E-Democracy or Virtual Civil War

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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Democratic Evolution or Virtual Civil War

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