China Underground > Magazine > China Magazine > Interview with Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan

Interview with Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan

Audrey Tang is the Digital Minister of Taiwan in charge of Social Innovation. 

She is a pioneer both in open source software and in politics. Audrey worked as a civic hacker within the grassroots gov-zero movement to ‘fork’ the Taiwanese government and from her position as the Digital Minister since 2016. She works according to principles of radical digital transparency and collaborative governance. She is responsible for promoting social innovation, youth participation, and open government. Before joining the cabinet, Audrey was a consultant with Apple on computational linguistics, with Oxford University Press on crowd lexicography, and with Socialtext on social interaction design. Audrey Tang is the first openly transgender Government Minister in the world.

Can you tell us why a strong democracy should be a digital democracy?

Digital democracy is a democracy making use of the digital spaces so that people can — not be talked to — also be listened to.

With radio and television, we can speak to millions of people but using the Internet, we can listen to millions of people.

More importantly, millions of people can listen to one another.

 

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Audrey Tang said that her mission was not to do propaganda but to “serve as a channel” that combines “intelligence and power.”

Are radical digital transparency and collaborative governance possible?

When we talk about transparency here, we always mean that the state makes it so transparent to the people to show trust.

It’s about listening, and it’s about trust. It’s about the government trusting the people without requiring the people trusting back. All the digital technologies are here just to amplify the trust that people can get in a face-to-face setting.

Before digital technologies, this kind of trust only existed in a relatively small hall, with a relatively small amount of people. Using digital technologies, we can amplify this trust to millions of people, between millions of people, and that is vision.

Audrey Tang said that her mission was not to do propaganda but to “serve as a channel” that combines “intelligence and power.”

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced after you were named Digital minister on October 1, 2016?

I didn’t meet any resistance — I am the resistance.

Indeed, Taiwan is successfully resisting both the “sharp power” of authoritarianism as well as from surveillance capitalism. We do so by creating a space in which new values can emerge out of our different positions. In Taiwan, I wouldn’t say anyone is against that.

 What has been achieved and what significant challenges still to be done? What are the biggest challenges Taiwan will have to face in the next future?

The Presidential Hackathon, now in its third year, has incubated 40+ Data collaborative as across sectors and countries toward the 17 SDGs, which are the biggest challenges the world — including Taiwan — is facing for this decade.

She has introduced radical transparency and online citizen’s participation in Taiwanese democracy.

How can we bridge the digital gap between the older and younger generations of Taiwanese citizens?

Our strategy on digital inclusion — for example, through Digital Opportunity Centers — empower people closest to the field.

Every week or two, I go to the most rural, indigenous, offshore island and so on places, meet them in their town hall, with national and municipal public servants joining in through telepresence.

The agenda is often set by the cabinet’s youth advisors, people younger than 35 years old that reverse-mentors senior leadership in 12+ ministries, further fostering inter-generation solidarity.

Tang self-described as a “conservative anarchist”.

Digital technology helps to improve participation and to get more information. World wide web citizens are facing media manipulation. How can be possible to help people from being manipulated by fake news or deepfakes? How to prevent disinformation?

Countering rumor with humor and participatory fact-checking are excellent vaccines against disinformation campaigns.

Media competence education — from K-12 to life-long learning programs is also key to community immunity. When a majority of people become civic-minded media producers, it’s much harder to manipulate society through propaganda.

From Brexit to Trump, social media are transforming politics. What do you think is the role of social media during this election and how it is perceived by Taiwanese citizens?

The immune system developed through cross-sectoral norm-building has seen significant adoption, empowering pro-social dynamics to grow against anti-social interference campaigns, as recounted in this live-streamed event at CSIS.

Tang said she will be “using digital services to assist public servants, welcoming contributions from civic tech, open knowledge, and collaborative innovations.”

What is the legacy of the Sunflower movement in Taiwanese politics?

The Sunflower movement was a public demonstration, but demonstration not as in protest, but as in the demo, showing a new version of governance system that actually can get people’s voice on the street into a coherent consensus.

 


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