Embracing Digital Democracy: A Call for Building an Online Civic Commons
by John Gastil, Pennsylvania State University, and Robert C. Richards, Pennsylvania State University
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a manifesto last February to share his vision of how his company is creating a new public square to bring the world together. However sincere the motives, the statement underscores the risk that for-profit corporations will design and control the most powerful public spaces online. Gastil and Richards offer an alternative vision, which builds on small successes in civic innovation online. Web-based civic engagement tools created by nonprofits and public agencies already provide real opportunities for citizens to review laws and rules or evaluate candidates, ballot measures, and policy ideas. These civic spaces, however, remain largely disconnected from one another. Tremendous energy dissipates from each civic portal. and long-term feedback loops remain rare. Gastil and Richards propose addressing these limitations by building an integrated online commons that links together the best tools, along with whatever new ones prove necessary. Drawing on gamification principles, this platform would provide incentives for drawing new people into public life, encouraging more sustained and deliberative engagement, and improving feedback to government and citizen alike. Their article describes the proposed platform and considers how to surmount some of the most challenging obstacles it would face.