#DemocracyIs engaging in the conversation

I remember a time in grade school history class when I could create a flashcard for the word “democracy” and have a one-sentence explanation on the back. This seems naïve now that I can read entire books or take a college course that spends weeks analyzing what exactly democracy is. Defining democracy is a pretty loaded assignment.

It turns out that the US Department of State is taking the flash card approach. Tomorrow ends a State Department campaign for worldwide discussion via a Twitter contest: “Tweet what you think democracy is using the hash symbol #democracyis”.

I call this a ‘flashcard approach’ because it limits participants to 140 characters of input. For those not totally in-the-know about Twitter, tweets are limited to 140 characters. Using a hashtag (#) sorts topics and makes your tweets easily searchable. So, search #democracyis and you can follow an “international conversation on democracy” limited to flashcard-esque brevity.

The use of the hashtag and the 140 character limit make for an interesting platform, but the content diversity of the submissions is most intriguing. Some are quite textbook style. Others seem sincerely optimistic. Many are jaded and cynical (some would tell me that these are the realists). But hey, it’s democracy; everyone has a voice, right?

To give an example of this cynical edge, one of my favorite tweets is via @jimccarson (disclaimer: I don’t know this person): “It is not surprising that Democrats need a Twitter contest to figure out what #democracyis”. Cheeky, yes? Despite the divisive rhetoric, it does provoke some interesting conversation.

Interpret this tweet as you will, but I think part of its relevance stems from its irony. If democracy is power to the people, then this Twitter contest is a prime example of democracy. It’s a method of getting the average citizen to engage in a conversation. Granted, there is certainly room for criticism. You could argue that those who participate in this dialogue are not the average citizens. Twitter users are a self-selecting audience in and of themselves; further, those who follow this topic are a separate brand of Twitter user. However, Twitter accounts are free and require at minimum internet access, meaning this contest is open to a wide audience.

So maybe the State Department has it right; social media can have a place in facilitating communication between government officials and We the People. Using Twitter (and social media technology at large) is a way for citizens to engage in grassroots-style conversation. The medium is the message, and the message is that defining democracy is the right and role of all Americans.

-lb

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~ by Lindsay Bembenek on January 20, 2010.

2 Responses to “#DemocracyIs engaging in the conversation”

  1. “It is not surprising that Democrats need a Twitter contest to figure out what #democracyis”.

    I believe this statement is rooted in observing the Democrats assembling behind closed doors, excluding other voices and ideas in the process of hammering out details of the insurance reform bill which benefited certain (Democrat led) states while excluding the vast majority of other states.

    Democracy is for all – unless you’re a Democrat of course.

  2. Of course if you heard the opinion Rahm Emanuel shared today about the first ammendment, you get another great example of what our current president and his administration think about US democracy.

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