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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Social Media and Deliberation

At The Huffington Post, journalist Nathan Gardels reports on themes emerging from a brainstorming session on governance and social media held by the Nicolas Berggruen Institute in Palo Alto on March 4, 2012. 
The crisis of governance today in democracies results from the "lack of deliberation."
Deliberation is necessary so that democracy produces collectively-intelligent decisions instead of dumb politics.

Without deliberative mechanisms for making decisions that weigh consequences and balance trade offs, social networks that only enhance unmediated participation and information also just enhance the "dumb mob."
Turning the "dumb mob' into the 'smart mob' is one of the key challenges for the immense participatory power of social media.
As it is now, social media like Twitter or Facebook are good for simple minded mobilization of those prepared to act, but not for the processes of negotiation and consensus building required for intelligent decision making.
To bring deliberative polling to cyberspace might be one way to help forge the smart mob out of the dumb mob.
While deliberative polling has been done physically -- by bringing 200 or 500 people together through scientific sampling (not unlike in Athens 2400 years ago where the assembly of 500 was chosen by lottery) -- it has not been done virtually.
The success of on-line seminars by universities such as Stanford -- where as many as 160,000 people participate virtually -- suggests the possibilities.
Too much transparency can destroy the robustness of deliberative institutions. This is the "paradox of openness."
If deliberative polling requires a certain 'depoliticized space,' deliberative institutions require a certain opacity to shield their decisions from popular pressure and "tyranny of the majority.' This is why the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve are not "transparent' institutions.
Opacity allows the breathing space for reasoned deliberation not subject to popular opinion.
However, to ensure that deliberative institutions don't become hidebound, they must be linked to robust feedback loops and replenished or 'aerated' periodically by rotations of personnel.
Neutral, objective, quality information is the basis for solid deliberation.
Yet, here, we face the same politicization and polarization as in political life. Just as primaries drive politics in democratic societies to polarized positions, the imperative of "monetizing attention' for niche markets contaminates the objective quality of information, which is edited to sell. Bloggers talk only to their own tribe. People find only the information they are looking for. Information becomes non-communication.