In the United States at present, there is a wall between elected officials and citizens as the result of paid political advertisements and spending that filter the conversation through the desires of corporate sponsors. Constructive political dialogue with the public is an essential part of a healthy democracy, as it allows opinions to be voiced on both sides with an overarching positive, forward-thinking mindset. While this line of communication has waned and become less accessible, citizens have become increasingly connected through the many channels of social networking.
In a detailed piece on the subject published by TechCrunch, Rep. Rick Crawford asked why citizens can’t use social media as a means to productively engage with their elected officials the same way they do, say, the customer service side of major companies. “Citizens across the country are already utilizing social media to communicate directly with companies like American Airlines and Taco Bell to receive real-time, unfiltered feedback,” he said.
Crawford makes a bold point. If we are able to openly criticize, praise, and give honest feedback to corporations directly through social media, why doesn’t the same opportunity exist for communication between elected officials and citizens? Especially within a government system that is designed to take into account the opinions of its citizens, it seems as though this would be an obvious and necessary facet.
Crawford elaborated, explaining that “Most people equate government to politics and vice versa. In truth, there are actually two legally distinct sides to each elected office in Washington — the official side (duties of the office) and the political side (campaigning).”
He went on to say that “Generally speaking, those two sides cannot — and should not — be mixed,” giving an example of fundraising. As a state representative, Crawford said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to use official time and resources to engage in political campaigns or fundraise for them. That time should be used for engaging with all his constituents to work on policy — not just those who fund him politically.
Crawford also explained that official and political social networking accounts serve two distinct purposes — as the two are, or at least should be, two separate entities. By way of example, Crawford uses his official accounts “to listen to my constituents, explain my policy positions, take criticism, share my public events, and in general engage as many people in Arkansas’ 1st as are willing to listen.”
Political social accounts could serve as a direct route for asking for and receiving feedback without the interference of formal advertisements. Although he doesn’t offer an exact gameplan for how to create such a network, Crawford did offer some suggestions on where to start. At the very least, we’d need an entirely new kind of platform. “I have no doubt that the same great minds who are actively driving new platforms for commerce and engagement can formulate a new product (or adapt an existing one) that allows elected officials to engage the American people in a civic environment without paid ads and political spending,” Crawford said, emphasizing the importance of the platform being free from paid political advertisement, which Crawford calls distracting at the very least, and “disastrous” at worst — particularly when filled with misleading or irrelevant information.
However such an exchange might take shape in the future, Crawford’s argument in favor of one is compelling. There needs to be a platform or method for the public to engage with elected officials in an environment absent of bias by paid advertisements, and accessible for the general public to voice their honest, critical feedback.