On- plus Offline Elements in Democracy

Recently, Vienna launched an extensively advertised e-participation and discussion platform called Wien will’s wissen (Vienna wants to know) for the referendum in February. By now most of the citizens have already received their ballot papers by mail, but they can also participate in online discussions.

Vienna’s government wonders about citizen’s opinions with an online platform going along with the referendum (Volksbegehren). It is to be seen as an additional information and discussion service for the exchange of ideas between citizens and experts. Online contributions and comments can be made on the topics of the referendum. (Citizens will be asked five questions about prospective decisions of the Viennese government.) Plus, contrary statements of two experts – amongst them bloggers and media experts – referring to one of these questions are published

By registering on the platform with an username and e-mail address everyone is offered the opportunity to submit questions and statements or to comment on the postings of other users. Before going online, all comments are reviewed by editors in order to ensure that people stick to the netiquette.

Implementation of Facebook

The platform is joining the trend of implementating social networks by including the possibility to use an existing Facebook account for comments. Users can use their accounts for uploading videos or pictures related to the five topics. In doing so, people should be persuaded to voice their concerns without having to go through an additional registration process. The selection of the topics of the referendum was based on the orientation on factual issues as opposed to ideological ones.

Both online discussions about the platform and the blogosphere emphasise that the questions would be too simple, vague and sometimes suggestive with answers being influenced by the wording. Others claim details about the financing of the projects, background information or definitions. The platform so far reacted to these statements by publishing additional questions on details and obtaining more opinions. Moreover, the possible exploitation of the platform as a marketing campaign regarding the upcoming federal state election is being criticised.

Direct democracy as an issue for discussion

While in the first version the wording of the questions was different to the ones on the ballot paper, this has now been brought into line with the official phrases in order to avoid misunderstandings.

In any case the content discussed on the platform can be used during the election campaign and keypwords like direct democracy and direct participation are both part of discussion and the campaign. And meanwhile, a big referendum with extensive advertisement apparently must be accompanied by an online service to have any widespread effect.

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