The White House Blog and e-democracy

I was gladly surprised to see the new WhiteHouse.gov website introduced by the Barack Obama administration, and especially so with the new White House Blog.

The new web front for the United States Government has been received with praise [ “Change Comes To The Internets” said the Daily News] but also with cautious skepticism.

One of these comes as a reaction to the White House’s intention of releasing on the website the contents of the daily reports from the rotating pool of journalists allowed to closely track life and politics at the White House, as reported by the USA Today’s political blog “The Oval”.

Some, like the gossip news portal Gawker were concerned about “Who Runs the White House Pool Report”, missing the point that the reports are made freely available to the media companies anyway. Making them also available on the website shouldn’t change their content, but increase the transparency of the news that are ultimately edited and distributed by those companies. No reports have yet been made public on the website, however, and the link to that page has been removed from the home page.

Another controversy surrounds the fact that there is no comments section in the White House blog. I understand the concerns of some who think that opening it up to the public would bring chaos, but I personally think the comments section is almost part of the definition of a blog.

I am also much more optimistic about the value of taking the opinion of the population more directly into account, especially in times where internet connectivity is becoming the norm and the distance between each individual’s mind and the government is getting shorter quickly. I think we are ready for a much deeper form of democracy than we have become used to, of which these are just the initial signs.

The Obama administration seems to be aware of the new times and willing to introduce unprecedented levels of communication, transparency and participation in the United States administration, as declared by Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media, in the first White House blog post at 12:01 on January 20, a minute after Barack Obama was officially in charge.

One of these bold changes is the White House’s intention to publish all non-emergency new legislation for five days for public review and comment, as reported by TechNewsWorld.

Will we see a day in which public participation will be as direct and fluid in government as it is in the creation of content for Wikipedia or Facebook, some sort of e-democracy? There are many political, social and technological challenges to be overcome, but I believe we are starting to see the beginning of this new era. The question is not so much anymore whether we should do it, but how will we do it?

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2 thoughts on “The White House Blog and e-democracy

  1. The White House Blog is an invitation for America to participate in the Democratic process. Democrats have been using something like this in the DNC since Howard Dean screamed. In the White House, this allows people from the other party to get on the mailing and fundraising lists. There is no place for comments because they don’t want to give credit for great ideas. Do you actually think they care what you think? Also, you have the right to remain silent…anything you say here can be used against you in a court of law.

  2. Cecil, that’s exactly the sort of thing that needs to be debated. We can’t expect that the political system will be changed entirely from the top down, but we should start to debate these questions from the bottom up, with the hope that they will eventually register as policy change. Of course allowing comments involves more serious difficulties than just the credit of ideas, but I prefer to believe that the Obama administration is well-intentioned in this respect, until evidence of the contrary.

    They do have a “contact us” section where anyone can submit their comments privately, but ultimately it would be in the interest of transparency that comments can be made public as well, and care taken to report to the public how the comments or the public opinion in general is being taken into consideration.

    TechNewsWorld suggested [http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Whitehousegov-Seeks-Wisdom-of-Crowd-65911.html], for example, the use of semantic technology [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_technology]. This is an idea. Which others are there?

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