Democracy literally originates from ancient Latin as “government by the people” and as a system of government, it allows the citizens of a country to directly or indirectly participate and manipulate the legislative process. Only a few short years ago, for a single individual to be heard, required great effort, coordination and some luck. As a result politics evolved many defenses against individuals attempting to disrupt the status quo. This meant that citizen activism was slow, encumbering and difficult to coordinate en mass.
This is changing as the mainstream continues to adopt new Internet technologies and has created for itself “transformative opportunities related to key public sector issues of transparency, accountability, communication and collaboration, and to promote deeper levels of civic engagement.” This has resulted in an unprecedented and transformational level of citizen participation and organization. Where citizen activism used to take days, weeks or even months to coordinate, it can today be organized and executed, quite literally overnight. Getup.org.au (GetUp!) is a community advocacy group dedicated to getting greater community participation on important issues. They take a very strong and active role in Citizen Democracy; not only making suggestions, but also providing specific and intricate instructions on how people can engage in a number of specific political and social agendas. The site provides many examples on its front page, and these are constantly changing with an ever-changing social landscape.
Conversely, the Queensland Government’s Get Involved initiative is more about how the general public can participate in their local communities . There are suggestions towards influencing Government Policies and decision-making, but the bulk of the suggestions involve passive political activities, such as donation and volunteering and are reasonably ambiguous and nondescript. But its not just the underlying vagueness that is the problem with the Get Involved website.
The main issue is one of obviousness and one of timeliness; it provides dated, obvious suggestions for which most people would be already be aware (e.g., volunteering at a local school). However, the Government cannot be seen to be biasing or influencing the public, which stands to reason why the Get Involved website is quite generic in it’s suggestions. However, even after forgiving Get Involved for its politically sensitive content, I think the main reason why GetUp! is more successful, is because it selects highly specific language, which is clearly designed to invoke an emotive reaction as well as the specific links and activities to do something about it. This reduces social hegemony and action paralysis.
It’s indeed a microcosm for politics today; governments and politicians know they need to get engaged in new media, however, Social Media and the Blogosphere often cycle faster than Governments and Politicians can react. It’s interesting to me to see how the political machine will evolve and adapt to a more open and Internet-aware public.
This post is a slightly modified version of a piece I wrote for a University assignment for the Curtin University Subject Internet Studies 102/502: The Internet and Everyday Life, answering the question: Navigate around and discuss two of the following sites in terms of the kinds of involvement they encourage. (www.pm.gov.au, www.tonyabbott.com.au, www.getinvolved.qld.gov.au or www.getup.org.au)