In April 2016, I had a public exchange on the mailing list of the European Pirates. I expressed doubts on several participation platforms in the light of using them for crowdsourcing a European Constitution. I will anonymously cite just triggering phrases from my interlocutors.
EU Constitution is a different ballgame than Reykjavik. A platform isn't just about being technically able to handle all the input from the people, it's also about implementing democratic rulesets that maximize (collective) rationality, correctness of argumentation and the like.. in an illuminated sense of democracy.
"Your Priorities" is the software that helped Icelandic citizen formulate a participatory rewrite of the constitution. It comes with features that seem to do good, but in my view I presume the success should rather be attributed to the kindness and sociality of the people of Iceland. Being so few, they have stronger motivation to collaborate honestly and constructively. I doubt the platform they used would work in larger and more anonymous constituencies.
Social points: popular belief is that gamification will always do good but I'm skeptical about defining "points" whose political meaning isn't quite clear. Humans already have a tendency to give unfair amounts of attention to anyone that appears nicer than somebody else, as if that had anything to contribute to their political competence. Also social points define a currency that allows people to collect sympathy on one side, then use it for lobbyism on the other side. In liquid democracy you can also work on your reputation by contributing intelligent facts and thoughts, but it will be the same people who saw you do it that may delegate their vote to you or simply tend to let themselves agree with you in future situations, on similar topics — but you cannot trade the trust some people gave you in to buy trust from others, which sounds like fun but feels like dynamite regarding democratic modeling. Am I seeing this right?
The opinion and comment boxes: if everyone starts writing their opinion about something in their own words, without any guidance (fact-checking, interception of demagogy or rhethoric tricks), the system may overspill with opinions, leading to a very opinionated crowd that hasn't necessarily seen the actual facts given the vast choice of contributions (the most fun ones at the top, which may be totally incorrect fact-wise). This is better solved in a no-discussion tool such as liquid feedback: independent judges can fact-check the proposals at hand, the amount of necessary reading to be able to make up your mind stays bearable as it usually either stays one proposal or it boils down to the original proposal vs the proposal that includes all the criticism. Any truly relevant facts or aspects that were missing can be formulated precisely and without opinionism in emendment requests. Does my reasoning make sense or did I miss out on something?
I do see potential in the approach of Pro/Con argumentation lists, but the weighting should probably go beyond mere "was this helpful". The Austrian and Bavarian versions of LiquidFeedback integrated such a Pro/Con feature with agree/disagree weighting years ago. I can imagine that it works out better that way.
I understand that this worked for Iceland nonetheless, but I see these deficiencies that should make themselves be felt once the audience is wider, more diversified and more subject to special interests.
Also the platform is spiced with Faceboogle and Twitter surveillance taps which I really don't find very appropriate for an e-democracy tool. It should be obvious that you cannot use FB or Twitter "authentication" as a means to ensure that each participant will only have one account, because.. well, you're not the only one to have more than one Twitter account.. and opinion manipulation professionals have thousands of them. Those are exactly the kind of folks we need to shut out of the process. In any case the participants must be authenticated with a physical check of their government identification papers.
That leads to the next question. Who is in charge of managing a platform? Who organizes the checking of identities and guarantees that no sock puppets will dominate? Even if the EU institutions were to do that, how credible would it be? Or should everyone trust Yanis? Should everyone trust the Pirates? Or should the process itself be designed in a way that it self-governs and self-checks itself?
Both platforms you are proposing require us to put a lot of trust in the respective systems administration. Do we get transparency of voting results? How can we check the transparency of the sorting of pro and con arguments?
Some years ago, a group of institutions formed the DCENT project and won European Horizon 2020 financing with a confused proposal that threw many buzzwords of the time like shared economy and liquid democracy together into a big bowl. Objective8 is one prototype result of that project.
The prototype accessible at the URL shows a tool which has close to no democratic modeling at all. Just a "feudal" architecture of writers vs. opinionators that throw things at each other. No structure. No push for rationality. Right now my focus is on trying to get people to avoid repeating the same mistakes we've already been through and here's a tool that maximizes the ability to repeat mistakes.
From what I see in obj8 is that the "writers" are self-sufficient. They decide who gets to be writer and who doesn't, or is that wrong? Let's imagine a popular platform with thousands of participants. The top charts of "ideas" being debated will be filled with the most popular ones, thus if a democratic opponent wants to fork a mainstream proposal and offer and alternative view on it, their new "idea" will lie around half-dead at the other end of the popularity spectrum.
So you say they should participate in the popular debate? Well in that case if the lobbyists of a company managed to be the only writers of such debate, they essentially won, regardless of what everybody else opinionates into their web browsers. The lobbyists can always reject criticism with whatever crazy lobbyist argumentation they are trained to come up with. Did I miss something?
So the only way to impede lobbyists from taking over the entire assembly would be to activate extraordinary out-of-band communication channels such as Twitter popularity or administrational mailing lists to advertize the "better" proposal endorsed by the "right" people, both indicating a collapse of the innerdemocratic principles of the tool and falling back to leadership driven politics.
Single sign-on is nice, but is pseudonymity useful for transparency? Also I believe the future of democracy is to get as far away as possible from the client/server usage model, but that is a different story.
But Wordpress is not a democratic instrument. It usually empowers certain subgroups/influencers/leadership figures/power groups/lobbyists to have their voice be heard louder than those of others. The only "blog" I find democratic in such a constellation is a website that presents all of the democratic output of the digital assembly without empowering any special deputees into formulating the final wording or presenting their opinions on top of those of the collective.
Videos are no guarantee that truths and facts are being purported, but also no reason to expect the contrary. Just that whichever way, it needs fact-checking. Videos have the disadvantage of creating unfair competition since the form has so much impact over the quality of the content. A much better political option may succumb just because it didn't find a fancy video editing person to support it - enabling a new position of extraordinary political power: the guy who knows how to make fancy video.
But the much bigger problem with M5S is the voting procedure by which the entire fanbase (it is legally a fanbase, not a group of organization members with rights) has to trust the staff servers to purport correct voting results. Beppe Grillo retains the privilege of tweaking any voting results that displease him. Absurd idea of democracy! Or rather.. how to make central control look like a new form of democracy.
P.S. Further criticism on Rousseau, the proprietary populism platform of the M5S is available in the forum of the Italian Pirate Party.
Go have a chat.