The Platform Party : The Transformation of Political Organisation in the Era of Big Data
Chapter from the book: Chandler D. & Fuchs C. 2019. Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data.
In the era of social media and Big Data we are witnessing to the transformation of the political party, the most important structure of political organisation. A number of new political formations, from Podemos, to France Insoumise, the 5 Star Movement and Momentum, as well as new political campaigns such as the one of Bernie Sanders in the US have adopted new organisational mechanisms and tactics based on the participatory affordances of digital media. This organisational transformation is accompanied by a rhetoric of disintermediation and horizontality in which digital media are supposed to act as a means of radical democratisation. Yet, the reality of this organisational transformation is more complex and contradictory that such narrative would allow for. While it is true that these parties transfer some power to ordinary members, convoked to take decisions online on a number of issues, they are also marked by charismatic leadership figures, which use online democracy as a plebiscitary means to confirm their leadership. Thus, the process of disintermediation and its erosion of the intermediary strata, of delegates and functionaries raises serious ethical and political questions, and points to the risk that instead of an oligarchy as the one denounced by Robert Michels in analysing mass parties, we may be shifting towards something approximating a plebiscitary autocracy, in which interactivity and participation are reduced to a grassroots rubber-stamping of decisions already taken at the top.