Social voting

July 21, 2012

Two different stories bring together how Facebook is becoming used more in public life. The first is from the MIT Technology Review dated 12 July 2012 by David Zax and is entitled “Facebook, CNN, and the Rise of Social Voting“, the second appears on The Register of 18 July 2012 and is written by Neil McAllister and headed “Washington State to allow voter registration via Facebook“. The first piece with its subtitle of “Can technology disrupt democracy” is possibly the scariest, although it mainly concerns the development of a Facebook app by CNN that permits endorsement of candidates and issues, along with a commitment to vote, by Facebook users. The piece also names a few related applications: ElectNext, Votizen and PopVox. What is perhaps concerning in the first case is that due to the ‘now’ factor involved in social media voting might be reflecting journalistic leads from CNN.

The second piece is a much simpler use of Facebook with Washington State (not DC!) harvesting names and dates-of-birth from Facebook into their voter registration system. This will obviously require the originating user to be real and the data to be accurate. I recall attempts in the UK to register Mickey Mouse and the pet hamster on more than one occasion!

In general it does indicate a general look to social media to increase democratic input. However, if someone can’t fill out a registration form occasionally and turn up at a polling station every so often, representative democracy is dead and we need to be looking at a new way of delivering it – as Marshall Ganz has said “the chance for people to become actors and not just spectators in the drama of life”. [New Statesman, 16 July 2012, p.54].


Government Web 2.0 in Canada

December 4, 2011

My thanks to Mike Kujawski at Governing People for reporting on Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0 in the Canadian Government. The guidelines themselves are available, as he points out, on the government website (published 18 November 2011). The UK government published its guidelines some time ago, the US ones are available here along with a range of others, and a further database courtesy of Chris Boudreaux.

One of my colleagues noted that the guidelines are almost a website in themselves, being rather substantial. Whilst I can understand the need for guidelines, much of the guidance within them already exists, as the Canadian ones demonstrate by the links provided to ethical ones and many other government policies as their context becomes appropriate. Will anybody seriously read such a dry and very lengthy web page, without even following the links?

One of the main difficulties in my view is where the responsibility for the maintenance of social media lies. Often media relations people lack the ‘nous’ to use them efficiently, sometimes the web or IT staff take a too dry or technical approach for them to be employed successfully. Some government bodies have transferred the web to a front-facing customer service, which if not sufficiently linked to the media staff or public relations, could also create issues. Similarly staff need to be reminded that comments on Facebook and elsewhere may land them in hot water with their employers, and may even cost them their job, as the recent Apple employee case emphasises!


September 21, 2011

There were a number of discussions at Ethicomp 2011 around the value of social media, particularly it’s role in the ‘Arab Spring’, and at the same time the BBC has been broadcasting two programmes idealistically entitled ‘How Facebook Changed the World‘. I’d already blogged supporting the cybersceptic approach of Morozov and others, but on the train journeys to and from the conference in Sheffield I took the opportunity to read two recent articles from the MIT Technology Review.

The first short piece from 8 September 2011 entitled “Beyond Streetbook” by Jillian C. York (when considering the dichotomy) states quite gloomily that “The revolution will be tweeted, and Facebooked, but it will also be fought bloodily, on the streets”. The main conclusion being that the power of the incumbents are sometimes more powerful than any opposition, even when using the dissident digerati to assist.

The second, and longer, piece ‘ Streetbook‘ by John Pollock looks in some detail at recent events, whilst harking back to Malcolm Gladwell’s article in New Yorker of October 4, 2010 – ‘Small Change – why the revolution will not be tweeted‘. One of the interviewees in the article, a technically-savvy soccer-supporter is quoted as stating “Don’t talk, don’t fucking analyze, get to the street, go fight”, which is hardly the words of someone mediating a revolution through a keyboard. In Tunisia, where more than 300 are reported dead, texts, emails and the telephone were all use along with social media – the revolution was marketed digitally, whilst delivered bloodily.

As Gladwell states “Innovators tend to be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and experience into their new model”. This means they forget about history and how revolutions occurred in the past, even the recent past. Innovators forget how uprisings against injustice were planned without the use of the telegraph, radio, television or the Internet – they happened because a small group of people forced changed and used whatever tools they could to do it.

If social media have assisted change in the Middle East, all well and good, but they themselves didn’t change anything, the people who stood against authority did. However, as Pollock concludes “Real change remains elusive; those replacing Ben Ali and Mubarak are mostly members of the same stale regimes.” Will social media generate “real change”? Probably not…

Social media mining – getting it wrong

August 28, 2011

The MIT Technology Review reports in an article entitled ‘When Social Media Mining Gets it Wrong’  how placing too much relevance on social network data can come up with the wrong answers, particularly when one is employing facial recognition software. The researchers reported that whilst on a third of occasions they were able with face recognition to get to the research subjects’ Facebook pages and from there determine part of their social security number, along with other facts. As the paper recognises, getting a third correct means that two-thirds are incorrect and on this basis discourages assumptions being made from such searches. The researchers even developed a mobile ‘phone app to do such work – imagine if the police were to employ such technology openly, the number of wrongful arrests that might be made!

The MIT paper also reveals other research done on Facebook pages, but again recommends avoiding the use of such data for crucial decisions – you have been warned!


March 6, 2011

I’m indebted to Professor Stephen Coleman of the University of Leeds who posted a response on DoWire to a statement by the owner Steven Clift about Facebook.

Stephen argued that: “Facebook is the vogue space right now, as Myspace was before it. These things change. And, of course, in some countries (notably China and India) Facebook is not the most obvious space for government-hosted discussions.

The wider question of whether the Facebook model, based on weak ties between relatively small groups, is the best one for civic engagement is worth reflecting upon. Given the homophilic nature of most online discussion, and the heterophilic nature of democratic citizenship, friends’ networks might not be the most promising avenue for civic deliberation.”

This has to be one of the better rationales for government not to getting too hung up over any particular social medium as a method of engaging citizens. Apart from the fact that the social media are in a constant state of flux, they are largely there for people with similar opinions, so one instance of anti-government propaganda is likely to result in a deluge!

As a fan of the American poet Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem ‘Howl’, I found this You Tube video on social media amusing. It may be to others?