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Monday, 21 June 2010

11. Facebook Style Democracy

This idea may be the first of many drawn from the world of social media.

Whilst some see social media as an enhancement for local government and democracy for example, others may see it as a more effective alternative, especially for organisations.  It is not difficult to see why given both the level and extent of participation in sites such as facebook compared with involvement in local democracy.  No doubt the rise of social media presents a challenge for democracy at many levels.  The important point for me, however, is that people are crystal clear about what democracy is, and what social media is, and not to blur the distinction between the two.
Another way of looking at things is to see social media platforms such as facebook as useful metaphors for how local democracy might work.  In other words taking the successful structures and patterns of participation of something like facebook and applying them to democratic practice.  Behind this is the belief that social media platforms have much more successfully tapped into natural modes of human interaction and political behaviour than local governments, and therefore hold useful lessons for democratic practice which was perhaps better suited to very different times.

Facebook Style Democracy is my own 'thought experiment'. I'm taking what I believe to be the successful attributes of facebook (feedback, affiliation, networks) and thinking how they might appear in local democratic form.  I'm also trying to imagine it offline as well as online (although online is the most likely form offline forms may be required for inclusion and choice)

Facebook Style Democracy, then, would have the following features.

  • Bespoke individual accounts where people can set their own democratic preferences to receive information and interact with only those issues they chose to (customer management systems in many local councils can already suggest services and benefits to customers based on known intelligence - a democratic version of this would ask for opinions on policies etc in the same way)
  • Preferences and allegiances visible and open (Citizens could display theirs on front doors as well as on their online profiles)
  • Policy development conducted on fan pages with polls, comments and discussions providing opportunities for citizen interaction (this could be a physical location - a policy shop in the town centre, for example)
  • Citizens establish their own policies by setting up fan pages (policy shops) and campaigning for support
  • Decisions made through 'like button' referenda.  In other words local laws would be passed if a given percentage of the population approved (this could also be done physically through more traditional means)
Government in Facebook Style Democracy is made up of a number of different officials:

  • Facilitators: Setting up pages, running referenda, sharing issues, spotting opportunities for bringing different campaigns together, closing pages etc. 
  • Moderators: Ensuring rules are complied with e.g. offensive language, abuse, privacy etc.
  • Capacity Builders: Providing education, training, support for individuals etc.
  • Implementers:  Running services and enforcing local policies
Officials would be elected - again through the use of like buttons.  People would put themselves forward for posts and those most 'liked' would be elected.  Elections would be a continuous process as citizens would have the right to 'unlike' whenever they felt the need.  Hence officials would be assessed by citizens in real time - there would be no need for election campaigns and no real role for political parties either.

Note that elected officials are not representatives - this form of democracy is purely participative - officials have a technical not a democratic function.

The structure and form of Facebook Style Democracy would be dynamic not static.  Citizens could change the way their democracy works.  (Facebook themselves are tentative steps in this direction - see this discussion for example.)

Facebook Style Democracy seems highly suited to our 'postmodern' world.  Perhaps an ideal way to support people swarms and a truly sovereign citizenry.

Update:  Here is another post in a simlar vein flagged up by Carl Haggerty.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff Dave,

I like this thought experiment, I can see something like this working already to some degree, what's missing is teh connection to the actual decision and policy making processes.

Taking this a step further it would be worth looking some of the key components and building blocks to make this happen. If you haven't see the Public I CitizenScape project i'd recommend it as it does align to this.


Dave Mckenna said...


In terms of the policy / decison making process this is it. This idea requires putting aside all that we are faniliar with for example councils, cabinets, parliaments and the like.

Imagine, we all 'like' a law/policy (properly drafted by a facilitator of course) and that's it. It's a law/policy and someone will then have the job of enforcing it/carrying it out.

Of course your point hints at something less idealistic - and the most interesting question is probably how might this be applied in the real world?

Oranisations maybe? Perhaps partnerships? Perhaps community / town councils?

I'd love to see a local authority run on these lines with staff setting corporate policy etc.

The public i stuff is interesting although it's more about listening to the public I think. Might eventually be a replacement for guaging public opinions through elections? May just be another post :-)

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