Monday, October 08, 2012

Too many tweets... do not a news item make

Which is the brave move made by David Cameron. From stating that 'too many tweets make a twat', three years later Cameron has joined Twitter and been given quite the welcome. Of course it was unsolicited but it was a weekend, it was a fun story at the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference and it seemed someone thought it a good idea to submit question via Twitter. The #askdave went berserk, trending in hours. If anyone out there wants to find some witty critiques of Cameron, his cabinet, his government, his policies they are there. He made no attempt to crowdsource but the crowd appeared anyway. 

What is interesting is that there are no news items to be found in the mainstream UK media for #askdave, only the New York Times makes a wry comment. So despite the number of responses (though many are from John Prescott), the fact that it seems infamous in politico circles, it is simply a phenomenon within a bubble that encloses the politically-interested Twitter community. So, how democratizing is Twitter, does it shape the agenda; perhaps only when people say something that interests journalists, that shapes an existing story, but it is not a way to capture the attention of journalists with a story they do not want to report. A surprise in this case!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Right Message?

After two and a half years in government there are many messages that perhaps should be communicated. Backed by an email campaign and webpage, foreshadowing the Conservative's conference, this is the message they seem to want to get out to voters. Of course it will go down well with their supporters, research shows that attacks always do (see for example the work of Stephen Ansolabehere). But surely the target of the message is the floating voter, or more likely the person who voted Conservative in 2010 but may have become disillusioned with the party (or indeed the coalition government) and may be reconsidering their choice following what was regarded as a 'spectacular' performance by Ed Miliband at Labour's Conference.

But will it work. Will it make those wavering Conservative supporters reconsider? Creating a little bit of cognitive dissonance to juxtapose the post conference euphoria? Or will it make the Conservatives seem a little desperate? Having nothing positive to say about their own record they go into attack mode. It is a question of perceptions but it could be a risky strategy for a government that have never fully won the approval of the voters. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Open Source Democracy

While I do not always agree with Clay Shirky I find his ideas and arguments highly engaging and find myself thinking wouldn't it be great if he was right. In a recent TED talk he talks about the potential for open source democracy and crowd-powered social change (a feature of much of his writing). His idea is that governments would be willing to provide a social, communal space where political decisions can be developed and taken by the combined thinking of politicians (possibly civil servants) but importantly also the ordinary citizen - that the space becomes co-created and reliant on the sum of all parts to reach sensible solutions. It works on the same principle as open source software - co-operation without co-ordination. The formation of communities that come together to reach common goals. Watch his video, think about his argument, but also think about the ramifications.

The advantages are clear; what we are talking about here is electronically-enabled, non-representative direct, democracy. But what of disadvantages? One of the major problems with direct democracy is how to gain the right representative composition of participation - in other words will direct democracy create better laws, laws which are the benefit of all or just a small, non-representative minority. Where would be the checks and balances to prevent racist, homophobic, sexist and prejudiced voices predominating. Of course there can be checks and balances but is it possible, organically, to get a sufficient number of average people to participate in direct democracy initiatives even when the initiative has a direct link to a legislature. Even if you can gain a critical mass to participate at one point, can such a critical mass be maintained? Will that critical mass both be deliberative as well as anarchic or just plain satirical? (Downing Street petitions in the UK have gained signatures against mandatory car tracking but also for electing Jeremy Clarkson as prime minister). So there are challenges. But could it work, is there real potential or is this just a cyber optimist's pipe dream?