Virtual Democracy Emerging As We Tweet

Think Congress is dysfunctional? That’s old news.

Consider replacing traditional representative government with a revolutionary new system.

Listen: Radio talk shows had a bright idea.

Two words: “Audience participation.”  Invite listeners to call in.  You can be on live radio! —  But only a select few get through the jammed switchboard.

Next, invite listeners to send an email.  — Bingo! Everybody gets through! — The host reads four or five emails in the time it takes to chat with one caller.

English: Tweeting bird, derived from the initi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to cable TV news:

“We want to know what you think. Send us a Tweet about  [insert burning issue of the day]. We might read your Tweet on the air.”

Next step, Reality: 

Vote “Yes” or “No” by dialing a number on your cell phone. 

News shows use cell-phone voting to create an instant “opinion poll.”  Are you in favor of the minimum wage? Call in and vote “Yes” or “No.”

Reality TV shows use cell-phone voting to pick the winner. Call this number and vote for your favorite player to stay on the island. Call in to vote for your favorite dancer on “Dancing With The Stars,” or your favorite singer on “American Idol.”

You want debate? You want transparency? Hold a virtual Town Hall Meeting on Twitter!

Caveat: The polling is not statistically accurate. It’s not a random sample of public opinion, and it’s certainly not a complete sample. The results are the opinions expressed by a subgroup of people watching TV or Tweeting at a particular point in time.

“Subgroup of people.” It’s like a committee of Congress. Except the committee probably won’t vote. Our virtual subgroup could actually render a decision by a cell-phone vote. And fast!

Participants are self-selected. That’s the genius of it.

Viola: Self-selected, virtual, participatory democracy.

It’s virtually happening right now, just like three-dimensional copying. At least, that’s the mashup in my brain after using Twitter for a few weeks and reading about “Earth Inc.” and “The Global Mind” in Al Gore’s scary book, “The Future.” (Do not read this book in the middle of the night.)

In the section called “Power In The Balance,” Mr. Gore writes:

“The political equilibrium of the world is undergoing massive change.”

The peeps I talk to on Twitter are political activists. Their personal interest might be the environment, education, health care, equality, community development, sustainable agriculture. Whatever it is, they are savvy! Plus, they’re wired and caffeinated.

They’re hyper-connected by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linked-In, blogging, you name it. New networks with crazy names appear every day. They’re called Pin It Up, or Nail It Down. It doesn’t matter.

Bring it all together. Dysfunctional government. Gridlock. Fragmented audiences. Information. Communication. Self-selection.

The revolution is just waiting to happen. 

In the recent 2012 general election, voters in my state were asked to vote four laws up or down by referendum. The right of referendum is well-established in American politics. Pretty soon, someone’s going to suggest speeding up the process. Why wait until the next election? Hold a virtual referendum tomorrow, or any day, by cell phone. This is the age of instant gratification, after all.

Goodbye to the filibuster. Farewell, special session. And gridlock. Forget bicameral legislating. “Bicameral” is an obscure word meaning “Redundant.”

Participatory virtual democracy could potentially decide any issue. On Twitter, in real-time.

(You think my social-media-and-politics mashup is as lumpy as mashed potatoes? That’s your privilege. I’m not much looking forward to further development of this brave, new trend in democracy. But then again, it would be more efficient than what we have now. Send me a Tweet.)

Peeps of the world, arise! Pull out your cell phones. What are you thinking right now? Hit SEND, and you might start a revolution.

— John Hayden

2 thoughts on “Virtual Democracy Emerging As We Tweet

  1. I will probably never be a revolutionary of this ilk. I am already feeling aggrieved that news anchors are now replacing actual news with audience participation comments through Tweets and emails. Revolutionary it may be, but it’s still just more noise, with little action. It should fit in very well with our current Congress. Is self-selected even marginally a step up from corporate-selected?


    • Thank you! Wonderful observations. Like you, I’m extremely skeptical about the convergence of technology and democracy. But we ignore it at our own peril. A few small nations have already experimented with internet voting. It has obvious advantages in cost and accessibility, especially where the population is dispersed and isolated. More voters can be empowered and brought into the system. Of course, the possibilities for hacking boggle the mind! But the temptation for further experiments in that direction will be intense.

      Of more immediate concern to me is the wireless computerized voter machines used in my state. No paper anywhere. You vote, and your vote is recorded digitally, on a hard drive or someplace. Who can audit such a system? Who can prevent tampering? I have a minimum level of confidence in the security and accuracy of such a system.

      As for the use of audience participation in news shows and many other areas of entertainment. It’s the course of least resistance. It’s low-cost or no-cost programming, and it drives viewer engagement and loyalty. No reporters or entertainers to pay. A big win for the media companies.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.


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