May 08

Should Twitter/Facebook have as much power to make real-world decisions?

We were all very impressed when the everyday users of Facebook and Twitter were able to make Rage Against the Machine Christmas No. 1 in the music charts. Spanning across the globe, surely there is no greater demographic of free-speaking, un-politically/-governmentally tied people in the world. Today, it’s widely regarded as a good way to judge public opinion on all manner of things, from games to politics. Initially it seemed like a joke; using the power of the internet and all who sail on her to alter the course of real world events. People saw it as a novelty. But then one day, someone sat and thought “hang on, a bunch of people on the internet: just be sitting at their keyboards and pressing the same series of buttons as a few million other people, just changed the course of history.” That, ladies and gents, could be the pebble that starts the avalanche.

Do we really want the people on Facebook and Twitter making decisions in the world? In a democracy, for example, we elect people who we think have the right idea about how to run the area we live in; we send them off to the nation’s capital to fight it out with everyone else’s representative, and the last one standing with most of his limbs intact gets the right to ask the elected dictator very nicely if we could pretty please do the thing we spent so long fighting about please. What would democracy be like if every bugger with an internet connection could have a say in the way a country was run?

I don’t profess to know the current social state of play in many countries; but I know as an absolute certainty that in the United Kingdom and to a varying degree in the United States that the general public these days are very simple beasts that respond predominantly to bright colours (most commonly orange), squeaky noises and the deluded view that they’re in some way ‘fighting the power’. The RATM saga is a prime example of that. The internet was divided into two groups of people at that point: the geeks and metallers who thought “that would actually be quite funny, take THAT, Christmas!”, and the people that thought “lots of people are being different, I’ll be different too for no other reason than to be exactly the same as them”.

With anything like that, which for clarity’s sake I’ll refer to as a ‘trending topic’ (TT), you’re going to get the same divide. The people who actually have an interest in the TT, and everyone else who for one reason or another wants to be different by being like everyone else. That is precisely why I feel that the Twitter/Facebook international regime would be an utterly terrible thing to happen to the world, and measures should be put in place (whatever they may be) to ensure that web-public pressure over TTs doesn’t affect the way governments conduct themselves etc.

Take Nick Clegg for example (Liberal Democrat leader in the UK Election 2010): when he appeared on everyone’s screens in the first ever televised electoral debate, the entire country (with the exception of a few…how should I put this… “singularly minded” individuals) was incredibly impressed by him and took him as a legitimate political player in the UK. I’m personally not a liberal, but I took many of his statements seriously as he said them with conviction and had a lot of facts to back them up. Clearly I wasn’t alone, nationwide he was heralded as some sort of angel, come to lift us from our mire of crapulence and woe. So convinced was everyone that he was the 607th coming of one messiah or another, that the hashtag #nickcleggsfault was born! Examples of it’s use: “tire burst on my car. #nickcleggsfault”, “AIDS crisis rife in Africa. #nickcleggsfault”. People regarded him so highly that they were finding the humour in blaming everything bad in the world on him, highlighting the absurdity of the claim.

All the political pundits had ‘Cleggomania’ as it was dubbed. But look what happened! For those who aren’t in the UK or don’t watch the soul-catching box in the corner of heathen’s raping rooms, the results didn’t nearly reflect what was going on online. I don’t want to use the word ‘hype’, because in credit to him, he really did/does have some very good ideas. Now, even though the UK’s voting system is broken/bent/deep fried/polyphallic (trademarked, biatches!), Nick Clegg still wouldn’t have won the election (so stop whinging, people!). He probably would have won if the voting was done by Tweeters and Facebookers.

Above: Mr Clegg counting the number of votes he received

What does that mean, then? Should we draw from that, that “we should go by what Tweeters/Facebookers say as they’re directly representing the public view”? Or, should we say “that goes to show that people haven’t quite succumbed to internet shepherding and that when the time came they made a decision based on what they thought?”

Going back to my idea of the two groups: the one that’s directly involved and the one that’s following to be different/exactly the same/but still different, y’know. Nick Clegg is a prime example. He became a TT for liberal people, and people that genuinely felt that his policies were the way forward in the United Kingdom, and then you had the people that thought, “Clegg is gunning for changing everything. I’m a rebel/activist/contemporary thinker, I’ll do what everyone else is doing an be different! Yeah! You’ll see! You’ll all see!”. We can clearly see now, which of these two groups was bigger. The first group, however might be consoled a bit by the time this is published as Mr Clegg’s policies might have nestled their way into the current ruling regime by the time this appears.

That was just one little example. Think how devastating it would be to let Twitter/Facebook govern: immigration, economy, foreign relations, war, aid/asylum etc. We’d all be well and truly buggered.

About the author

Mr Llamatastic


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  1. Whisperin' Al

    I think this issue revolves how you view a democracy. We don’t live in a true democracy, rather a parliamentary one which is effectively committee rule tempered by elections. The problem, as I see it, is that the first past the post electoral process isn’t producing a result which reflects the views of the electorate. If you consider the ratio of seats to votes it looks somewhat unbalanced: Conservative 47% of the seats with 36% of the vote, Labour 40% of the seats with 29% of the vote but the LibDems had 23% of the vote but only 9% of the seats (the Greens, UKIP and BNP fared even worse). Of course the problem with a true democracy is exactly what you see on Twitter and Facebook but unlike previous generations this type of technology does provide an easy way for people to indicate their views (in the past it meant marching – which frequently didn’t have any effect anyway – the war in Iraq for example). I don’t think anyone would really want Twitter and Facebook to be used to run the country; however, the current system doesn’t really work either. Perhaps they should learn from the best aspects of both?

    1. Mr Llamatastic

      I totally agree with you on all fronts there, Al. Do you agree, though, that if everyone literally had a say in the matter (as opposed to voting for one person to have a say for you), then we’d have one group of people who genuinely did have a vested interested in the subject matter, and a whole other group of people who were just going along with it for reasons not their own?

  2. Whisperin' Al

    I think you are right – it does look as if there’s too much jumping on the bandwagon to be part of a trend rather than genuine feeling in some areas; however, I think it is a tool we could learn from as the current system doesn’t have enough democratic checks in it (e.g. War on Iraq, Digital Economy Act).

  3. musingsonthemadness

    A very well written post, but I feel quite ambivalently about the issue. I don’t deny that social networking sites have a tendency to, as you put it, ‘trend set’ and that this whole community can be very powerful, and yet is it any different to any other form of media? Are not newspapers incredibly bias, and their loyal readers vulnerable to the leanings of the paper that they read? I think that it is simply a technological manifestation of the more traditional, old fashioned media such as newspapers, tv shows and the even more old fashioned party clubs. If people are swayed by facebook then it follows that would be swayed by a newspaper also.
    You claimed that Nick Clegg probably would have got in had it been up to Facebook and Twitter users. And yet if it were up to the Daily Mirror readers, Cameron would have got in (no hung parliament obstacle). Is there any difference? People are never going to be free from the ‘sheep mode’ regardless of whether they have a computer or not. I for one think it’s a positive thing that people are talking and increasing interest online- whatever decision they happen to come to, it’s better than those who simply vote the way their parents did, and it’s no worse than those who follow media influence and come by their decisions that way.

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