ConnectedFuture.org

Crowdsourced Agenda for Free Expression

RECOMMENDATION 3: EMBRACE DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES

RECOMMENDATION 3: EMBRACE DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES

Citizens, particularly young people, are increasingly questioning the legitimacy and effectiveness of traditional models of governance and hierarchical processes of decision-making. Representative democracies have been undermined by the presence of large lobbying groups, funnelling money into the system through political backchannels, or overt mechanisms of influence like Super PACs.2 Elections are often marred with campaign finance or voter suppression scandals.3 While young people are engaging in social change campaigns and local community activities en masse, they are turning off politics and elections in record numbers.4 The discrepancy appears to point not to apathy as some suggest, but rather to a perceived lack of authentic and effective means of expression through official democratic institutions.

As our democratic institutions appear to be eroding under the influence of powerful interest groups, public confidence in the very ideals of democracy is eroding as well. To further undermine democratic will, many important decisions are being laundered through international trade agreements carried out in near total secrecy [Box 1].5 A new method of decision-making befitting the era of participation is sorely needed. Fortunately, the Internet provides us with many tools to create a more participatory style of democracy – including the drag-and-drop crowdsourcing tool that we used for the “Our Digital Future” project.

Box 1: Democracy and The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

The manner in which the TPP negotiations have been carried out is of great concern to people around the world. Held behind closed doors, the negotiating process is so secretive that, the public notwithstanding, even elected representatives are not allowed to access the text, let alone discuss it. Civil society groups are excluded from the process; meetings are continually held in secret with last- minute logistical changes.6 In Canada, MPs are calling out for the government to release the text,7 while in the US, several Congress members have voiced strong concerns about the total lack of transparency.8 9 Other TPP countries – New Zealand and Malaysia – have also spoken out.10 The information we have about the TPP text comes solely from leaked drafts of the text published by WikiLeaks.11

The reason for this is unfortunately clear: the measures put forth by industry lobbyists are a lightning rod for opposition by civil society. It is unlikely that a democratic process would result in such a contentious trade agreement, or allow for the tremendous waste of resources spent in negotiating a deal that will likely be rejected by the public in many of the countries involved.

As part of our crowdsourcing process, we asked participants a specific question about how they would like to see copyright law decided.12 A sizeable majority (72.3 percent) of 9,475 respondents agreed that their country should “Design copyright laws by following Finland’s example, launching a participatory multi-stakeholder process that involves the general public, including Internet users and creators as well as copyright law experts.” These respondents are inspired by Finland’s Common Sense in Copyright law proposal, a crowdsourced policy put forward to the Finnish government by over 1,100 people who submitted comments, contributions or votes via Google docs to collaboratively write a new draft copyright law.13 In sharp contrast, less than one percent (56/9,475) of respondents supported the idea that their country should: “Design copyright laws by conforming to international trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that have been decided by trade representatives and industry, with limited public consultation,” (see Box 1).

Given the overwhelming results of our crowdsourcing process, we strongly recommend that policy makers formulate copyright policy in a public, democratic forum, with a transparent decision making process that includes active input from a diversity of stakeholders, and with the general public in the driver’s seat. The crowdsourcing process we aimed to model offers a decentralized and more participatory way of making decisions, and our results reveal a sharp contrast between the desires of citizens, innovators and entrepreneurs compared with TPP bureaucrats and industry lobbyists. As in Finland, our experiments in crowdsourcing are in their infancy – all the more reason to embrace these experiments as learning opportunities, as the Finnish government has done.14

Despite its novelty, crowdsourcing has much to recommend it as a legitimate alternative to closed-door decision-making – it harnesses the possibility of the open Internet to engage people all over the world in low-barrier, interactive, transparent processes. There will be design challenges, controversies, and problems with the representativeness of the participants; but we should keep in mind, as an important point of comparison, that there are no shortage of these flaws with elections even after hundreds of years of experimentation. To quote one of our Internet Voice participants, Sean:

Internet Voice

“I want a platform where citizens can vote on specifically worded issues, and vote on amendments to the specific wording. Popular decisions brought to lawmakers and become policy. A democracy that keeps up with communications technology.” – Sean, Canada

A democracy that keeps up with technology would be one that works with digital trends – not against them (see Box 2). Rulemaking processes can now take advantage of the public participation made possible by new technology... and hopefully revitalize faith in democracy in the process.

Box 2: Innovations in Democracy

Though in their infancy, experiments with technology for democratic decision-making show what might lie beyond the horizon of representative democracy. In countries around the world, activists, software companies and political parties are using the Internet to envision a more participatory democratic system:

· In Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Brazil, Pirate Parties have used Liquid Feedback, software for political decision-making, to prepare conventions and design policy platforms. A unique feature of Liquid Feedback is its capability to allow delegated voting (“liquid democracy”) to take into account the knowledge disparity between citizens on diverse policy issues.15

· In Argentina, Internet Party co-founders have created DemocracyOS, a web-based open-source platform for voting and political debate. Party candidates have committed to voting based on the will of DemocracyOS users, and to introduce legislation based on user suggestions rather than the wishes of industry lobbyists.16 The software has also been used in Tunisia, where activists built their own installation to allow citizens to comment on the country’s new constitution.17

· In New Zealand, the Internet Party provides both a Policy Forum and a Policy Incubator on its website (https://internet.org.nz/) allowing all members to help shape party policies.

· In Spain, Wadobo software has created Agora Ciudadana, a social website that allows anyone to create or join a virtual agora – a discussion forum with elections through either direct vote or delegation. Juan Baldoví, an MP with the Spanish Green Party Compromís-Equo, used the website to crowdsource his vote on a transparency bill, saying he hoped to “open the voters’ eyes to another way of practising democracy, and bring them closer to their politicians.”18

As Argentine Internet Party co-founder Pia Mancini says, “We need to start thinking about whether systems that were developed in the 18th century, and fully implemented in the 20th century, make sense in a 21st-century societal context.”19 Given the limitations of representative democracy – even after centuries of experimentation – the burgeoning potential for technology to help us iterate our way to a more inclusive, inspiring system is reason for hope.

Footnotes: 

1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/20/peter-beaumont-demo...

2. http://www.vox.com/cards/super-pacs-and-dark-money/what-are-super-pacs

3. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/5-political-dirty-tricks-we-learned-from...

4. http://civicyouth.org/research/products/Measuring_Youth_Voter_Turnout.pdf

5. https://openmedia.org/censorship

6. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tories-deny-shifting-trans-... to-ottawa-to-stymie-protests/article19458945/

7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tpp-trade-talks-too-secret-ndp-mp-don-da...

8. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120523/11415519051/wyden-to-obama-ho...

9. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-03/democrats-balk-at-obama-s-fast-... pacific-trade-talks.html

10. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1402/S00272/nz-should-follow-malaysia-l...

11. https://wikileaks.org/tpp/

12. See Appendix 1 for full results from this question.

13. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2045006/crowdsourced-finnish-copyright-bi...

14. “But most importantly, with each subsequent initiative, the Finnish government has learned a great deal and put that knowledge into optimizing the next program. In fact, their projects often double as research so that in addition to improving government, they improve their understanding of the public” http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2014/07/10/crowdsourcing-a-less...

15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiquidFeedback

16. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/07/designing-an-op...

17. http://techpresident.com/news/weogv/24799/can-internet-help-build-democr...

18. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/11/joan-baldovi-spain-transpar...

19. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/07/designing-an-op...