Big cheeses descend on Warsaw for Dialogue for Democracy forum

The event organised by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs brings together civil society, human rights defenders, academics and government representatives. This year’s focus is on democracy and social media. Tymon Markowski/MSZ

How are new technologies shaping democracy and what can policy-makers do about it?

This is the focus of the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy taking place in the Polish capital on 22-23 November.

Now in its seventh year, the annual event organised by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs brings together civil society activists, officials and academics from Poland and abroad to discuss the new challenges facing democracy in Europe and further afield.

The Internet is influencing how we read the news and vote. In both Europe and the United States, there is a growing awareness of how social media can shape election outcomes, and must be protected from outside meddling. Officials are pondering how to contain the spread of fake news and disinformation online, which are seen as new threats to democracy.

In this context, this year’s Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy focuses on social media and free elections, with four panels organised with international partners involved in democracy promotion.

The first, entitled ‘Social media – potential or threat?’ and organised with the Brussels-based European Endowment for Democracy, will consider the impact of the recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, looking at what it means for both state regulation and tech giants.

The event was opened by Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk.Tymon Markowski/MSZ

The next panel, organised with the Community of Democracies in partnership with the International IDEA, will be on “New tools for civic and public responsibility”, including how technology can foster transparency and accountability at public institutions. Panellists from Spain, Belarus, Armenia and Poland will share their countries’ experiences and best practices.

The following day, the spotlight will be on “Free elections in modern times”, with a panel organised with the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. A diverse set of panellists, representing the Nigeria-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, EU Election Observation and Democracy Support and Austria’s Wahlbeobachtung.org (Election-Watch.EU), will discuss how to make elections as inclusive as possible, which includes encouraging women, minorities and persons with disabilities to participate.

The final panel, organised with the Polish Institute for International Affairs, will be on ‘Innovative approach to conflict prevention’, including how young people can support peace worldwide.

“As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council Poland attaches particular importance to conflict prevention and mediation”, the organisers note.

In addition to the four panels, there will be side events on the intersection of young people and modern technology, and on best practices for engaging with civil society.

The event will conclude on Friday afternoon with a summary session featuring high-level speakers, including Jerzy Pomianowski, director of the European Endowment for Democracy in Brussels.