How Twitter and Facebook Are Changing Democracy
- Uses Twitter the most?
- Used crowd sourcing to develop its Constitution?
- Publishes photos on Facebook to track attendance in Parliament?
- Launched a citizen website to report bribes?
- Uses social media to gather real-time citizen input to legislation?
- Saudi Arabia, where 53% of those with Internet access use Twitter.
These are just a few examples of how nations are applying the latest technologies to improve citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.
We had a lively discussion about it at the National Democratic Institute’s gathering on the Stanford University campus. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright chaired the event and welcomed special guest former Vice President Al Gore.
Policymakers, non-government organizations (NGOs), academics and technology experts gathered from around the globe to listen, learn and share.
We explored new ways to engage citizens and improve governance, transparency and openness. This is critical to promote democracy and restore faith in governments everywhere.
For example, the White House seeks technologies to help leaders implement new democracies and communicate with capitol cities where travel is not feasible.
In Brazil, the cost of travel prevents remote citizens from accessing their capitol’s resources. Therefore, mobile and social media technologies are essential to serve those who live far away.
In Tanzania, villagers demand face time with local leaders who cannot always be there. SMS texting allows citizens to request services and receive updates. Many have no Internet access.
Community As Capacity
Another hot topic was using citizens for capacity to help governments scale. For example, startup Recovers developed software to help communities manage disaster recovery. Tools include simple applications for managing donations or matching volunteers and resources with neighborhood needs.
Recovers helps empower neighborhoods to manage the “before and after” in unison with government services.
The city of Boston also uses community as capacity. Boston developed an award-winning smartphone application called Citizen Connect for residents to report issues to city government. Once the issues are resolved, citizens can rate the city’s performance, which is tracked and reported publicly. This end-to-end approach lets residents partner with the city to improve quality of life for all.
As Vice President Gore noted, power is shifting from political systems to the private sector. As a result, he said “the corporation is now as central to the world as the church was in the Middle Ages.”
Secretary Albright highlighted how this will require new public-private partnerships that combine governments, NGOs, corporations and other “non-state actors.” In her years of foreign relations experience, Secretary Albright has repeatedly seen how all stakeholders must come to the table to solve the largest problems.
A great example of such a partnership is how the National Archives (NARA) teamed with big data startup Inflection to host the 1940s Census data in the public cloud. And volunteers were crowd staffed to index the data for search purposes. The data is now available for free. And every participant benefited in that project.
One Final Thought
Media CEO Tim O’Reilly offered some provocative ideas about emerging trends. For example, if Facebook’s one billion users are considered “an institution,” would that be a kind of “non-state actor” that sits at the table in future? Where does an “online” community fit? Or does it?
This is how creative we can be in playing with how technology enables new models to engage everyone in the democratic process.
Consider how visionary Thomas Jefferson was when he said “Information is the currency of democracy.”
Jefferson knew that a well-informed public is vital for the democratic process to work “for the people by the people.”
He further said that “Every generation needs a new revolution.”
Little did he know that ours would be the Internet revolution, with information beyond measure!
Follow @JacquelnVanacek for how cloud, mobile, social media and big data can reinvent government.