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At a glance

For governments and the civil service, digital technology offers more than efficiency, big-picture understanding and more transparent decision-making; it also provides new opportunities for citizens to get politically involved. Digital technologies supply information about current opportunities for political participation and create entirely new ones by establishing two-way communication channels. Digital applications help make relationships between government, civil society and the private sector more transparent, participatory and needs-orientated and make governmental administration processes easier to audit – and thus less susceptible to corruption. That builds trust and strengthens government institutions.

The Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development believes digitalisation holds tremendous opportunities for freedom of expression, access to information, transparency, dialogue and participation. Citizens can more easily obtain information, express their views, connect with one another and participate in political decision-making processes. The ministry’s position paper, “Digitalisation for development” (2019), defines the protection of human rights online, good governance and popular participation as key goals. The Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development helps partner countries with a variety of initiatives, including making administration systems more transparent and participatory (Armenia), promoting dialogue platforms between citizens and local governments (Palestinian territories) and training disadvantaged youths to be online journalists (Lebanon, Mauritania, etc.).

We have noticed with concern that online smear campaigns motivated by ethnic, religious or similar divisions have created a climate of fear and violence and encourage attacks in the analogue world. Mass distribution of misinformation manipulates public opinion and undermines trust in democratic institutions and processes such as elections. Online hate and disinformation have prompted many countries to pass overly onerous regulations preventing the legitimate exercise of free speech and thus significantly restricting the basic freedoms of speech and assembly.

 

Implementation

German development cooperation addresses these risks by conducting programmes in partner countries to improve digital media literacy, particularly among disadvantaged and at-risk groups, and raise their awareness of the threats of hate and opinion manipulation online. The German government supports fact checking initiatives that help internet users recognise fake news and manipulation and strengthens dialogue platforms that actively tackle online hate (Kenya). It also supports independent (citizen) journalism and local, conflict-sensitive online content to counterbalance digital smear and disinformation campaigns (Lebanon, Kenya, etc.).

In addition, German development cooperation strengthens legal frameworks that support a safe, free and open internet in partner countries and advocates for greater involvement of developing and emerging countries in global processes. It supports multilateral approaches to developing cyber legislation that respects human rights (Zambia) as well as international initiatives for pro-human rights regulation of online platforms with the involvement of civil society in the Global South (Myanmar; cooperation with the UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion).

The Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development has mainly advised other governments on open government approaches. Open government is a comprehensive approach to strengthening democracy and improving the quality of the civil service: an important part of the sustainable development goals (Agenda 2030). At the request of the citizens living in partner countries for German development cooperation, the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development focuses mainly on transparency, citizen-centric services and citizen empowerment.