17 December 2012, New York, USA - The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) New York Office, jointly with Estoril Conferences of Portugal and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) organized a one-day workshop to deliberate the role of Social Media and Democratic Governance. In his opening remarks, Dr. Massimo Tommasoli, Permanent Observer of International IDEA remarked how increasingly ICTs enhance the ability to report and document government delivery of good and services and well as to advocate for political changes. He also compared the use of technology for democracy as either transformative, “Liberation Technology” or as controlling technology. The Vice President of the Municipality of Cascais emphasized that social media was essential for discourse, as the forum in Estorial focuses on globalization and local responses. Yvonne Lodico, head of UNITAR NYO, pointed out that political candidates now rely on using social networking outreach tools such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, to raise money, identify supporters, and build unprecedented virtual electoral coalitions.
In reference to the power of virtual electoral platforms, Mr. Rodrigo Moita de Deus, Director of NextPower explained that social media (as an extension of media) was invented for politics. Historically, media was controlled by a few, with “a gate keeper,” but now “everyone can be “the media” by just having a Facebook page. To this end, social media is democratizing all aspects of politics. Although there is no gatekeeper, everyone’s participation acts as a self-regulator, explained Milton Sousa the Executive Director of Estorial Conferences. Estorial Conference, a global forum extensively uses social media to promote ideas and influence the debates during the annual Forum.
A Portuguese Parliamentarian, Dr. Richard Leite, informed the participants that he relies on social media to gauge his constituents’ satisfaction with legislation development as well as his debates in Parliament. Social media now enhances transparency and accountability. Ms Nancy Groves, Social Media Team Leader, discussed that the UN Department of Public Information finds social media as an increasingly important medium for public outreach, and for the world’s citizens to more closely follow the UN’s activities. During the workshop, participants debated the use of social media and possible negative consequences, such as the spread of propaganda without any checks or regulation. Despite this sense of caution, participants all agreed that social media plays a pivotal role in bringing about political change, whether at the grass roots level or as part of big party politics.