Why I won't sign the "Internet For Democracy" Petition
The online petition of the week, at least in Europe, is called “Internet for Democracy - Shut Down the Europarliament. Now!”. I will not sign it, and I recommend everybody to do the same. However, I do suggest that everybody reads it because it’s about very general issues that you should really, really think about.
The first reason why I won't sign it is absolutely general: this is just more slacktivism, which I included in my Online Loser Guide because, in the best case, it's completely useless. If you really must sign a petition do it the old way. One hand-signed paper letter or fax makes more impact than 10000 "me too" names attached to one Web page, just because it's a more cumbersome and expensive procedure than clicking on one button.
This particular petition begins by saying: "We think representational democracy is a thing of the past". Me, I instinctively associate blanket statements like this to what Mussolini said on the same topic: "Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy" and this doesn't make me comfortable. Even if that were a limit of mine, the petition simply doesn't care about logic. It says that the Europarliament should first stop all its activities, and after having done that, do something else. Oh, boy…
This said, there are many other, more objective things to think about (regardless of this particular "petition"), before moving the whole practice of democracy to the Internet.
The petition asks for democracy to become "a real user-centric experience". Very appealing, if you grew up believing that you should never be asked to make the effort to think or read. Unfortunately democracy, and politics in general, aren't a tour to Disneyland. Why should they ever be fun, or entertaining, the same way an iPod is? Adult people know that there are serious things in life that must be taken seriously, not as a playdate. Democracy is one of them. People who want you to have fun while practicing your rights may just be trying to distract you.
Another serious issue with "doing democracy" exclusively through the Internet may be temporary, but it's still too serious to ignore: there are still too many people, even in Europe, who can't have fast Internet connections or aren't comfortable with computers. What Parliaments decide impacts **everybody*. Replacing them with something that only social networks veterans with an ADSL connection can do is not "democracy".
The real flaws, however, are elsewhere. The Internet is a place where any Bozo can say whatever he or she wants, and have it instantaneously repeated, and possibly believed, by millions of people who can't be bothered to read anything twice or do something as different from "user-centric experiences" as arid fact checking.
This is OK, but if you add one-click voting, in real time, to a place like that, you don't get democracy. You simply get a place where, in the best case, millions of people decide about stuff they know nothing about. Eeven if there were enough time in the first place to be always properly informed about everything worth voting.
In the worst, but more likely scenario instead, you may get a place where very few people can influence voting much more quickly, much more accurately and with much, much less money than it's necessary today. Now that's democracy! Incidentally, did you know that just this year US online advertising spend is set to overtake all print and direct mail?
If you really still think hat the Internet can only, surely be good for democracy, please read "Texting Toward Utopia", "The Internet No Democratic Cure" or "Internet usage and the media" and forget that or any other similar petition, but don't despair! The Internet is still a really wonderful resource for democracy, because it lets you get more information about politicians and control what they are doing with
our water or any other public service. Just don't believe it can replace voting and real assumption of responsibilities.