E-Democracy or Virtual Civil War

Will democracy sink or swim on the Internet?

| January 8, 2004


Now that the creators of TV political attack ads have figured out the Internet, Steven Clift fears, regular folks may get so turned off by the rancorous tone of e-politics that they give up on e-democracy altogether. Clift has a few revolutionary suggestions for saving the democratic promise of the Internet before it gets savaged in a virtual civil war.

'Democracy is the frog in the soon to boil pot on the e-stove,' writes Clift, chairman of E-Democracy.org, in a speech he delivered last month at the U.N.'s World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. 'Unfortunately,' he warns about the frog, 'it will die oblivious rather than jump out to a different, more positive future.' To avoid that fate, Clift outlines a series of revolutionary suggestions for protecting the future of democracy generally by promoting increased citizen involvement in government through the Internet.

As founder of E-Democracy.org, the world's first election-oriented web site, since 1995 Clift has been in a position to imagine a future in which the power of democracy is enormously strengthened. First, he suggests certain laws mandating easier citizen access to government, such as requiring that:

  • All legally public meetings be posted online
  • All proposed legislation be posted online
  • All laws, regulations, and budget details be posted for complete transparency
  • Citizen notification via e-mail about new government information based on their interests and where they live
  • Complete, up-to-date contact data for all elected officials and government organizations

Second, Clift envisions 'better input and effective output in the public interest' through what he calls, 'public net-work.' Helping to solve public problems with the government, 'think e-volunteerism,' he writes.



And finally, he sees online public issue forums in every town, city, state, province, and nation on the globe: 'two-way citizen-based e-democracy forums in every locality.' These forums would be used to provide information on candidates, set agendas, and have citizen discussions. With these opportunities at hand, Clift writes, 'Our opportunity to use these tools to raise the voice of citizens, improve representative democracy, and solve public problems is tremendous.'
-- Joel Stonington

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