Letters to the Editor

Governance via social media

Monday, December 24, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The fact that Prime Minister Andrew Holness put the letter he sent to Opposition Leader Peter Phillips on social suggests he is taking a page from US President Donald Trump's political playbook. He is attempting to rally his base and appear to be transparent.

It has so far worked for Trump and for Holness.

Phillips was forced to copy his style, making Holness the conductor of the orchestra.

This has wider implications for computer science, social sciences, and politics. In the modern technological era, social media will play a larger role in democracy.

Social media is a new form of democracy; Parliament is Facebook or Twitter is where issues are debated. This new democracy will be better able to solve complex problems than either market or bureaucratic hierarchy for two reasons.

First, social media democracy embodies a commitment to political equality that the other two macro-institutions do not. Every user have equal power. Representative democracies achieve political equality more or less imperfectly. The better a democracy is at achieving political equality, the better it will be at solving complex problems.

Second, democratic argument, which people use either to align with or to attack those with other points of view, is better suited to exposing different perspectives to each other, and hence capturing the benefits of diversity, than either markets or hierarchies.

I do not make claims about people's ability to deliberate in some context that is free from faction and self-interest. Instead, even under realistic accounts of how people argue, democratic argument will have cognitive benefits, and indeed can transform private vices (confirmation bias) into public virtues (the preservation of diversity).

Democratic structures, such as political parties, that are often detested, turn out to have important teaching advantages. They motivate citizens to put their views to public scrutiny. Social media has been doing that for a while now. Whether it was the Arab Spring or WikiLeaks, social media has been having a significant impact on geopolitics and local politics.

Brian Ellis Plummer


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