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Digital Democracy

    Most, if not all, local, national and international decisions should be made by UK Citizens collectively through online voting.

My field is media and communication, social media as culture, and policymaking. There is vast evidence of political discussion existent on social media platforms, take for instance recent ‘Trending Topics’ on the platform Twitter. Controversial hashtags such as #WhyImNotVotingUKIP, I’m hesitant to use too much ‘digital-lingo,’ however it is undeniable that in today’s technology-based climate a digital approach needs to be catered for.

I think the issue is the constant notion that we are not yet ready for digital democracy, for change – but when have we ever been ready for change?

Digital technology is constantly changing, its power and effect are an ongoing development – leaving the implementation of digital democracy for three to five years into the future means that we’ll most likely be having the discussion as to why we didn’t embrace digital democracy sooner. The discussion of politics in an online climate isn’t going to stop just because digital voting is not executed. The interactions of voters will continue, and even rise – in 2009 political topics was only 7% of the activity and discussions on Twitter, now, in the last week alone 3 of the most popular topics discussed have been UK-based political discussions.

#WhyImNotVotingUKIP #WeBackEd and #CameronMustGo.

Bringing my argument back from social media to the question at hand – I am not condoning remote digital voting, I argue that offering the facilities for digital voting in places such as libraries, or universities, may appeal more to different social groups. Starting at a local level, introducing, engaging and facilitating to public expectations will undoubtedly influence voter interaction – utilising platforms that are already promoting collective political engagement such as social media to promote digital voting.

If the argument of engaging voters, or reengaging, voters is a prominent discussion then why is parliament hesitant to cater to the needs of those it is targeting? There is this stigma that a high number of citizens are not engaged with politics – I divert you back to Twitter.

Politics needs to co-operate, and represent its constituents, this means engaging with the tools we use. There appears to be an unanimous outrage that online voting will disrupt democracy, that it will lead to identity-chaos – to this I raise the issue of vote-selling something which happens in an offline world. As technology develops, existing arguments develop.

Democracy remains at the forefront of my debate – digital tools can enhance engagement for local; and even national decision-making. Online voting is just one, and the most current – dominant – ways this can be done.

There will always be controversy – that is politics. There will always be problems, and points to discuss – that is politics. But if we are to represent everyone then as a country, as a local MP, as a collective  we  need to stop ignoring the popular, commonplace, ways to communicate with those whom fall under our constituencies and cater to the changing environment.

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I’m one for using Twitter as the public sphere that it is, but it is now that I’m questioning it usage in politics.

I’ve been hesitant to discuss ‘trending topics’ and comments made via Twitter in the past, as I take a rather naive stance in believing that Twitter, for the most part, acts as a way to simply express our thoughts. Whether these thoughts are positive, negative or even insulting to others there is no denying that there is a large proportion of Twitter users that are simply expressing themselves – the same way they would in normal, offline, conversation. This is a broad perspective of Twitter users – I also back the notions of authenticity, ‘trolling’ and many of the other concepts that have been theorised to describe Twitter activity. 

Politics and Twitter

I’ve recently become involved in UK Youth’s #DigitalDebate:

‘Parliament 2.0: In a digital society, is politics for politicians or is everyone a decision maker?’

As a result of my engagement with this discussion I have began exploring and observing Twitter and other social networks, leading to a greater personal awareness of social media, and its impact within politics. Recent Twitter activity has included a variety of ‘hashtags’ concerning UK Politics, such as:

#WhyImNotVotingUKIP

#CameronMustGo

#WeBackEd

All notably highly personal, opinion-based hashtags. 

Other politically-themed hashtags include:

#VoterEngagement

#NVRD

Both hashtags relate to voting. 

The commons selector committee utilised Twitter in the discussion of the Voter Engagement inquiry, with the use of the simplistic, straightforward #VoterEngagement hashtag. But is the use of hashtags such as #NVRD marginalising those potential voters on Twitter – using the ‘lingo’ and abbreviations which appear, to the non-informed, as an exclusive hashtag that formulates a discussion only for the politically-aware.

It is clear, and undeniable that social media is having an impact, whether negative or positive, in influencing peoples decisions concerning voting. A key example of this is the #WhyImNotVotingUKIP hashtag, one of the most popular trending topics on Twitter November 21st. Hashtags, such as this, allow room for conversation amongst UK Citizens, yes not all UK Citizens, but there is high engagement with discussions on social media, the internet is breaking boundaries, and politics needs to engage with this.

Interestingly Fuchs (2014: 190) noted that ‘in 2009, only 7% of the top Twitter trend topics were political topics and 38% were entertainment-oriented topics.’ This statement wasn’t particularly shocking for me, Fuchs also provides statistics for 2010, 2011 and 2012, concluding that ‘Twitter topics are dominated by entertainment,’ also suggesting that:

‘politics is much less represented and mainly in the form of influential political actors, such as Barack Obama (…) that dominate the political fields in terms of influence, resources and reputation.’

It appears this is the case, however the lack of political representation on Twitter doesn’t prevent users from contributing to discussions, (such as the aforementioned hashtags.) Maybe if more political bodies were to engage, or acknowledge this online activity then there would be less to complain about? As a political party simply Tweeting about TV coverage, or upcoming events isn’t enough. If the Twitter discussions that circulate around hashtags were to be viewed the same as offline interpersonal debating, or public discussion; then the leading political parties wouldn’t simply ignore the questions.

It’s hard to deny the influence of social media in current political debates, so I think the value of these online discussions, and the usage of digital pathways by voters certainly needs to be reconsidered.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media a critical introduction. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.