4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (VI). Public opinion and participation on the internet: blogs and political parties

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session VI

Round Table
Public opinion and participation on the internet: blogs and political parties

Lourdes Muñoz, member of parliament, (PSC). PSC Secretary for Women’s Policy.

Politicians and their participation in the Web 2.0 is but a part of a higher goal which is the development of the Information Society.

The Web 2.0 provides new means for both citizens and institutions to have new channels to have their message sent, and their opinion heard. Indeed, there’s an increasing amount of readers and creators of blogs.

And not only opinion, but participation.

Some facts and figures about the penetration of blogs in the Spanish Congress

There is not a big difference between male and female members or the Parliament having blogs, though there is a regional difference, where Catalonia has a higher average of blogging members than the Spanish State level.

Uses of blogs by politicians

  1. Inform themselves
  2. Inform their audiences
  3. Give arguments about their opinions (e.g. the ones stated off-line in shortest timespans)
  4. Show their own ideas, especially in huge parties where the institutional voice is shadeless
  5. Show their agenda, what they do
  6. Be specific in their opinions, get into the detail of their specialty… and get feedback
  7. Listen to the ones affected by their decisions, by experts on a specific field
  8. Include the opinions they get
  9. Interact with your audience
  10. Share knowledge, especially the one that the politician has because of their privileged position
  11. Participate in other spheres and platforms

Blogs enable picking the anonymous citizenry as an aggregate of individuals, so a (more or less) personalized message can be sent.

Carles Campuzano, Lourdes Muñoz, Roc Fages
Carles Campuzano, Lourdes Muñoz, Roc Fages

Carles Campuzano, member of parliament (CiU).

The thrilling thing about blogs is that they enable a debate without boundaries: geographical, created among and within political parties, ideological, of different levels of commitment, etc.

Blogs help the free flow of ideas, breaking endogamous structures and hierarchies. Individual voices are boosted to higher levels of relevance. And this free flow of ideas applies for those having similar ideas so they can exchange them, but also for those having opposed ideas so a debate takes place.

The problem with the so far adoption of the Internet by political parties is that the message hasn’t changed: they’re used the same way the institutions have used the media to send their message out. The blogger politician should be not the exception, but the trojan horse to change the system from within.

And a caveat and a proposal: blogs enable the organized citizenry to send their message out too, but their representativeness can also be not as real as one might think. But the politician can both listen to organized lobbies and also to the individuals they supposedly represent.

The immediate response to the citizens is not only about transparency and accountability, but also to get richest feedback and act according to it.

Roc Fages, specialist in communication on the Internet.

We have to go beyond the tools of the Web 2.0, but to adopt the concept: listen, interact, create networks, etc. between people, and especially enabling the citizenry to create their own networks.

There are plenty of political blogs, but few politicians’ blogs. There’s an increasing trend where not only established politicians blog, but also the partisans of the political parties, which is a rich arena where interesting ideas are created.

Citizens are already moving on to engage in campaigns. Some politicians do have blogs. Can institutions (e.g. the Parliament) engage in the conversation and collaborate with Web 2.0 applications? Fix My Street is an interesting example.

Are politicians a brand that has to be curated on the Internet?

Another point to be made is that the Web 2.0 is a perfect bridge to reach the Nintendo Generation and hence reduce (or try to) political disaffection (they’re the voters of the future).

Key points

  • Without attitude 2.0, there’ll be no politicians 2.0
  • Individual effort will bring benefits when it brings collective benefits.
  • Offline + online.
  • Actions to dynamize the Net.
  • No fear to engage in public-private partnerships.
  • The potential of the Nintendo generation

Q&A

Marc López: What’s the role of the corporate sector? Do they monopolize the political debate leaving the citizen (individual) participation without room? CC: The big issues are discussed not on governments, but on the public arena and within the public-private debate. Web 2.0 makes it more open and transparent. RF: the problem is that firms are more flexible, but the Web 2.0 should help in bringing flexibility to the institutions.

Ignacio Beltrán de Heredia: how do we cope with the tight control parties have on the message that is sent about them and this supposed freedom of speech by their own members? LM: Parties send their “canned” message, but they’re open to e.g. the participation of bloggers in their events. So it’s true that the citizenry is having their voice heard. CC: Parties are trying to keep the control, but it’s useless. It actually is becoming the other way round: media (corporate and citizenship) are taking the control of the parties’ inner agendas. RF: A main driver for leakage of non-official information for political parties is not outsiders, but insider partisans that are not part of the powers of the party.

Some attendee: what’s the reason of the difference between political parties in Spain and the US concerning the adoption and use of Web 2.0 tools? LM: The US is doing great… for the people that already is online, but is seemingly to be forgetting about the others. RF: The pervasiveness in the US of the political discourse is absolute, and this helps to engage people to vote or to volunteer for campaigning. What is true is that spaniards use the Internet for e-commerce issues, but not for political ones. There’s an evident gap here: is it about e-readiness or about politics?

Another attendee: if the web can be used all days of the year, including pre and post-campaing seasons, or be written and read from wherever, shouldn’t we be changing some electoral regulations? Open lists, propaganda regulation, etc. LM: Of course some laws are outdated. CC: politicians are to tied to their stakeholders (the powers of the party, lobbies, etc.) and this is corrupting the essence itself of democratic representativeness. This should be changed and, maybe, the Web 2.0 can help in doing it.

Francesc Muñoz: How many citizens can engage in Politics 2.0? And not because of access, but culture, social class. Isn’t it a utopia? RF: An example: in the Netherlands, the Maghribian community gathers around telecenters and virtual communities. These virtual communities are riches in opinion about their daily lives and they do present a great opportunity for the politicians to approach that community. And the good thing about this is that people no more needs to seek for information, because it is information that does seek and reach its audience. CC: Maybe there’s not many people actually using these technologies, but they are the first wave of an upcoming, nearest, changing, future.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

iCities (XI). Round Table: Free Software in the Administration

iCities is a Conference about Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation.
Here come my notes for session XI.

Round Table:
Chairs: Jacinto Lajas

Jose María Olmo

Free Software penetration in the Administration still low. This also means (cause or consequence?) that bidding processes don’t usually include free software in their requirements, either as a condition or as a possibility.

Consequences of this situation:

  • Lack of cooperation and collaboration between administrations
  • Interoperability made more difficult
  • There is a lack of communities of free software for the Administration in which developers and users can meet and exchange impressions and design common strategies

Francisco Huertas

Free Software as a strategy to develop the Information Society.

Free Software avoids:

  • A unique provider
  • Insecurity
  • Imposed adaptability
  • Provider monopolies
  • R+D outshored
  • Lack of local support
  • Functional submission
  • License costs
  • Lack of standards that threat the persistence of public information
  • Impossibility to publicly share common goods

The cost per computer (12,000 PCs) of the operating system and main desktop applications is 1.8 euros.Updating these computers to the last version of MS Windows + Office would have cost 6 million euros. Besides the aggregates, a important aspect that matters at the margin: while with free software adding one more computer means reducing software costs per unit (while being constant at the aggregate level), with proprietary software one more computer means more costs, at both the total and per unit levels.

Lourdes Muñoz Santamaría

Three keys: focus on the use, not the tool; the importance of broadband access; keep Net neutrality.

In political terms, it is unacceptable that public investment is not public. Hence, investment in software solutions and content has to be made in free software so that they can be put at anybody’s reach.

In the same train of though, intellectual property rights need to have recovered their original purpose: public benefit, the protection of the author so that society gets more and better culture and innovation.

Two steps in the free software debate:

  • Non-discrimination because of the technological solution: neutrality, access warranties… for both the user and the provider
  • Opt-in for free software because of argued and objective reasons

A cause does not win just for being fair. If free software is good, its benefits have to be made broadly known, so that the citizenry is eager to get those benefits.

iCities 2008, Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation (2008)