Politics’ answer to Facebook unveiled

By Alex Stevenson

A new website promising to help communities coordinate campaigns targeting their local MPs has high hopes among its supporters in Westminster.

The political networking website digitaldemocracy.org.uk aims to foster online debate by letting MPs’ constituents band together to vote on issues.

Users submit proposals or ideas which are then voted on by other users. Once a month the most popular idea from every parliamentary constituency is sent to the local MP for them to act on. MPs are then allowed to explain what they are doing in response.

“I started Digital Democracy because I was fed up with how little say our communities have over the decisions that affect our everyday lives,” site creator Jonathan Elmer said.

“Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing pictures and gossip, but it’s about time we had a social network designed to be part of our political system.”

The site has all the social networking capabilities of similar sites, enabling members to send messages, make friends and create groups.

It also allows users to assess their political compatibility with other users. This, its promoters, say, is “invaluable if you are new in town”.

“The really critical thing about it is we need lots of people to use it,” Labour’s Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods told politics.co.uk.

“People have to use it like they use Facebook. They simply go on and if they’ve got a local issue they’re really concerned about, they need to go and put that in, and go back and put that in.

“Quite honestly, I think anything that helps people get their voices raised and brings matters to MPs’ attention.”

MPs are becoming increasingly aware of the impact digital communication can have on their daily lives. The campaign against the government’s forestry proposals, which ended with a humiliating U-turn from ministers, saw MPs’ inboxes bombarded with emails.

Ms Blackman-Woods believes digitaldemocracy will prove more popular with MPs because they retain a level of control over how to deal with the site’s users.

“Because people have to vote on what the issue that gets referred to MPs, it has a self-moderating mechanism within it where more extreme views are likely to be seen as that,” she added.

“That’s very useful as a tool. It means that MPs get an understanding of the extent to which a matter is affecting a constituency.

“It’s also pulling in people who may be comfortable getting this site but who don’t want to have a one-to-one interaction in that policymaking area.”