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Direct democracy through social media

Talking of modernising the Legislature, I was very recently reminded of that great line from the movie ‘Network’ when TV anchorman Peter Finch encourages thousands of his viewers to throw open their windows and shout in unison like him: “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!”

But that is so yesterday. Today people are able instead take to the social media and text and blog and tweet to make their views known, instantly and widely; although regrettably nine of ten bloggers prefer pseudonyms, presumably to protect not the innocent but the guilty. Nevertheless this new media creates an opportunity for discussion, dialogue and debate, the likes of which we have never before seen; and folks, we have only just begun.

The emergence and development of social media can, and will literally re-shape the way in which we are governed. Most of it for the good, I think.

We have already seen some movement on the Hill with the website, www. parliament.bm. It provides pretty good coverage of what’s going on up there. Readers can track Bills, Ministerial Statements, and debates whether through live streaming or through Hansard: the only wish here, and elsewhere I expect, is that it were more current. Social media operates in real time and that is what users i.e. voters have come to expect, if not demand. They will also want the opportunity to be inter-active, and each with the other for all to share. Why shouldn’t those interested be able to engage, and review Bills, including drafts, and provide comments? Ditto when it comes to the issues up for discussion or the work of committees. A poll on gaming? Or any issue at all really? How quick could that be electronically. The possibilities here are boundless.

It’s not hard to see how technology and social media can bring about profound change to our system of government. It will bring an end to the old colonial mindset or what’s left in it in the Westminster system. That top-down model of governance, in which politicians pronounce and people listen and obey (by and large), is what will go out the window. The old ways are very much the antithesis of what social media encourages: listening, responding, sharing, watching, talking and acting.

For sure, this has its drawbacks. There are often decisions which require careful thought and reflection, not instant gratification. But the overall effect will be to open up the system of government not close it down and that is good. It will only enhance transparency and accountability.

For voters, who currently only really get their say at election time, this may well lead to being able to have a say in between elections.

Here’s how that might work: —

Consider for a moment how governments are able to overspend. Members get elected every four of five years and become our representatives who get to make the decision as to what’s best until the next election. The alternative is the introduction of more direct democracy by which voters can vote on important issues and keep the elected on a short leash. This is largely done through referendums or voter recalls, which were featured in the OBA platform.

Imagine if you will, if voters were given the opportunity every year prior to Budget to vote on one simple, maybe even multiple choice question: Should it be a balanced Budget? Or, given a range to choose from, how much of an increase, if any, should Government be permitted?

Far-fetched? I am not so sure. It might even impose a discipline on Government spending which would be welcomed not just by voters, but by the politicians as well who will honestly be able to say that their hands are tied.

As has been pointed elsewhere, the world has moved from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and, like it or not, democracy is being changed 140 characters at a time.

PS I’m still working from e-mail so write me with your views at jbarritt@ibl.bm or blog on

The Royal Gazette website.

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Published July 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated July 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm)

Direct democracy through social media

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