I attended the Global Forum on Direct Democracy at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco this week. I was a member of a panel regarding the effects of Social Media on direct democracy. The discussion was very interesting, but not always on topic. It appears that there will be a big disconnect between the use of Social Media to help facilitate the ‘online’ process of direct democracy and the actual execution of it. The discussion was intertwined with electronic voting, electronic/digital signatures, fraud and many other topics that are associated with moving the direct democracy forward.
For those of you that are not intimately familiar with the definition of direct democracy, and there is probably no single, consistent and agreed upon definition, but as an approximation, it allows for Referendums and Initiatives to be placed on the ballot so that the voting public can directly decide on the laws that they would be governed under. This is in contrast to allowing the elected officials to create our laws. They are your ‘representatives’ in the law making process.
Social Media has a significant opportunity to allow the general public become much more involved in the process of writing new laws. This will have both positive and negative implications. On the negative side, you can see how difficult it is for just a handful of legislators to create and pass our laws. What if everyone had a say? How complicated would it be then?
On the positive side of things, there are a significant number of opportunities in including the public the law-making process. This is akin to making sausage, but I am sure much worse to watch. As our world has progresses forward, it has become much more complicated and technical. Those that work in the private sector have the knowledge and skills to effectively create these new, complex laws. The laws can be created much like open source software is now created, in a collaborative process where many hands have input into the overall result.
Two hundred plus years ago the voting public (those allowed to vote) had signification time and space constraints. Since then we have essentially eliminated most of the barriers of space with technology. Time is still a constraining item that limits all of us, and at the moment, I don’t see any technology that will allow us to overcome this. More work needs to be done on the flux-capacitor.
There is still plenty of room for a representative style of government, but there are also new opportunities that can improve the law making process. Technology and society will continue to outpace the rate of change in government, but it is my hope that we can utilize the best components of Social Media and reap its benefits in the near term.