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)
- 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
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.