social media

Democracy Rebooted: Participation for a digital age

By William Louch.

Representative democracies are in the midst of a crisis. The age of the party is over. Turnout at elections is declining across Europe with (almost) every passing election, whilst the disconnect between political parties and wider society is made increasingly apparent with every photograph tweeted by Emily Thornberry. As Peter Mair writes ‘the parties pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.’ The rise of populist politics confirms this trend.

In the last year an Italian stand-up comedian (yes, they do exist) has managed to secure 25% of the vote in a general election, UKIP have become the first political party apart from Labour and the Conservatives to win a national election in the UK in over 100 years and Podemos, a Spanish political party founded this year, managed to secure 8% of a national vote having been in existence less than 100 days. To misquote Shakespeare, there is something rotten in the state of (insert EU country) and in order to stop the rot, we must rethink how and why we interact and engage with the political system.

What we must ask ourselves is how in an increasingly connected world have we managed to become increasingly disconnected from the political process? The answer to this question lies in rebooting, quite literally, democracy.

People today are more vocal, opinionated and engaged than ever before. The internet is the 21st century’s soapbox and has the power to shape our political future. Where despots reign and people could not engage politically by traditional means, the internet has provided people with an organisational platform not previously available. As the Arab Spring demonstrated, the revolution will not only be televised but it will be WhatsApped, tweeted, blogged, Facebooked, Instagrammed, liked and shared.

In the West, where people can, but increasingly don’t, participate in the democratic process, the power of social media has been harnessed to great effect on single-issue campaigns, such as banning the pickup artist Julien Blanc from entering the UK. These two examples, though very different in terms of political significance and context, both demonstrate technology’s potential to mobilise groups of people to achieve their political goals (the usual function of elections). Tapping technology’s potential is key to filling the void that Peter Mair has identified, reengaging the electorate by speaking to them on their own terms and allowing them to participate in their own homes and on their own phones.

The Net Democracy Foundation, an organisation dedicated to exploring how technology can improve civic participation, has a solution.

The foundation’s first project, Democracy OS, advocates a shift away from our representative democratic model to a version closer to Athenaeum democracy, something previously considered unsuitable for the modern nation state. The system would be more in line with a government ‘of, by and for the people’ with registered voters able to directly communicate with their representatives, telling them how to vote on any legislative proposals.

The software also provides a forum for public debate and helps representatives ascertain key voter concerns. When viewed in relation to the problems identified with representative democracy, the advantages become obvious. Firstly, it increases ease of access to the political process. Secondly, it will help elected bodies discern the issues the electorate really care about. Thirdly, it will provide motivation for the apathetic voter to become involved again. The refrain ‘what’s the point in voting as it won’t make any difference’ will no longer be relevant. Democracy OS can initiate a fundamental shift in power from the elected to the electorate. Politics will be for the people once more.

The birth of the internet has been nothing short of revolutionary. It has led to a profound change in the way in how we live, eat, date, shop and interact with society. So why should it not change the one thing that gives us the most power over our own collective destiny? There are obviously many potential problems that will have to be overcome to digitise democracy. However, the UK has, over centuries of democratic government, shown itself adept at adapting to changing societal circumstances. Participation in politics is an essential guarantor of justice, equality and opportunity and is demonstrably on the decline. Change is imperative, so let’s look to the future and reboot democracy.

William Louch is a Durham University graduate and is currently living and working in Lebanon.

Which Scottish #indyref campaign is leading on social media?

wetter togetherWith just over two weeks to go until Scotland decides it’s future in the Independence Referendum, WebRoots Democracy has analysed the social media followings of the two official campaigns who have been hitting social media hard with videos, statuses, twibbons and even ice-bucket challenges: Yes Scotland and Better Together.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ followers.

On Twitter and Facebook, the Yes Scotland campaign is the clear winner with 67% of the share on Twitter (67,766 followers), and 58% on Facebook (240,095 likes).  On Google+, Yes Scotland are edging it with 51.1% of the share (34,534 followers).

The Better Together campaign has 33,140 Twitter followers, 174,366 Facebook likes, and 33,031 Google+ followers.

There is no data currently available for the number of YouTube subscribers to Yes Scotland’s channel, however in the number of views, Better Together is leading with 1,036,668 views compared to the Yes campaign’s 600,333.  However, this may be in part due to Better Together’s ‘The woman who made up her mind‘ video which came under heavy criticism on social media.

Not including YouTube, the Yes Scotland campaign is winning on social media with 58.7% compared to Better Together’s 41.3%.

Away from the Scottish Independence debate, in terms of political parties’ social media presence, far-right party Britain First is still leading on Facebook and Twitter with a combined following of 413,418, followed by the Conservatives (376,951); Labour (334,103); UKIP (303,932); Liberal Democrats (171,332); BNP (170,746); and the Green Party (144,458).

Far-right party, Britain First, now has the largest social media presence

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for June 29th, 2014:

Election by Social Media june

Britain First is a far-right, nationalist party formed by ex-members of the British National Party in 2011.  It has no elected representatives in Local Councils, the European Parliament, or the UK Parliament, but the popularity of its Facebook page has surged since the 2014 D-Day.

In this analysis, Britain First are ahead of the Conservatives by 8.9 percentage points on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (497,554 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 142,629 followers; over 28,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (226,091 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (62,663).

The Liberal Democrats take 5th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.

Similar to UKIP, Britain First have a weak Twitter presence with just 3,655 followers.

See last month’s analysis here.

Election by Social Media

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for May 31st, 2014:

Election by Social Media - May 31

In this analysis, the Conservatives are just edging Labour by 0.2% on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (203,175 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 139,546 followers; over 27,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (194,058 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (61,716).

The Liberal Democrats take 4th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.