Dutch Grassroots Digital Activism: Notes from the Netherlands

Dr.Delia Dumitrica at research seminar held by the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC), January 2017

With a population that is increasingly online (over 93 per cent of the Dutch used the Internet in 2015) and an array of formal mechanisms for citizens to engage in political decision-making, the Netherlands is often touted as a model for e-participation and e-government. In 2016, the Netherlands ranked 7th in the world in the UN E-Government Development Index and ranked 5th in the world in the UN E-Participation Index . While such numbers speak to the integration of digital technologies into Dutch political life, the contribution of such technologies to citizen engagement is by no means a settled matter. In fact, the political use of digital technologies is often shaped by various non-technological factors, such as the wider political context or the cultural understandings of the affordances and usefulness of technology.

These were the preliminary conclusions proposed by a case study of a Dutch grassroots digital activism undertaken by Dr. Delia Dumitrica, Assistant Professor in the Media and Communication Department at Erasmus University Rotterdam. The results of this research, funded by the “Voice or Chatter? Using Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT Mediated Citizen Engagement” project led by the IT for Change foundation, were presented to an academic audience in early January 2017 in a research seminar held by the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC).

The case study warns against the dangers of technologically deterministic accounts of the power of digital technologies to organize, mobilize, or otherwise empower citizens. Instead, the results suggest that digital activism can equally call upon users and visitors to envisage themselves as supporters, fans, or followers of a cause, eliciting low-cost, low-involvement civic actions. Far from being a reflection of the alleged ‘power’ of technology, the grassroots activist use of digital technologies adapt to the requirements and pressures set upon citizen-activists by the wider political structures. The latter recommend particular avenues for citizen input, thus shaping the citizen-activists’ own take to the use of digital technologies. Furthermore, activists are often experiencing tensions between their expectations on what such technologies are able to do—expectations often inflated by highly mediatized events such as the Occupy movement or the Arab Spring—and the often disappointing results of their actual