Former US Vice President Al Gore and Napster co-founder Sean Parker tag-teamed a presentation at South by Southwest Interactive, urging Americans to use their social media credit for furthering democracy, especially as the country heads towards presidential elections. While they concentrated on America, the pair’s words are pertinent to any democracy and the role new media can play in strengthening it.
“Our democracy has been hacked,” Gore announced to the packed auditorium. “It no longer works to serve the people of this country.” He says he wants to see the hash-tag #OccupyDemocracy come about; showing how the internet can truly revolutionise democracy. It hasn’t yet, he believes.
This, Gore elaborates, is because our society is still dominated by TV and the gatekeepers that control the medium create barriers to the forum of democracy. He argues that while politicians are too busy lobbying for dollars to get onto TV and into the media, crucial issues are not being addressed.
This is where social media comes in. Both Gore and Parker believe in the importance of social media in creating a real change offline. “It’s not enough just to click a link on something,” says Gore. Adding to that idea, Parker says numbers on their own are not enough either: “Just having large numbers of people on social media doesn’t mean there’s innovation there.” But he does believe building the numbers is a necessary step in the early stages and then from there engagement and deeper connection needs to come. “We’re in the early days of using social media to empower people; and we can do so by creating tool-sets for them to use.”
Gore believes that if social media had been around at the time that the US declared war on Iraq, he doesn’t think people would have believed the “hogwash”. He quotes the figure that 75% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. “If a great nation like ours makes a mistake like that, it won’t be long before we get in even more trouble,” he says.
“The real power of democracy is the power of reason, and the ability to vet truth with the masses,” says Gore. He and Parker want politicians and the public to be actively involved in this, calling for digital flash mobs to help create a well-informed society.
As Parker puts it: “How can we get people connected to a public forum that holds politicians accountable? We need a way to plug in and be effective.”
The duo cite both their respective pet projects — In Parker’s case it’s Causes, the company he co-founded designed to help social causes, and in Gore’s it’s Current TV, which has a large audience participation component — as ways to help get people put social media to work.
Gore and Parker say they want to see more of the action that came about as a result of the SOPA/PIPA issue, or what Parker terms the “South by Southwest version of the Arab Spring.”