Crowdsourcing Democracy

Crowdsourcing has the potential to be an amazing form of participation. Arguments against something like tend to mirror that of Wikipedia, participation brings good and bad comments. When one turns then to look at democratic applications there might be a tendency to think policy should be left to the policymakers, inviting the community invites degraded work. I disagree and actually believe that democracy needs it. On a recent episode of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook there was a pretty amazing discussion about Internet trolls. I found myself coming away from that broadcast looking at comments that used to get me inflamed in a new light. It is a very complicated topic and I highly recommend listening to the broadcast if you can. It is interesting to think about the troll being someone who is trying to cause a stir because a stir needs to happen. It is also a term commonly used for people we disagree with.

It is in this light of digital ecology that I want to talk about crowdsourcing policy. I recently heard about Iceland beginning an experiment in democracy last year. They crowdsourced their new constitution. The nation allowed the public to participate in the drafting of its new constitution via social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube with final approval going to the elected representatives. A year later 66% voted in favor of the new constitution with half the electorate voting. The draft bill will now need to go before parliament.

So this amazing feat, but I haven’t read a word about trolling. I went to the Facebook page and the website and nothing that I could find. I did find an article on Gizmodo that express the same shock that I was feeling. It’s an experiment, but I think that it shows that its possible that the digital environment could be conducive to thoughtful and serious input. It is also important to note that while this process was most interactive with those online it was possible to take part without the access. When questions of the digital divide are raised here I guess my thought is that seems leaps and bounds above where traditional participation was. Iceland has extremely high levels of connected citizens as well which also plays a role. Nordic neighbor Finland has even introduced a opensourced platform called OpenMinistry that allows for crowdsourcing of new laws, in which citizens can submit and with enough support the parliament will look at it. As an American looking at the petitions to the White House for secession after the election I must say I am looking on in awe. In an article for Slate Fruzsina Eördögh writes, “within hours of launching Open Ministry in the United States, there would surely be dozens of proposals for legalizing marijuana—just as talk about weed has taken over online White House chats.”

Could it work in America? I am not sure. I believe the primary limitations would be in ensuring access in non digital terms. However there is something already out there that has some similarities, it’s called the OPEN act. An alternative to anti-piracy bills that caused some pretty serious outcry from the digital community the OPEN act is attempting to crowdsource a bill. Congressman Darrell Issa has the final approval, but the act of seeking advice is something that stands out from the other bills. It also boosts support of digital titans like Wikipedia and Google who protested other bills, SOPA and PIPA, aimed at piracy on the basis that the bills would have consequences on internet freedom. Being able to easily communicate and even add your voice to the text of the bill is innovative. What’s more if you go to the site you don’t find yourself awash in trolls seeking to derail the process, but a relatively small amount of edits and comments. It seems to me that if feet are planted in the digital and non digital worlds that these tools could really prove beneficial for democratic participation. It could alter the perception that our voices are not really heard, just drowned out by more powerful voices. I am not crazy hopeful on this point, yet I do see some potential there.

Links:
On Point with Tom Ashbrook: Internet Trolls
Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution
Icelanders like their crowdsourced constitution
Icelanders Write the First Web Constitution, Trolls Surprisingly Get No Amendments
stjornlagarad.is
keepthewebopen.com: user-comments
Open Ministry
In Crazy Open-Source Project, Finnish Citizens Propose Laws for Parliament To Consider
The OPEN Act as an experiment in digital democracy
Marijuana questions dominate White House online chat — again

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