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Popular Improvement #7: Internet Democracy.

Many recognized thinkers are applauding various internet social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, as improving the state of democracy today. It is indeed true that these social media have allowed the activist movements to organize themselves more effectively and warn political parties of political consequences if their demands are not somehow realized. And political parties are indeed paying attention to these internet movements if they reach a certain size. If these movements can coerce politicians, the movements claim victory.

As a casual participant in these internet discussions, I have sensed many frustrated citizens finally finding a platform from which to proclaim their opinion to the world. And this brings a certain degree of satisfaction to these citizens that they are now participating in democracy. But what is the quality of this participation?

It is my observation that most of these discussions are very shallow. There is little listening of otherís perspectives and almost no consultation. Opinions are seldom changed when new insights and facts are presented—probably because these insights and facts are difficult to verify in these forums. Often opposing opinions are berated and degraded, and it seems the side with the biggest voice has the satisfaction of deeming itself to be right.

To many of the citizens participating in these internet discussions, this process of amassing popular support is indeed superior to letting elected politicians work through various issues—using legislative rules and committees and somehow being accountable at election time—to create the legislation that guides society. While this thinking clearly shows the distrust of the western democratic model, it has yet to prove that it can create superior decisions for the betterment of society.

In my opinion, such internet democracy is not only shallowing the discussion of complex issues, it is shifting influence away from elected politicians who have mastered the game of winning elections to a new unelected elite who have mastered the game of social media. As well, I believe the political parties and vested interest groups will become more adept at using social media for their own means. So the early victors of the social media battle will likely face tougher competition to be influential in the future. Because it will be harder for average citizens to discern the true popular movements from those who appear to be popular, future social media will become just as distrusted as todayís legislatures.

We should not rely on social media to save us!


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© 2009 Dave Volek.
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