Digital Agoras: Democratic Legitimacy, Online Participation and the Case of Uber-Petitions
This article discusses the impact of social media and new technologies of participation on citizen participation in law-making. This article focuses on electronic petitioning and examines how Uber, a controversial ride-sharing digital platform, has maximized the impact of petitions for lobbying purposes. Despite the claims that Uber is bypassing multiple regulations including taxi and labour law regulations, the petitions initiated by this platform have mobilised thousands of citizens. Considering the self-selection bias that characterises these petitions, it remains unclear how these and other online petitions should be evaluated from the point of view of their democratic legitimacy. Drawing on the analysis of a number of recent Uber petitions initiated in the United States and the review of the legal and social science literature, I argue that the use of technology has shaped not only the quantity but also the quality of civic engagement: online mobilisation occurs at a faster pace, involves citizens that would otherwise not be inclined to participate, and addresses atypical topics. In addition, the digitalisation of civic engagement has promoted political and legal discussions in apolitical platforms and facilitated the access to more information at lower costs. I suggest that technology has nonetheless not solved the democratic deficits of online petitioning, partially due to its limited influence and the leadership of participatory initiatives.
KEYWORDS: Online participation, petitions, sharing economy, e-government, democratic legitimacy, citizen participation