The hacker turned politician using digital tech to reimagine democracy

In 2014, the approval rating of Taiwan’s government was less than 10 per cent. Popular dissatisfaction culminated in the Sunflower Movement, with students occupying legislative buildings to protest a proposed trade deal with China. Three weeks later, their demands were met. A decade on, this is seen as a turning point in Taiwanese democracy.

One group to emerge from the movement was the civic technology cooperative g0v (pronounced “gov zero”), which included the well-known hacker Audrey Tang. g0v proceeded to build a virtual platform for democratic deliberation called vTaiwan. The “v” stands for “virtual”, but it could just as easily stand for “vulnerable”, says Tang. Born with a heart condition that nearly killed her as a child, she has since become the country’s first transgender minister, and she draws parallels between the fragility of her own life and that of democracy.

Tang was invited to join the government in 2016 and set about implementing her vision of “radical transparency”, starting with vTaiwan. After the first covid-19 cases were declared in mainland China in late 2019, she became a central player in the Taiwanese government’s response as a cabinet member for digital affairs. By 2022, Taiwan was being universally lauded for its handling of the pandemic and Tang was given her own ministry, becoming the country’s first minister of digital affairs. In her new book, Plurality, she argues that Taiwan – often seen as a potential flashpoint for future global conflict – is now a thriving democracy that has much to teach the world. She stood…

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