In the early days of this nation’s history, citizens could walk right into the White House and talk to, share opinions with, or bring gifts directly to the President. This phenomenon was significant during President Lincoln’s time in office, as he was often kept busy at all hours listening to citizens and office seekers, as they strolled in unencumbered. These days security is a bit tighter, and expressing your opinion to representatives in Washington, D.C., let alone the President, is a bit more challenging. The need to be heard however, has not changed. In fact, as the nation faces challenges not seen in generations, the involvement of its citizenry is paramount.
Today, as the political arena becomes increasingly polarized and centralized in Washington, those citizens that want to be involved in the democratic process may feel they have little say, and are searching for more effective ways to express their opinion. Recently, “Citizen Cosponsor”, a Facebook application which allows users to show their support of Congressional bills, was announced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. When a user supports a bill, Facebook automatically posts that information on the user’s page. Not only that, but users will receive updates via Facebook as the bill progresses through the different steps of approval. “We are dedicated to modernizing the way Congress connects with the American people.” said Rep. Cantor in a statement. “Citizen Cosponsor breaks ground by directly connecting people with the work the House is doing every day.” It’s important to note that in its current form, the platform only allows users to register their support for a bill and they cannot suggest changes or have a conversation about the bill on Cantor’s site. However, it is very early in the process, and the team is looking at the potential for such features as online bill markups, hearings, and expert roundtables.
Looking back again at earlier days, cities typically supported multiple daily newspapers, often printing both morning and evening editions. Often with a sharp political bent, these newspapers kept citizens informed about the actions their government, while providing a forum for communication and engagement with the public. As newspapers adapt to changing times, we are now seeing the analog played out online, as users read and share from multiple sources every day. With social reader applications such as The Washington Post’s, Facebook users are increasingly and more transparently sharing with their friends, what they are reading and what is important to them in the news. Naturally, as these types of applications spread to other similar publications, Facebook users will spend more of their time engaging in politically based conversations online. Combine this effect with interfaces such as Citizen Cosponsor, and we’re likely to see a reenergized democracy, with more informed and engaged citizens.
Though it’s not known what impact social media will ultimately have on U.S. politics and our democratic process, it is evident that providing efficient, effective methods of communication between politically active citizens and their chosen leaders, is a step in the right direction. I give Citizen Cosponsor a thumbs-up!