Participatory Democracy Online

Wed 16 Mar, 2011 01:04 pm
Canada now has a political party called the Online Party of Canada. Does the United States have anything similar?

“The internet is the game changer…” Online Party Founder Nicula
(James Murray, NetNewsLedger.com, January 29, 2011)

There is a new political party in Canada – The Online Party of Canada. The party offers Canadians yet another choice from the traditional parties. The party, which has not achieved official status as yet has set some lofty goals. The Online Party seeks “To become the backbone of a truly democratic system where everyone who has the right to vote can freely express their opinion in an open forum in regards to any issue, vote and have their vote counted equally to any other voter, in a real-time and verifiable manner”.

“The internet is the game changer” opines Michael Nicula, the founder of the Online Party of Canada (OPC). The information spreads fast and cheap via social networking, and this is our only hope that someday people will be inspired and interested in the way their elected representatives run the government, and will participate in the political dialogue”.

“The Online Party of Canada pledges to support through its representatives only the majority position on a particular issue. OPC will not compromise, will not allow its representatives to promote their own agenda, and will not make ‘political deals’ with any other political organization”.

The party has not made a great deal of main-stream media impact, at least not yet. It appears to be growing online, with its website, and Facebook page.

Chances are, it will take a while for such an idea to catch on with Canadians. The overall shift coming in how politics is done could, in Canada offer greater use of technology for votes by MPs and MPPs and City Councillors. It is likely that the idea of an “Online Party” is a stepping stone today that direction if Canadians are interested.

One of the focuses of the Online Party is the perceived lack of faith that Canadians have in their politicians. In a statement issued by the Online Party they state, “A well-known fact, not even the politicians dispute it: most Canadians are turned off by politics, distrust politicians and government. Politicians work on their own agendas, making political deals, largely ignoring that the voters want them to do, until the next elections. The promises made during the campaigns are widely accepted as lies, yet, we re-elect people we don’t trust. There’s absolutely no mechanism in place to hold them accountable – well, they also make the rules”.

As the name suggests, the party seeks to use new technology to impact the political arena. “The internet is the game changer” opines Mr. Michael Nicula, founder of the Online Party of Canada (OPC). The information spreads fast and cheap via social networking, and this is our only hope that someday people will be inspired and interested in the way their elected representatives run the government, and will participate in the political dialogue”.

The group asserts, “The current political system is set in such way that the incumbents have a huge, unfair advantage at the polls due to name recognition and years of using their position to secure more funding. Given the high rate of incumbency, sweeping changes are next to impossible, and the newcomers to the political scene are perceived to become ‘tainted’ quickly as they often forget what they promised during the campaign and join the political games in preparation for next elections”.

Nicula states, “The cause and also the consequence of current status is the fact that most Canadians are turned off and do not participate in the political process. Going to the polls is not enough! We must put a bit of effort into it – read about the issues and more importantly get to know the candidates. When in doubt, vote someone new; if we keep electing incumbents, change cannot happen. Politicians are happy to see us uninterested or absent from the polls, because ironically, by not participating we support the ‘status quo’.”

“Many Canadians don’t vote at all, and those who do, often vote out of anger simply by picking the other side, admitting that ‘they’re not much better’. The smaller parties don’t stand a chance, given the importance of money and regulations; not even rich people can break through!,” he concludes.

Will it work? Only time will tell.
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Wed 16 Mar, 2011 01:27 pm
Sounds like an interesting experiment. Can't wait to see how it turns out.
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Wed 16 Mar, 2011 02:16 pm
Hmm, hadn't heard of this before, and I'm in Canada.

Thanks for posting the info!
Wed 16 Mar, 2011 02:18 pm
Same here, I'll have to look them up.
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Wed 16 Mar, 2011 02:20 pm
Great idea. Not having any kids, I can vote against property taxes. Also against any highways not in NW New Mexico.
Wed 16 Mar, 2011 03:07 pm
In some states, there have been proposals to allow voting in elections by mobile phone texting or by e-mail. So far, this method of voting is not allowed in the United States.

In Estonia, however, e-voting in elections has become popular.

Record numbers cast e-votes in Estonian election
(Associated Foreign Press, March 6, 2011)

A record number of Estonians cast Internet ballots in the Baltic state's general election, still the only parliamentary poll in the world with an online option, data showed Sunday.

Figures from the Estonian electoral commission showed that 140,846 people -- almost 25 percent of all voters in Sunday's election -- had favoured a mouse click over pencil and paper in a polling booth.

The confidential ballots could be sent from any computer provided the user had downloaded special software and logged onto a secure site with an encoded ID card.

After five decades of Soviet rule ended in 1991, Estonia opted to go hi-tech as fast as possible, and still outstrips other members of the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

The nation of 1.3 million has earned the nickname "E-stonia". Most public services are accessible at a special state portal.

Estonia pioneered e-voting in municipal elections in 2005. More than 9,000 people -- two percent of turnout -- went online for that ballot.

Since then, the system's popularity has grown.

By the 2007 general election, 30,000 people, or five percent of turnout, chose it. In Estonia's 2009 European parliament vote, the number was 58,000, or 15 percent.

In last October's local elections, 104,000 people, or 16 percent, used the online option.

E-voting has been adopted in other countries for referenda or political party primaries, for example.

But while Estonia has inspired others, even those at the forefront of the e-voting movement, such as Switzerland, are still at the teething stage when it comes to electing lawmakers, experts note.
Wed 16 Mar, 2011 04:34 pm
Un huh, but your opening paragraph indicated voting on every issue. This quote seems to be talking about electing representatives. Could be that one idea could work, while the other might not. For example, there could be an issue which is very important to a small group, but doesn't inspire most. I get the feeling that if legislation were passed this way, there would be some fairly extreme laws getting passed.
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Wed 16 Mar, 2011 04:47 pm
since we might be heading to the polls soon, i hope they have candidates i can vote for, as it stands now i'll probably have to vote conservative, the only thing i'd give the liberal leader is a kick in the nuts, certainly not my vote, and i like the NDP (social democrats basically) too much as an opposition party to risk my vote being enough to get them elected (okay, so there's really no danger of that happening)
Thu 17 Mar, 2011 08:44 pm
Egyptians can vote on some referendums online at Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC), a taskgroup working with the Egyptian Parliament.

IDSC has significantly contributed to crystallizing the opinions and concepts that have an impact on the Egyptian government’s foreign and national policies through publishing various research, covering diversified themes, as well as books and working papers. Besides, periodicals and public opinion polls are prepared. It also organizes seminars, conferences, workshops and training programs. IDSC launched its www.idsc.gov.eg to introduce its mission, views and activities.
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Fri 18 Mar, 2011 06:12 pm
World of statecraft: EU parliament role-playing game to go online
(Leigh Phillips, Guardian.co.uk, 6 August 2010)

Most online computer gamers are more likely to be found battling zombies or dragons than drafting legislation or debating the finer points of European integration.

But that may be about to change. The European parliament is developing an online game called Citzalia, featuring a fictional version of the chamber in which participants re-enact the process of creating EU legislation.

"Citzalia is democracy in action. It is a role-playing game and social networking forum wrapped in a virtual 3D world that captures the essence of the European parliament," explains the game site, which is currently in development.

The 3D world will not be an imaginary land of castles and orcs, but a "mash-up" of the three European parliament buildings in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg and filled with real MEPs and European commission civil servants.

Inside, the blurb continues, you (or at least your avatar) "walk around, interact, network, debate the issues of today, propose legislation, vote and learn about how the European parliament works".

The game will allow players to gain points and move up levels by proposing legislation, amending laws, writing articles for an online newspaper and other tasks. The developers are in discussions with journalism schools and secondary school teachers to incorporate the game into teaching modules.

The game will allow for fictional pieces of legislation to be crafted and track real bills making their way through the European legislative machine. The game's developers, the European Service Network, a Brussels communications agency that until now has mostly been responsible for producing EU brochures and websites, saw the popularity of online games such as World of Warcraft and thought they could make a sort of legislative Middle Earth out of the European parliament.

"It's completely out of the box. It's an experiment as a means of bringing together the best trends in the internet to stimulate discussion about Europe," said ESN's manager of the project, Ahmed ElAmin.

"World of Warcraft was one of the inspirations. It's the biggest online role-playing game there is. It shows there is a huge audience for 3D online worlds."

The 15-strong development team are hoping MEPs will inhabit Citzalia alongside citizens and get real-time feedback from them. Avatars of European commission officials will also wander the halls "correcting" mistaken views about the EU.

"There won't be any censorship," ElAmin stressed, "but there is a huge risk that misinformation could be fed in. They won't be editing for views, but having these people in can sort of correct things."

The parliament is spending £230,000 to get the project off the ground as part of a £3.3m communications contract with the firm and other partners over four years, according to ElAmin. ESN is also chipping in a quarter of the cost itself, as they believe strongly in the project: "We think suddenly these sorts of things can snowball very quickly."
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Sun 20 Mar, 2011 04:52 pm
Sociologist Manuel Castells has written many books and journal articles on how communication over the internet has changed society.

In a 2007 essay, he argues that new communication technology has changed the distribution of power in a society. Instead of only traditional mass media (owned by corporations), we now have "mass self-communication" which has increased the power of individual citizens. Citizens or groups of citizens can now confront the institutions of society and reach mass audiences.

"Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society"
(Manuel Castells, International Journal of Communication, 2007, Volume 1)

This article presents a set of grounded hypotheses on the relationship between communication and power relationships in the technological context that characterizes the network society. Based on a selected body of communication literature, and of a number of case studies and examples, it argues that the media have become the social space where power is decided. It shows the direct link between politics, media politics, the politics of scandal, and the crisis of political legitimacy in a global perspective. It also puts forward the notion that the development of interactive, horizontal networks of communication has induced the rise of a new form of communication, mass self-communication, over the Internet and wireless communication networks. Under these conditions, insurgent politics and social movements are able to intervene more decisively in the new communication space. However, corporate media and mainstream politics have also invested in this new communication space. As a result of these processes, mass media and horizontal communication networks are converging. The net outcome of this evolution is a historical shift of the public sphere from the institutional realm to the new communication space.
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Mon 21 Mar, 2011 09:28 am
Arab springtime: Is the web reaching new heights?
(Reporters Without Borders, March 11, 2011)

The year 2010 firmly established the role of social networks and the Internet as mobilisation and news transmission tools. In 2010 alone, 250 million Internet users joined Facebook and by the end of the year, the social network had 600 million members. In September that year, 175 million people were Twitter users – 100 million more than in the previous year.

The Western media had praised the Internet and its “liberator” role during the 2009 Iranian revolution. According to The New York Times, the demonstrators “shot tweets” back at bullets. However, Twitter was then used mainly by the diaspora. “The Net Delusion,” a theory advanced by Evgeny Morozov, an Internet expert, casts doubt on the Internet’s role as a democratisation tool. Although the Internet is certainly used by dissidents, it is also used by the authorities to relay regime propaganda and enforce a police state.

The Internet remains above all a tool used for the better or the worse. In the most closed countries, it creates a space of freedom which would not otherwise exist. Its potential to disseminate news irritates dictators and eludes traditional censorship methods. Some regimes use it – mainly on Facebook and Twitter – to monitor dissidents and infiltrate their networks.

Nonetheless, the terms “Twitter Revolution” and “Facebook Revolution” have become watchwords with the events that rocked the Arab world in late 2010 and early 2011. The “online” movements were coupled with “offline” demonstrations, hastening the fall of dictators. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings turned out to be, first and foremost, human revolutions facilitated by the Internet and social networks.

Facebook and Twitter served as sound boxes, amplifying the demonstrators’ frustrations and demands. They also made it possible for the rest of the world to follow the events as they unfolded, despite censorship. The role of cell phones also proved crucial. Citizen journalists kept file-sharing websites supplied with photos and videos, and fed images to streaming websites.

The Tunisian authorities had imposed a media blackout on what was going on in Sidi Bouzid. Since the so-called “traditional” media had failed to cover the protest movements that were rocking the country, at least at their beginning in December, their role as news sources and vectors was taken over by social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and news websites like Nawaat.org. Facebook in particular acted as a platform on which Internet users posted comments, photos and videos. The Bambuser streaming site also had its moment of glory. Everyone was able to track the events as they happened. The online calls for demonstrations spread to other countries: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, and even China and Vietnam, etc.


As of this writing, protest movements continue to sweep through the Arab world and spread to other countries. They may give rise to new online mobilisations and to crackdowns by certain governments. In 2011, the Internet and new media are still experiencing shock waves from having been caught up in the momentum of all these political changes. The Internet has entered turbulent times in which its impact, power and frailties are likely to be magnified.
Mon 21 Mar, 2011 03:14 pm
wandeljw wrote:
... The Internet has entered turbulent times in which its impact, power and frailties are likely to be magnified.

As a frusterated voter, I'm hoping something will change the status quo, as it's just the "same old, same old".

And that goes for any level of government, in my opinion.
Mon 21 Mar, 2011 04:36 pm
Have you learned anything about the Online Party of Canada in your local news, Reyn?
Mon 21 Mar, 2011 04:38 pm
well, it's not actually a political party

more of an aspiring political party
Mon 21 Mar, 2011 05:59 pm
What would the party need to do in order to be recognized by the Canadian government as an official party?
Mon 21 Mar, 2011 07:51 pm
I've never heard anything about this in our news media. Confused
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Mon 21 Mar, 2011 08:21 pm
In order to become a political party in Canada your party must have 250 members who are electors and nominate a candidate in at least one electoral district. There are many different parties in Canada. Some are dominant in provincial politics but have never made a showing nationally. One national party has only members in province, but they have proven to be the balancing factor in successive minority governments. In every election, at least in my area, there are normally 7 or 8 choices for every election. Some candidates run as independents, others for the Tory's, the Liberals, NDP, Parti Quebecois, Green, Communists, Marijuana, Rhinoceros to give some examples. Conservatives and Liberals arm wrestle over who's boss, for decades or a few months. Traditionally, the country has given the ruling gov. a majority, but we've been in a stalemate over a minority Conservative gov. lead by a bully, since 2006.
The Maritime's and Ontario sway between the two biggies, Quebec is either/or, and recently enough PQ's to hold the power. The west is usually the most interesting to watch, because it matters the least. We don't have the population to sway the vote. The prairies vary between all conservative, or mostly conservatives and a few liberals. BC's always a wild card. The country also always votes in a handful of NDPs, I believe they had their biggest national numbers in one of the recent elections.
We've had several elections since 2006. Too many votes with the same outcome. So, if the budget fails, and the government has to call an election, it will lead to another waste of time and money, with the same results. Or at least that's what the pollsters are saying.

Tue 22 Mar, 2011 05:08 am
Thanks for the detailed background information, Ceili.
0 Replies
Tue 22 Mar, 2011 11:29 am
Clay Shirky and the political power of social media
(Transcript of Interview on Public Radio International's The World, January 21, 2011)

MARCO WERMAN: Some of the dissent being expressed in Sudan has found its way onto social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, not as much as in the case of Tunisia, though. There’s still a lot of social media activity connected with the ongoing protest in Tunis. We’ve opened a window on the ongoing Tunisia dialog on Twitter. You can take a peek at TheWorld.org. The use of social media provides a lot of benefits to those challenging the status quo but there are limits to what social media can accomplish in the political sphere. Clay Shirky is the author of The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere and Political Change. It’s an essay that appears in the current issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine. Shirky is also professor of new media at New York University.

CLAY SHIRKY: The social media has an effect on the political life of countries, which I very much believe it does. What is that effect? And what I’m arguing in the Foreign Affairs article is that although the exciting moment, the moment we all see on television, hear on the radio, see and read in the newspaper of collapse, right, of a people uprising, rising up and taking on authoritarian government. That’s an incredibly exciting moment. But, that’s at the end of a long process, not a replacement for a long process. And a lot of the concentration on social media has been around these moments of collapse. But, in fact, the effect of social media, the political effect is principally in allowing people, who are discontent with their government, to find each other, to coordinate their feelings and to decide to take action. So, it is really the stuff in advance of the kind of protest movements we saw in Tunisia where social media has its, I think, deepest and longest political effects.

WERMAN: Well, let’s take those recent events in Tunisia. I mean, how do you see them as a case study for the ideas you’re currently thinking about in relation to the political impact of social media?

SHIRKY: Well, there is a kind of a progression of knowledge from — each person in a society has realized a certain fact, right, like the Ben Ali government is corrupt. To each person, then realizing, “Oh, you know what, everybody else has figured this out as well.” And then when it becomes a public fact as it famously did in Tunisia on the 18th of December, right. When everybody realizes that everybody’s still thinking the same thing at the same time, that’s the moment where real political change happens.

WERMAN: But, I wonder in Tunisia, just, you know, how much, you know, cell phones actually created that public fact. I mean, there was an interesting first person account — I don’t know if you saw it in the New York Times the other day called A Night in Tunisia by a Tunisian writer, Kamel Riahi, who was writing about having joined the demonstrators, how he escaped the tear gas. He attempts to organize the people in his apartment block to defend their home from the raiding security forces. And nowhere does he mention social networks. In fact, when he wanted to talk to his neighbors in the apartment building, he went into the hallway and shouted to them. How do you see that kind of fitting into all these people that we hear about who are using cell phones to tweet each other and get the demonstration going?

SHIRKY: Well, the arrival of social media doesn’t suddenly remove all previous forms of coordination. It’s an addition to the landscape, not a replacement for it. What social media does is it allows groups of people to know what other people are thinking in the country at a much wider scale, at much lower cost. That’s where the political change comes from. It’s the strengthening of the public sphere. And in the Foreign Affairs article I argue, particularly in our State Department, that there has been an over-emphasis on individual access to information. But, in fact, the governments in the world are not afraid of individuals getting to new information. What they’re really afraid of is synchronized groups. That’s where political change happens.

WERMAN: And some of those governments are friends of the United States and they’re also trying to kind of topple those synchronized groups. How well is the U.S. government negotiating these two interests, kind of maintaining good bilateral relations with governments that restrict or censor Internet access and helping to quench the thirst for more free speech and opining by those citizens?

SHIRKY: We are, to be brutally frank, we are not doing a good job of that just given the reality as a state craft. There is almost no way to have a consistent political position in a world where some of our allies are autocratic countries. So one of the things I argue in the Foreign Affairs pieces, the government should effectively be focusing on long term support for the kind of conversational synchronization around politics rather than short term targeting of specific regimes with specific anti circumvention technologies. We should not be making the pro insurgency model our State Department policy about the Internet.

WERMAN: Now, the reports today that Burmese pro-democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi has been given Internet access for the first time in her life. And she says she wants to use social media to get in touch with Burma’s youth. If you could tell Aung San Suu Kyi one thing right now about social media in Burma, what would it be?

SHIRKY: You know, the idea of me telling Aung San Suu Kyi anything about Burma is a bridge too far.

WERMAN: But you could tell her something about social media?

SHIRKY: Social media — no, exactly, but the reason I say that is that the facts on the ground, country by country mean that there isn’t a recipe. The one thing I would say is and I’ll borrow Ethan Zuckerman’s phrase here, “Don’t underestimate the value of cute cats.” Zuckerman is a colleague of mine at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, pointed out that very often the political value of media specifically designed to help dissidents is actually very low because the government feels no compunction at all about cutting it off. But, to the degree that the populous does things like email each other pictures of cute cats, those actually turn out to be the media that are politically harder to shut down. The government can’t go around shutting down pop culture Web sites because they’re potential sites of politicization. And yet they are potential sites of politicization. So, I think that the lesson there, for Burma as much as for any country in the world, is that an environment in which the citizens of a country can talk to one another about anything they like, is actually a better environment for them talking about politics than specifically designing political forums which are easier to monitor and easier to shut down.

WERMAN: Clay Shirky, professor of new media at New York University and author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Thanks so much.

SHIRKY: Thank you.
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