Power to the people online (no, not that YouTube debacle)

Power to the people online (no, not that YouTube debacle)

Using the internet for politics has gotten a fair amount of press recently, but I think the recent US use of “You Tube” in the presidential debates got it all wrong. 

The candidates should have each been instructed to post a video response to an issue and then users could have rated the vidoes and commented upon them — the way that YouTube usually works.  Or, CNN could have let the YouTube community decide which video questions made it to the Democratic debate.

Instead, US citizens (and other interested viewers) got served up a highly santised series of “vox pops” (a tired, old play which has always been a pathetic charade of hearing “from the people”).  Because “the CNN political team will (sic) choose the most creative and compelling videos…”, it was power to CNN, not power to the people. They’ll be doing it again for the Republicans.

I can’t say I’ve been impressed with how John Howard used YouTube, or all the politico MySpace sites either.

However, Choice Magazine and the Consumer Action Law Centre are really leveraging the strengths of the internet well in their “Fair go on fee$” campaign.

Their campaign web site – http://www.fairfees.com.au – offers a range of ways for people to get involved.  Consumers can download complaint letter templates which they can fill out and send to their banks, they can send an email to MPs and can then forward the information to their friends and family.  Site visitors can also stay in touch with campaign news and read and download Choice’s research into bank fees.

In one news item, Family First Senator Steve Fielding has introduced a private member’s Bill into the Senate to require penalty fees to reflect costs, give ASIC more powers to review the fees and give consumers the right to sue for damages if charged excessive penalty fees.  Interested people can read the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Fair Bank and Credit Card Fees) Amendment Bill 2007 document on the Parlinfo Web web site.

This is use of the internet that enables and empowers people to:

 • take action on a personal level (letter templates)

 • communicate easily with their government (email template)

 • make others in their network aware of an issue that might affect them (form to forward information to their friends)

 • gain access to the research of a respected, independent researcher (Choice)

 • access the exact wording of potential legislation (the Parlinfo web) rather than waiting for an editorialised view of it on the nightly news or in the local paper.

Citizens are apathetic about their government when they don’t know how to make their voices heard and they don’t know how to find unbiased information about the issues that matter to them.  Choice is truly empowering individuals – which is the best possible use of the internet in the political process.

And if you are a young Australian who hasn’t registered to vote for this year’s federal election, Triple J and the Australian Electoral Commision have launched “Rock Enrol” a program aimed at encouraging potential young voters to enrol and let their voices be heard.