The very first event of the World Forum for Democracy today was a debate on trends and prospects of citizen participation in the digital age. The debate consisted of five interesting people at the round table, active participants in the room, and a big number of dedicated Tweeps (people who use Twitter). The debate pivoted a lot around the topic of opportunities of the Internet for democracy. Robert Bjarnason the co-founder of the Citizens Foundation of Iceland, for example, argues that direct democracy would not work in our days. However, for him participative democracy using for example online petitions can strengthen our nowadays prevailing representative democracy. Mikkail Fedotov, the chairman of the Council of the President of the Russian Federation for Civil Society and Human Rights, agrees saying that e-democracy tools are continuing traditional democracy. Adam Nyman, the director of Debating Europe, though claims that the Internet is not a silver bullet to save all the problems of the democratic system but rather a tool.
But can Tweeps and online petitions really change the way politics work?
Lois Beckett, a reporter for ProPublica, described our political system the following: on the one hand citizens use 21st century technology (e.g. Social Media) and on the other hand politicians use 20th century technology (e.g. telephones) to govern us with technology from the 19th century or even older! Mikkail Fedotov distinguishes it as the Gutenberg-age versus the Zuckerberg-age. Nevertheless, all the round table participants agreed that democracy needs time to evolve and develop. Adam Nyman concluded that for participatory democracy to work there has to be a two-way-communication between grassroot organisations and policy makers which first have to develop genuine trust in each other in order to make initiatives work.
One person of the audience nicely summarised it: “Information is the currency of democracy”.