Algorithmes are the spill of every political campaign, so what’s the harm?

According to Casper Thomas – journalist of De Groene Amsterdammer – elections will no longer be a battle between ideologies or beliefs of different candidates, but a war for who is the best digital hacker. Who can find out as much as there is about someones personal preferecences and use it in their advance? Thomas is concerned that – if you take it to far – can be a threat to our democracy?

But how does that work? He uses the new season of House of Cards to give an example: a candidate who runs for president hires a digital company to help him gain more votes. And anyone who reads this must automatically link this to the past US elections. Trump hired a digital company and has connections to the Russians (to which extent is still a mystery). But on the other hand, it’s nothing new that big data are used in a campaign because according to O’Neil (Thomas, 2017) Obama and Clinton did it as well. So what’s the harm?

In my opinion, using algorithms or big data in elections can be a legit form to attract more people and motivate them. It only comes with one big restriction: transparency. Caplan and Boyd (2016) are concerned that algorithms are used to affect outcomes and bias a certain political party. But, if two parties are using the same kind of algorithms or their is a fourth estate who strictly checks them, that might be a more fair process. Algorithms should be embraced with a critical attitude and used by more than one actor. In that case the result can be more people who are voting, a raise in awareness and involvement which altogether makes demographic.

References:

Caplan, Robin, and Boyd, Danah. Who Controls the Public Sphere in an Era of Algorithms? Data & Society (2016).

Thomas, Casper. De Gehackte Kiezer. De Groene Amsterdammer (2017).

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