The truest test of a democracy is in the ability of anyone to act as he likes, so long as he does not injure the life or property of anyone else

Mahatma Gandhi

Active participation includes the competences that citizens need to reach a level of awareness of themselves in relation to the environments they are plunged into, in order to take sensible decisions and participate actively and positively in the democratic cultures they live in.


Active online participation may prove challenging to some, as users must weigh the benefits and risks of speaking their mind, sharing their opinions and putting their views on display. However, users have the right to freely express those opinions and views as long as they are not impugning someone else’s rights and freedoms.
 

How does it work?

Online active participation quite closely follows the human rights and fundamental freedoms outlined in the Council of Europe’s Human Rights for Internet Users.

  • Access and non-discrimination
  • Freedom of expression and information
  • Assembly, association and participation
  • Privacy and data protection
  • Education and literacy
  • Information and content adapted for children and young people
  • Effective remedies and redress.
     

Motivations behind reasons for active participation may vary, but self-efficacy, appreciation and belonging may offer an insight into online behaviours. Many users want to participate in order to make a difference in their community (to show self- efficacy). Others may feel the need to contribute their knowledge and resources in online communities (to earn the appreciation of others). And still others may simply want to belong to that community and so they actively participate with like-minded people.

Minimalist forms of online participation

This minimalist form of online “participation” has given rise to new terms like “slacktivism”, a combination of the verb “to slack” and the term “activism”, expressing a critique of defining participation as the signing of an online petition or liking/sharing a news story that conveys a political message. Slacktivism posits that “people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”.1

Online active participation, like offline participation, may be influenced by the demographics of the users. English is the dominant language on the World Wide Web and it may reflect the opinions of Anglophones more than other countries. Other studies have indicated that white, educated, male domination in online active participation may exclude other users, such as women, minorities or people with disabilities. On the other hand, many movements have now taken to the internet to express their discontent with the status quo.

At the time of writing, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #autismspeaks are just three examples of online active participation that is making a difference in communities. One of the challenges of online participation is to avoid replicating the state of lawlessness and mob rule that our current legal system and due process has struggled to bring about in the “real world”. While there may be plenty of reprehensible people online, there will be no justice if online interactions turn into digital stoning.
 

Figure 15: Active participation – Core digital citizenship competencesPersonal development

Whether for offline or online activities, participation in one’s community is an essential part of living a fulfilling life. Every community needs people to support the infrastructure and online participation – active online participation – can be one way of assuring mutual benefits in an online community. Active participation also has a role to play in the development of e-democracy, where one uses electronic communications to enhance the democratic process.

Active participation can also be useful in personal development as internet users are able to take online courses, participate in group tutorials or even join “Ask me anything” threads on social media sites. Whereas previously, students and those examining life would have had to venture into libraries or go on adventurous quests to understand philosophical issues or debates, now inquisitive minds can engage online and participate in meaningful discussions.

Figure 15: Active participation – Core digital citizenship competences

1. UNAIDS Outlook Report 2010