Friday, 9 March 2007

Following on from Peter’s article on democracy I thought I would highlight this paper on e-democracy. It seems to be a collective piece of work on the potential democratic impact of blogs. The very fact the work itself is collective is indicative of the influence it believes blogs could have on democracy through facilitating debate.

The article talks about the fact that currently pressure groups have more say than individuals in policy making. It also notes that the press was originally considered to be the voice of the people but is now more or less simply the voice of business and media barons. This is hard to deny if you read the profile of Rupert Murdoch published last year in the New Yorker – reading this article it is difficult to identify who decides elections; the voters or the media. The natural follow on question from that is who politicians serve when in office?

The article suggests that blogs may help address this imbalance, giving the example of the Trent Lott resignation. The intuition here is easy, bloggers as a community of voters will become another powerful open pressure group but one with significant numbers of actual voters.

The article also questions Peter’s assumption that you will always need a town planning officer. It suggests instead that blogs could facilitate citizens self organising to address complex democratic issues. It debates points such as the need for freedom of speech and for web democracy to come from many-to-many conversations rather than the manipulation of the internet by corporations and governments to control people.

I guess the question is will this happen or will the internet not simply go the same way as the press, and be dominated by big corporate players such Google and News Corp.


Peter said...

It is difficult to post a short reply to this post, but I'll have a go:

On the media: I wouldn't go as far as saying that we won't have large-scale media in the future. But if we look through the lens of 'The Long Tail' or even Porter's Five Forces, I feel convinced that the era of total dominance by mass media is now ending.

On representative democracy: I tend to the view that we will extend the role of community debate, but not replace the politicians. Remember that the representative model has proved very robust so far! Town planning is a good example of its continuing merit. Let's just say that there is a proposal to build a new school on your street. Who is entitled to have a say? Who is entitled to vote? Are you going to restrict it to just your street? Or are you going to invite in a wider group (e.g. the next three streets)? Might those who live three streets away vote to approve the proposal simply to diminish the odds of they having to host the school on their street. Now, move from schools, which after all sit fairly happily in residential areas, to car-parks, factories, roads, nuclear power-plant etc. How do you construct the community that is entitled to a say on the decision?

hmatt said...

It makes you wonder what the lobbyist of the future will look like.

Gregarious back-slapping and fishing trip tails might well be eclipsed by the e-know-how to gathered and focus an online following.

Something of a change from extrovert to introvert?

Reminds me of a discussion in class. One protestor on the streets will trump one protestor online. At what ratio will the scales tip. It's a lot easier to "take to the net" than to "take to the streets".

Five million clicks will definitely trump five thousand rogues in knock-off german combats, shambling over Westminster Bridge.

MTB said...

Whilst I appreciate Peter’s point about who qualifies to have an opinion and how we limit this in e-democracy, I would argue that we can do it far more effectively than now.

Currently it is the voters in the area who have most say over the decisions made by voting every now and then for a candidate who has a set of opinions they most agree with, not who agrees with them on every issue. The voters then have no effective and convenient method of voicing an opinion until the next vote. The first move in enhancing representative democracy would surely be to allow those who could vote to have a real input in the decisions and debate if they wanted it. This is simply empowering the existing franchise.

Beyond that it would be easy to build stakeholder communities for different decisions. With schools that would be parents and the local community but for refuge collection it would simply be the local community.

I think there is the potential ability to move the politician role from that of decision maker to that of debate and decision facilitator with a community of registered stakeholders and interested parties doing the debating and voting.

I also hope that perhaps this is a way of re-invigorating local democracy and local participation which appears to be slowly dying in this country.

Robert said...

Ineresting question about the ebay and google removing the free nature of the web. There is an amazing web community that is all about free and have little advertising. It is called Craigs list - try looking it up. It is a place to buy second hand goods and connect with people. No ads and amazingly popular.