Technology, Politics and Democracy

Recently I spoke with Jascha Franklin-Hodge, CTO and co-founder of Blue State Digital about how technology is affecting politics and democracy in the U.S.

Blue State Digital was born out of Jascha’s experience helping Howard Dean’s seminal run for the White House in ’04. and is the technology and strategic services company powering Barack Obama (and many other Democratic leaders and social justice causes like Save Darfur and We Can Solve It).

These videos (there are three total) are timely in light of the staggering September figures from the Obama campaign:

  • 630,000 new donors (bringing total donors to 3.1 million)
  • 150 million dollars raised
  • Average contribution: $86

Here are a few observations I took away from our conversation:
Online U.S. political communities will morph from a campaign fundraising role to a governing role. Regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins in November, every 2012 political campaign, even the laggards, will be as sophisticated as Obama is today- and any campaign with that much momentum won’t be able to stop community participation at the White House door or the Capitol steps (“thanks for all the money and support, I‘ll see you in four years”). Online communities will follow politicians into their governing roles. This summer when MyBarackObama experienced the FISA revolt within his own community this became clear. This has far more transformative potential than the fundraising juggernaut we are seeing now. Powerful communities may come to dominate the agenda of incumbent politicians providing feedback, direction and policy input.

Microcampaigns and Swarm Politics: Rather than one centrally governed behemoth, MyBO is enabling a thousand small campaigns to flourish. MyBO puts the tools into the hands of anyone that wants to get active; from having your own blog, downloading voter lists to make calls with “Neighbor to Neighbor” or having your own fundraising dashboard to mark your progress. This kind of swarm politics has generated enormous amounts of energy (and money) from ordinary citizens. Jascha sums it up best “We are helping them run thousands and thousands of little local campaigns that roll up to a central set of issues or candidate or goal” That is unbelievably powerful.

Technology (infrastructure and know-how) will become a necessary core competence in all U.S. political campaigns. Jascha points out that campaigns traditionally mirror movie productions, with all of the resources, technology and logistics brought together for a short burst of activity and then disappearing once the final scene is shot; this results in an enormous loss of knowledge and skills that need to be relearned once the next campaign begins. Campaigns that maintain or are able to tap into a continuity of software, infrastructure and human capital will have serious advantage. Blue State Digital was conceived to fill that gap on the Democratic side of the aisle…

Open Data and transparent government. Part Three of the video series digs into the value of open data in government to allow citizens to hack and remix at will. When lobbyist data, earmark data etc. is available in standard formats it will be a great leap forward for more transparency in government. Great stuff.

Thanks to Brady for putting me in touch with B.S.D. and thanks to Jascha for taking the time to talk.

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  • Technology and advancement in technology affects democracy & Politics in many ways!,you’v mentioned a few and probably they are accurate in their right.

  • Ed

    “Online U.S. political communities will morph from a campaign fundraising role to a governing role.”

    I invite you to explore the Metagovernment project, which is directed toward this goal… not just for the United States, but for all communities of all sizes.

    Like your suggestion of “swarm politics,” we talk about a mesh of cascading communities: where issues rise or fall among communities of different sizes until they find the highest community in which they can attain consensus. There’s a lot more to it, but you can explore the website and list archives to get the rest.

    The project is young, but growing rapidly, with a completely international membership. Everyone, of course, is welcome to participate.

  • Joe

    “Online U.S. political communities will morph from a campaign fundraising role to a governing role.”

    Does this mean that we’ll be governed by the demands of the ‘Swarm’ (ie Flash Mobs)?

  • Mark

    Technology helps lies more than the truth. In the big pic we have a screwed up world that got way through lies. Truth would unscrew it but lies seem to win because they have money and organization. As society gets more complicated the truth gets more complicated and you have to be an educated and disciplined thinker to understand it. The liars can keep us dumb in the first place and then the lies are easier to win with. Specialization and division of labor help the liars too
    because the truth about society means the truth about so many different areas and specialties and nobody or very few can understand all the different aspects enought to get the big picture. In the simple life a guy had confidence in this own ability to understand the world around him and the big issues. So indirectly technological advance is an evil. Just like it leads to the atom bomb it also leads to mass stupidity on the most vital issues of the day.
    The most important truths can’t be understood by specialization and division of labor even tho those things advance technological knowledge.
    OTOH lying greatly benefits from division of labor. Look at a movie which is a huge deception. Many technicians contribute to it. Also the news media and think tanks. Not only technically but morally it is easier with division of labor. If your job in the evil machine is just a small part it is easy to rationalize what you do as just making a living and easier to not know what the corporation that employs you is really doing to the world and to people in the community. The same with being a shareholder in a corp. If you don’t want to know how they make profits it’s easy not to know. Which is the same as easy to believe a lie because of specialization. Democracy is another way to avoid knowing so you can believe that your small part doesn’t make you guilty of the large crimes of the whole. So different from the primitive villiage life where what you do is right there; where your word is important; where you must face fear and be brave for the whole community every day; where the coward, liar or thief is immediately found out. Not so in the modern world where greed is lauded as a virtue and private property becomes a religion. MINE MINE MINE. You hear it all day long. This cowardice is easy not to know. So here we are. Perhaps the only thing that can bring back the truth is the collapse of technology and a return to primitive life. It seems that truth can’t compete with lies in the technologically advanced society.