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Digital Democracy is True Democracy

· Media,politics,Public Opinion
Anneshia Hardy | The Hardy Exchange

Political campaigns are designed to inform citizens about the values, agenda, and motives of candidates running for an elected office. As a result of today’s tech-driven society, a political campaign may fall under one of the two categories: Traditional Campaigns or Modern/Contemporary Campaigns. The concept that digital democracy expands a candidate’s communication reach with their audience is the ideology that separates a traditional campaign strategist from a modern campaign strategist.

Decisions…Decisions… So many Decisions

A successful campaign team must consider how to communicate the message of the campaign, recruit volunteers, and raise money. Campaign communication strategies draws on techniques from traditional and new media advertisement. The internet and social media have given birth to a new political communication channel called Digital Democracy. Digital Democracy has become the core element of modern political campaigns. Digital democracy utilizes communication technologies such as e-mail, websites, social media sites, viral videos, and podcasts to foster meaningful communication channels for citizens or political movements to deliver messages to their target audience. In a political campaign, emerging media can be used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, and community building, and organizing.

  • Digital democracy improves political information retrieval and exchange between governments, public administrations, representatives, political and community organizations and individual citizens.
  • Digital democracy supports public debate, deliberation and community formation.
  • Digital democracy enhances participation in political decision-making by citizens.

Signifying the importance of social media and digital democracy, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign relied heavily on social media and new media channels to engage voters, recruit campaign volunteers, raise campaign funds, and crowd source opinions on key political topics. Obama’s campaign ponted the spotlight on the importance of using the internet in new-age political campaigning by utilizing various forms of social media and new media including Facebook, YouTube and a custom generated social engine to reach and engage target populations. The campaign’s social website,my.BarackObama.com, provided a low cost and efficient method to mobilize voters and increase participation among various voter populations. This strategy was incredibly successful at reaching the younger population while helping all populations organize and encourage civic engagement and action. Today, the most effective and popular podiums in the political world are social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Many of my colleagues that work in the consulting industry believe that social networking sites will replace many of the tools campaigns have come to rely on, such as “in person” grassroots organizations, direct mail, and large television advertising budgets. Some have even forecast that campaigns with big social media presence will no longer need websites and e-mail lists.

Why is Social Media and Digital Democracy so important to Political Campaigns?

The past two U.S. Presidential elections have provided illustrious examples of how effective and important social media and digital democracy is to political campaigns. As internet usage becomes more widespread among the public at large, more and more voters will use these sites to become engaged with the political process.  This also is true for social networking sites. Social networking sites are here, and they are growing steadily in popularity – campaigns must be engaged and involved in a way that helps the candidate stay ahead in the massive digital world.

  1. Will social media sites cause the demise of old-fashioned campaign tactics? 
  2. Should campaigns end town hall meetings and adopt online gatherings? 
  3. Is it necessary for campaigns to stop spending 80% of their communications budgets to TV and direct mail advertising and instead spend less on designing and maintaining a social networking presence?

The answer to all of the above questions is NO..

But it would be wise to efficiently integrate social media strategies into their campaign strategy because Digital Democracy has become very influential.   Technology can enable direct participation in the democratic process, without relying on representatives and without the citizen even needing to leave the comfort of their home. One particularly useful tool in the quest for benefiting off of digital democracy will be online forums. These can be built to manage discussions about proposed legislation in a structured way, making it easy for citizens to participate meaningfully. Politicians and policymakers can use online forums to crowd-source expertise and the views of citizens on their plans and to refine their proposals based on what they get back. This would allow for laws to be based on genuine citizen deliberation rather than merely aggregating the preferences of citizens into a single vote at the beginning of each electoral cycle.

Wikipedia is an example of how this system might work, but it also shows some of the problems that can arise when technology and democracy mix.

Wikipedia has relatively little mechanism for coordinating edits, instead allowing editors to work on their own. Despite this decentralized approach, the quality of articles is generally very high. On the down side, edit wars or individuals using multiple user identities to create the impression that their views are shared by others are a growing concern. To help make Wikipedia a trustworthy source, editors can build their reputation by establishing a track record of constructive behavior. Wikipedia has a hierarchy of users for administrative purposes, based on community approval, but all users are considered to have equally valid opinions regarding Wikipedia content. The emphasis is on building consensus; an arbitration committee deals with disputes that remain unresolved.

There are also other portals out there that could help provide the kind of format and structure that might be needed to produce good legislation. In Yahoo! Answers, for example, readers can vote up and vote down contributions made by others. Writers who are voted up gain points that indicate their good reputation. This kind of collaboration can be further improved using the kind of real-time simultaneous editing provided by Google docs. But again, there are downsides. Time wasters, product pushers and disruptive trolls are bad news in online forums and can disrupt the way they operate. In the context of digital democracy, the potential for damage is even higher. We will need to develop mechanisms that would make it possible for everyone to get involved in digital democracy in a fair and transparent way. This includes preventing abuse by lobbyists, special-interest groups, and extremists, who may try to thwart the mechanisms for non-democratic purposes. Unlike in traditional voting, which provides each person with one vote, we can’t assume that everyone will participate in digital democracy equally. That makes it quite difficult to define fairness. It is also difficult to balance accountability needed to prevent trolling, and privacy needed to allow free expression.

Today, genuine democracy is no longer solely about casting a vote every five years. It means citizens being fully involved in the proposal, development and creation of laws.

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