Very briefly, Zuckerberg laid out his broad vision for e-government to Wired’s Steven Levy, while defending Internet.org, a new consortium to bring broadband to the developing world.
“People often talk about how big a change social media had been for our culture here in the U.S. But imagine how much bigger a change it will be when a developing country comes online for the first time ever. We use things like Facebook to share news and keep in touch with our friends, but in those countries, they’ll use this for deciding what kind of government they want to have. Getting access to health care information for the first time ever.”
When he references “deciding … government,” Zuckerberg could be talking about voting, sharing ideas, or crafting a constitution. We decided to assess the possibilities of them all….
For citizens in the exciting/terrifying position to construct a brand-new government, American-style democracy is one of many options. Britain, for instance, has a parliamentary system and has no constitution. In other cases, a government may want to heed political scientists’ advice and develop a “consensus democracy,” where more than two political parties are incentivized to work collaboratively with citizens, business, and different branches of government to craft laws.
At least once, choosing a new style of democracy has been attempted through the Internet. After the global financial meltdown wrecked Iceland’s economy, the happy citizens of the grass-covered country decided to redo their government and solicit suggestions from the public (950 Icelanders chosen by lottery and general calls for ideas through social networks). After much press about Iceland’s “crowdsourced” constitution, it crashed miserably after most of the elected leaders rejected it.
Crafting law, especially a constitution, is legally complex; unless there is a systematic way to translate haphazard citizen suggestions into legalese, the results are disastrous.
“Collaborative drafting, at large scale, at low costs, and that is inclusive, is something that we still don’t know how to do,” says Tiago Peixoto, a World Bank Consultant on participatory democracy (and one of our Most Innovative People In Democracy).
Peixoto, who helps the Brazilian government conduct some of the world’s only online policymaking, says he’s optimistic that Facebook could be helpful, but he wouldn’t use it to draft laws just yet.
While technically it is possible for social networks to craft a new government, we just don’t know how to do it very well, and, therefore, leaders are likely to reject the idea. In other words, don’t expect Egypt to decide their future through Facebook likes.”