Impact on democracy
How could 5G influence the development of democracy? There are no conclusive studies on the relationship between 5G and democracy, but there are studies on how the internet can help citizens to participate more in their democratic systems.
The characteristics of the fifth generation of mobile networks should give countries the possibility to fully develop an electronic government that uses technology to bring public services closer to its citizens. This eGovernment would serve to manage resources more efficiently, stimulate economic growth through digitisation, and promote greater social commitment.
The greater access to the internet would provide the population with an opportunity for unprecedented participation in digital public services, which would help strengthen democratic mechanisms. Likewise, studies show how young citizens prefer to participate in the public debate online, for example through social networks.
5G will expand internet coverage and speed, allowing more people to access information online. This will empower some people by providing access to information, resources and tools, which they could not use beforehand. But it could also be a weapon in the hands of people who want to attack the values of democracy through disinformation, fake news and deception.
The impact of mis- or disinformation has already manifested itself on numerous occasions, especially combined with the great power of distribution through social networks. For example, during the 2017 illegal referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, Spain, numerous photographs of bloody people were circulating through the internet. But these photos had actually been taken in other conflicts – not those occurring at the time between the independence movement and security forces.
Lack of digital literacy
In this sense, one of the biggest risks to democracy from 5G’s expansion is the lack of digital literacy. Citizens should be aware of the possibilities and risks of the internet when massively accessing it, and should also be aware of the mechanisms through which they can complain and protest against misleading digital campaigns, by directing them to the relevant regulators in their country.
Some academics point out that, until now, digital literacy has been geared towards job skills - but government policies and educational plans to increase digital skills related to entertainment, well-being or citizen activism, can also have an important role to play in strengthening democracy.
The implementation of 5G technology and the Internet of Things in urban services could also become a political argument: citizens could feel discriminated against if some cities are less 'smart' than others. Likewise, in local campaigns, politicians could start promising technological solutions to problems through 5G, as a way of differentiating themselves from the proposals of their rivals.