Berlin, 2012-10-24

Liquid Feedback Democracy to run Television?

One of Italy's largest television talk shows, Servizio Pubblico by television legend Michele Santoro, has announced [blog of a participating journalist, in Italian] that it will base [article in Italian Wired magazine] the entire next season of its show on public participation and democratic rule using the Liquid Feedback technology best known for sparking the Berliner Pirate Party's electoral success.

These are quite exciting developments for a software so young but indeed already in use in so many political movements on Earth. Even the Social Democratic government in Frisia County and some Republican candidates in the US are experimenting with it, but this is likely to be the largest experiment, and the most likely to fail in catastrophic ways.

The whole idea of Liquid Feedback is built around the concept of transparency and accountability of each participant's realness, of being a unique person in flesh & bones. Participating in Liquid Feedback means to step over the boundary of the mere citizen and becoming a small scale politician.

The way the organizers of the television show are distributing hundreds of anonymous access tokens to random people in the audience of magazines and web sites is not going to produce a parliament but rather some kind of Doodle voting with a clumsier user interface.

(Screenshot of the About page)
Service offered by Snake Oil?
Professionals at work!

Neither are the participants known, nor is it in any way transparent, that each person only has one account. Organizations seeking political influence, and knowing Italy some are already involved, will aggregate as many user accounts as they can, to gain control of the television show.

The developers of the software also consider it essential, that the people participating in Liquid Feedback to a certain degree know each other.. by having meetings in physical space as it is customary for a political party. Participating and delegating in liquid democracy (Italian explanation as published by Pubblico magazine) isn't just an abstract intellectual exercise, it also has to do with social interaction and trust.

Whereas in a large anonymous installation it is obvious that style and good manners in conversation will be impossible to achieve other than by continous moderational intervention, removing insults and extremist propaganda from the database. This is as contrary to the principles of Liquid Feedback as you can think of. Liquid Feedback is meant to be deployed by a socially connected group of real people, where it is in common interest to maintain a sane style of interaction so that the dignity of participants can be safeguarded without limiting the full freedom of expression, which happens to be an essential aspect of the platform, to not grant any privileges to some participants over others.

It is therefore essential, that the participants have an interest in running a common project together, not have an anonymous access to a voting tool that thus offers plenty of possibilities for misguidance and deception.

Interestingly such an initiative as Servizio Pubblico's has existed before: A large German newspaper asked the developers to host a large instance for them for the same kind of purposes. They even had a plan for certified participation using the database of physical newspaper subscribers. Even though this approach is a lot more acceptable than Servizio Pubblico's, the developers refused the offer as they feared it would harm serious political use of the platform if the participants using it do not know each other, thus have no social grounds to base their delegational behaviour upon.

So, according to the principles of Liquid Feedback, this spectacular television deployment is as wrong as can be and mostly instrumental in casting dark shadows on liquid democracy, which instead is so important in dealing with the world-wide crisis of representative democracy. So sad the makers have not seeked better advice, either by talking to Liquid Feedback developers or the Italian Pirate Party.

Instead they even left out basic https encryption, making the website susceptible to password sniffing by anyone. Try it out yourself at


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