democratic power in electronic social networkingby Daniel R. Hirtler on 03/24/11
I have written about the great tool we have in social networking sites like Facebook. Sharing information with our "friends" expands the world we occupy, and diversifying our sources of information helps us identify untruths that are given to us to believe. I wrote about this during a glut of online petitions that were circulating, where our individual voices could be aggregated to voice a hope for the direction of our society now.
Since then, having responded to the petitions, I have been deluged with email messages which are not particularly clear in what action is desired to be taken; some lead one to believe that one should sign petitions over and over again (on the same issue), others urge some individual action with one's elected official, and, at the core, most want financial support to continue the good work.
The garbled message can be worked on with clearer communication. One can have one's opinion about the usefulness of direct contact with one's representative, but the thought I want to address involves the solicitation of funds to support traditional lobbying via the social network.
In reality, the groups which have been taking on these important battles, have taken these issues on as special interests. Their goal is to pursuade public policy to conform to a particular form, the form that they champion. They have used particular issues that particular people care about to develop a force around what they propose. This is a traditional method of getting what "you" want, which, I believe, is not going to be effective in the coming age.
All of the follow-up action "needed" after the initial on-line petition assumes that no elected official can be trusted to be persuaded by information. It assumes that the votes of elected officials are always open to purchase from the highest bidder (or the faction which can cause the most pain). If this is true, then each and every issue that one cares about, requires one's undivided attention. All other issues will be lost.
I believe that the democratic power that exists within the electronic social net-working tool is its ability to form our own thoughts clearly about the whole world we inhabit, and for us to act upon our developed values. The follow-up to the shared links, the blogs, and the on-line petitions ought to be fundraising for organizations who will gather, catalog, and disseminate the information that we will need to have at our fingertips when we exercise our right to vote for elected officials.
As far as I am concerned, we should express our values and desires in the public realm, and, through the process of us working together as a group, government makes decisions and takes actions. Those decisions and actions may never reflect our individual values and desires, but hopefully they would have been heard in the debate leading up to them.
Our power to aggregate is in our ability to choose wisely. Armed with the information about a candidate's past behavior, and a realistic sense of the past events of this world, one could vote for candidates who express our individual values and desires. If we trusted that if we voted on that information, and voted for the best scenario, our social network ties could help us see that we would not be alone in our values and desires, and the force that those values and desires could, if aggregated, become dominant sometime (soon?). All the election season propaganda in the world couldn't sway the outcome of an election if we were not swayed in our well founded opinions. Elected officials would be silently held accountable for the stands (or lack of stand) that they took on real issues - nothing should be forgotten.
To sum up the functions rightly served by people who want to enhance the democratic power of electronic social networking:
- Create and link web sites that catalog the facts and ideas that move through the internet.
- Find ways of teaching research literacy on the internet, to increase the functionality of ordinary people.
- Create a space for thoughtful consideration on issues through the faith that people are able to make good decisions when they are equipped to do so (and those good decisions may not agree with "yours").
- Don't distract from the large quality of life Issue with all the single issues.
- Always speak about the power of aggregation of individual choice through association (rather than accommodation) which becomes a reality through electronic social networking.