Startup ethos is all about finding big problems that technology can solve. There can be few
bigger problems than reforming democracy itself. And yet that is exactly what Votizen is aiming to do. It’s goal is nothing less than disrupting US politics and giving people a real voice. That’s a true ‘big data’ problem.
As I wrote in my last post, Votizen (@votizen) is using social media to bring people together and allow them to campaign for the issues that they care about most. They make money too which, of course, any sustainable business must.
If you doubt the power of social media to change politics, consider the so called “Arab Spring” uprisings, especially in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It’s not just in countries where dictators have held power either. Think of the self-organising and leaderless formation of “Occupy Wall St” or even the British summer riots of 2011. In each of these social media had a major part to play (though perhaps less in the case of the British riots than was suggested at the time).
The US political system is certainly in desperate need of reform. In Gary Younge’s recent article (The Guardian - “Americans deserve a better choice in this election than the one they’ve got”) the extent that money dictates the outcome of elections is made clear. How many of us are even aware that there are three other candidates in the Presidential race? The only time the Greens ever got a mention was when (perhaps) Ralph Nader contributed to Al Gore’s loss in 2000.
As David Binetti (Votizen’s CEO - @dbinetti) also pointed out in his presentation at TEDx San Francisco, political information is completely asymmetric. In the UK we are fortunate to be spared the negative political advertising and the robo-dialling callers. Social media has the potential to make the communication into a conversation. Relationships can be built between candidates and electors. Candidates can build dedicated support – and the electorate can hold them to account.
British politics needs disrupting too. Beginning with the Magna Carta, the entire history of British politics has been about the slow and hard fought decentralisation of power. David Binetti demonstrated the way in which population growth has reduced the representation of the people in Congress. However, the story in the UK is complicated by a massive increase in the franchise. Between 1912 and 1918 the electorate tripled from 7 million to 21 million with the advent of universal suffrage. Since 1918 the electorate has doubled in size again, to 42 million in 2010. The point remains though that a similar number of MPs has to represent a much larger number of people, with the reduction of access that implies.
We are now at a true inflexion point in history. There have been unparalleled changes in technology. As Facebook celebrated its 1 billionth user this month, it is worth remembering that in less than a decade, social media has developed from nothing to be used by something like a sixth of the planet. For the first time we have the opportunity for genuine dialogue with our political representatives. Even in ancient Athens, democracy was restricted to the free men of the city while women and slaves were excluded. Votizen allows all Americans to have a voice. Isn’t it time British voters found their voice too?