Thursday, February 24, 2011

#TOCouncil Twitterverse

Engaged Democracy for the Select Few
... on Twitter

Anyone with a computer can link to to watch Toronto City Council live when it is in session.

To find out when council and the various committees and community councils meet, just click on which is the city's snazzy new official website.

In the 'olden days' (pre-internet) pretty much all of what happened at city council was only available through interpretative mainstream media reports, usually by pretty politically biased viewpoints (Toronto Star or Toronto Sun or Globe and Mail or National Post). No doubt, many of the professional journalists were limited by their editors and paper's political ideology in what they could print - and what the public saw.

(RogersTV did as community programming televise a narrow lens view of council (you don't see the whole room most of the time) but I would guess it was pretty much unfollowed as it only had interest to political geeks and not the general public who found it confusing and mostly boring.)

Now, those same jounalists sit in Council Chamber with their Blackberries twittering moment by moment, publishing pretty much unedited first person viewpoints of what is happening (and often ignoring their colleagues speaking. The free press is even more free and it is entertaining, informative and you get the feel of being in the room seeing all the little unconnected bits that allow you as a follower to see like an insider.

The politicians themselves pay close attention to the 'Twitterverse' in real tiume, moment by moment, even as debates and council business goes on. They pay serious attention to Twitter, probably more than any other inputs they get. In fact you can see in council debates they refer to twitter... example: Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti made an audible heckle about how "Twitter is laughing" as the bizarre antics of Feb23 meeting went on (see this). Also, you can see on twitter people like Shelley Carroll, Paul Ainslie and others actively holding a dialogue with ordinary citizens and journalists on the fly.

Some might say THIS IS GREAT! because it seems to be increasing civic engagement.

However, it is misleading. Only the elite few who have computer savvy, have the resources (funds, training support, etc) and the time to be part of this great increase in access. What of the great majority of the population who do not have these benefits? What of those many, many Torontonians who do not have English as a first or second language skill?

(There are still very, very few seniors who are 'computer savvy')

Democracy is supposed to be the will of the majority.
The internet/Twitterverse right now is the minority. (although that is changing - with slow generational speed)

I would suggest that this wonderful technological development, like others in the past, tends to enable the few and disable the many in terms of democratic power. In addition, like those with technological power have the ability to manipulate and direct the debate.

I really, really hope our politicians realize this and engage with those who are NOT technologically savvy and balance the inputs they receive to truly reflect the will of the majority - DEMOCRACY.