How Facebook Can Improve Democracy

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Well, well, well! Facebook was caught with egg on its face in the 2016 election. “All is well,” they said, “We have banned the firm Cambridge Analytica from using Facebook again”. Meanwhile the USA has a president that got his electoral edge with the that same firm using Facebook data. History is being made — for better or worse — because some organization had personal data it should not have had!

Facebook has promised us that persona data will not be compromised again. They will be vigilant and stop political parties from this nefarious use ever again. Should we trust Facebook with this responsibility? What happens if they ban one political party, but not another? Or what about a clone of Cambridge Analytica? I can already hear Facebook say: “I guess we kind of missed that one! Oh well! We’ll try to get it right next time.” In the meantime, we have another electoral result influenced by manipulators using Facebook.

On one hand, maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned about this manipulation of social media in elections. After all, aren’t newspapers and TV stations selling advertising space to the political parties and their candidates. And aren’t these traditional ads designed to sway voters? Why is social media so evil when political parties use this medium? Could it be that social media is proving to be much more effective than traditional advertising? If all parties have access to Facebook data, would this not be fair?

On the other hand, if electoral victories eventually go the party that is better at manipulating social media to flip the psychology of the citizenry on election day, do we really have a functioning democracy with real substantial choices? In other words, if the goal is to have wiser voting on election day, unrestricted use of social media is not going to lead us in that direction. Hey, but we are more democratic, right?

Now here’s novel thought: Why not create an electoral system governance where the likes* of Facebook will have no influence? Hmmm.

*Note the clever pun; I just couldn’t resist.

If you believe that politics and social media are not a good combination for society, let’s consider a new way of electing our representatives. Let’s consider Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG).

Social media will not have much of an impact in selecting those people who will eventually govern us in the TDG. There are several reasons for this.

1) The TDG electoral districts, the neighborhoods, are quite small, probably averaging 200 residents. And residents will be electing residents. There will no be parachuting of party-approved candidates from far away to represent the neighborhood. Residents will likely select a fellow resident of good character and a capacity for governance.

2) Because the electoral districts are so small, it will be hard for the political parties to organize themselves on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. For example, the parties would be hard-pressed to offer a credible candidate in each of the many neighborhoods.

3) In a like manner, it would be difficult and futile to use any kind of traditional or social media to inflate any overly ambitious person in that neighborhood beyond what the neighborhood already knows about this person. In other words, candidates cannot hide behind the party banner and other marketing hype.

4) If the TDG is built properly, residents in a TDG would have a culture that shuns any kind of campaigning. Anyone who looks like he or she is campaigning would be regarded as someone not worthy of voting for.

If we want to prevent Facebook manipulating elections (or big money or party hacks or Russian trolls), we should go in the TDG direction. The small TDG electoral units make it hard for these entities to influence the outcome. Neighborhood residents will vote for one of their own people into governance.

Trying to write rules for Facebook and other social media will be a futile task. The nefarious forces will always find way to get around whatever rules we may concoct.

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