New online political debating website launched is normally about as newsworthy as new Twitter app launched: they come along with great regularity, only the very few get much of an audience share and yet the media still love giving such reports plenty of attention.
So should the plans that Bebo co-founder Michael Birch is following this well-worn political debating path with jolitics.com get more than passing attention?
He believes so, as the Daily Telegraph reported:
"Politics online simply has not been done well yet. There are lots of political discussion forums, but they never lead to any full conclusions or consensuses. It’s just a lot of people spouting their opinions with no constructive debate. Jolitics is about empowering those who are following an issue really well to help form opinion and fuel debate. And if they don’t do a good job, people can take their nominations away from them and they lose influence. It’s a real incentive to look after people’s interests."
The reference to “nominations” gets to the heart of what he hopes makes Jolitics different and so effective – people can nominate someone else to cast their vote on their behalf in a political debate on the site. Perhaps you don’t know what your views are on reform of student financing, but you do trust the views of someone else – you can then give your vote to them.
The upside of this is that it may provide a system whereby some people’s views have more sway – because they have persuaded others to trust them. It would be rather like the stories that your friends have most often ‘liked’ on Facebook rising to the top of your newsfeed – that collective judgement of others helps filter the good content from the mass.
But the big downside is the underlying idea that rather than think for yourself, you cede your judgement to others. That is often a sensible practical response as there is not enough time in the day to always try to trace back arguments to source evidence that you cross-check. However, the idea that we should judge politics more by the messenger and less by the message is hardly reaching for a debating ideal.
You only have to look at examples such as those Labour members who did not object to fixed-term Parliaments when they were in the Labour manifesto but started disliking them in principle when proposed by a Conservative/Lib Dem government to see the risks of going by the messenger rather than the message. And if you are going to judge by the messenger, a lot of liberals would find themselves in an uncomfortably position on the abolition of the death penalty and legalisation of homosexuality – for those were both causes that Enoch Powell backed.
So although I wish the attempt to improve political debate well, this does not so far look to be a desirable way of going about it.