies show that young people from among migrants (especially, from Muslim communities) in France sharply negatively perceive barriers to their participation in political life, and how these obstacles differ from those faced by their non-migrant peers (Harte, Herrera and Stepanek 2016). Digitalization of the civic participation of immigrant communities can become an effective method of encouraging the participation of young migrants, including alternative ways of involving them in public and political life.

Digitalization of civic participation is an integral part of the concept of digital citizenship. Pendakur and Harris already in 2002 noted that in political philosophy, citizenship is, on the one hand, closely associated with liberal ideas of individual human rights and, on the other, with the communitarian ideas of community membership and devotion to the state (Pendakur and Harris 2002). The liberal concept of citizenship elevates the interests of the individuals, provides for their rights, while the communitarian concept gives priority to public interests. Between these two positions, a scientific discussion is being held on the proper status of a citizen, his/her rights and duties in the state, and the method of organizing society.

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Most researchers proceed from the fact that a fruitful public order cannot be established and maintained only by coercion. The desired political sustainability can be ensured by cooperation and self-restraint of citizens. Expressed civic virtues based on the values of trust, participation, and justice are considered one of the justified explanations for the success of various societies. These virtues are converted into social capital, which is formed on the basis of traditions of social interaction, norms of reciprocity and trust between people, widespread social associations, and citizen involvement in politics to solve problems (Saham 38-40). The devaluation of social capital occurs in a situation where citizens are divided, social structures such as public associations, the church, political parties break up, which generally indicates a crisis of citizenship (Saham 41). The concept of digital citizenship is designed to overcome the crisis, laying the foundations for the transformation of this institution in accordance with the ongoing technological and social changes, which are largely interdependent.

The Recommendation and Practical Steps that Should Be Taken

Recommendation 1

The government should take steps to create an open digital platform in the field of promoting the full participation of migrants in the life of French society, including improvement and expanding their digital and citizen literacy.

To implement this recommendation, first of all, it seems advisable to conduct a sociological study among migrants in order to clarify their perceived problems, opportunities and barriers to participation in the socio-political life of France. At the next stage, based on the analysis of the data obtained, it is recommended that a wide range of volunteer developers be involved in creating an open-source digital platform, including from among migrant IT specialists. This step is aimed at demonstrating friendly intentions regarding migrants and an attempt to bring together representatives of various ethnic groups living in France, based on work on a common project. A complete and operational platform should provide opportunities for communication, reading news, commenting and liaising with the authorities for communication in the field of existing problems of migrants and making proposals. In addition, it is necessary to provide a fundamentally new key feature of the public administration system ‑ a high speed of making changes to management (governing) processes. This will be possible by building a flexible modern architecture, using the latest methodologies, frameworks, technologies, and tools.

The introduction of the platform will give, among other things, an impetus to the development of regions: it will narrow the gap in the quality of public management between them and the center, will give a decisive impetus to eliminating the “digital inequality” of migrants in the regions, and will provide equal opportunities to use modern technologies for political and public participation.

Recommendation 2

The popularization of the idea of digital citizenship as the ability of individuals to participate in society’s life in the context of the ongoing technological transformation in line with responsible interaction with the government and society.

In the course of popularizing the aforementioned idea, it should be understood that representatives of the modern young generation are “politics innovators,” creating new forms of participation, especially in social media. Young people show little interest in political organizations and “institutionalized forms of participation,” preferring social formats of online activity. The ‘tried and tested’ technologies for transferring the protest, organized through digital communication and information exchange services, to the space of streets and squares, creating the danger of destabilizing the political situation, should be blocked. It is advisable to popularize the idea of responsible digital citizenship on social networks using targeted advertising and promotion which are usually applied for business pages.

Recommendation 3

Identification of markers of behavior of social networks users and created platforms that will allow attributing them to certain groups. Markers, in particular, are understood as strategies of users’ behavior, the frequency of their presence on the Web, the number of likes and reposts in various communities, and the content on the user’s page. The identification of such markers in sufficient quantities will allow determining the psychological characteristics of the users on whose pages these markers were found. Thus, strategies can be developed to counter/support certain user actions on social networks in public sphere.

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Recommendation 4

Strengthening the role of direct democracy in France.

Although the government succumbed to the demands of the “yellow vests” and agreed not to impose fuel taxes and even raised the minimum statutory wage rate, the actions of the “yellow vests” are more like the short-lived Occupy Wall Street movement and the protest wave known like the Arab Spring. The euphoria of street protests and concessions by the French president should not distract from the more than urgent need to draw important lessons for the future from comparing street protests in France with Switzerland’s direct democracy system (Altman 8-9).

Street protests in France have become an emotional outburst in response to a social split. The fuel tax has become a symbol of the difficult economic situation of a significant part of the population and a symbol of the fact that President Macron is a representative of the interests of only a rich social stratum. Interviews with many protesters in the media confirmed that they set themselves not just one single goal (to get rid of the fuel tax), and that we are talking about the dissatisfaction of a significant part of the population as a whole with the state of things in the country (Gigainero). However, the general demands of the protesters were not specific, and therefore Macron’s response was appropriate, and the protesters, as a result, found it completely inadequate.

The movement of the “yellow vests” at the same time became a manifestation of both its greatest strength and structural weakness. In the absence of organization and any form of political legitimation, the movement will find it very difficult to continue its success story. In order to prevent further street protests and pogroms, it seems advisable to assist such movements in legitimizing their structures and political platforms, with training and assistance in formulating public requests for relevant referenda on the most pressing issues. This will allow directing discontent into a peaceful direction, with the simultaneous solution of the socio-economic or political problems that caused it with the help of the will of the people in a referendum. This will contribute to the functioning of a democratic society in France in the long run.

Bibliography

Altman, David. 2019. Citizenship and contemporary direct democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Goldstein, Stephane. 2019. Informed Societies: Why information literacy matters for citizenship, participation and democracy. London: Facet Publishing.

Gigainero, Jake. 2018. “Who Are France’s Yellow Vest Protesters, And What Do They Want?” NPR, Web.

Harte, Emma, Facundo Herrera, and Martin Stepanek. 2016. “Education of EU migrant children in EU Member States.” Rand Corporation. Web.

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Pendakur, Manjunath, and Roma Harris. 2002. Citizenship and Participation in the Information Age. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Porter, Alfonzo. 2018. Digital Citizenship: Promoting Wellness for Thriving in a Connected World. Chandler, AZ: Vertex Learning.

Saham, Sousan. 2017. “Investigating the Relationship between Dimensions of Social Capital and the Rights and Duties of Citizenship.” International Journal of Social Sciences 7 (1): 37-45.

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