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From PDF 2012: The Internet as a Space to Transcend the Left/Right Divide

by Allison Rizzolo

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Photo credit: Esty Stein for Personal Democracy Forum. Creative Commons License w/Attribution, Share-AlikeDuring the recent debate around the SOPA and PIPA legislation, the Internet became a topic that both left and right rallied around, united in their shared cause to defeat the legislation. It was a highly unusual, especially in these polarized times, degree of agreement between the two often contentious sides, and led many to wonder about the broader question: Whatever one’s views on SOPA and PIPA, can the Internet itself, not as a topic but as a vibrant democratic space with a level playing field, create a lasting coalition between Republicans and Democrats? Or, at the very least, can it provide us with an arena that allows us to break out of a dichotomous mode of thinking in our politics?

Exploring the intersection of technology and the Internet with democracy and citizenship is central to the mission of Personal Democracy Media. During 2012's Personal Democracy Forum, the organization's annual conference, which took place this year in New York City in early June, leaders from fields including technology, digital media and strategy, journalism, and civic and public engagement convened to explore the power of the Internet in democratic decision making.

Many times in our work we've seen effective engagement help people break through deeply held ideological divisions to find common ground on shared values. The Internet is clearly playing an increasingly central role in politics, citizen engagement and the democratic process in general, but can it also become a facilitation space where the right and left can find common ground and coalesce?

During a breakout discussion session called "The Future of the Left-Right Internet Coalition," conference panelists delved into this question with optimism, regarding the Internet as a sort of sandbox where thoughtful deliberation and innovation can happen and where we can better engage people who typically have low levels of political participation.

"The Internet is a blessing to small-d democratic processes," said David Segal, a former Democratic legislator in Rhode Island and a central figure, with co-panelist Patrick Ruffini, in the fight against SOPA and PIPA.

Ruffini, a Republican, echoed the sentiment of his ally in the anti-PIPA movement, saying that the Internet provides a place where problems can be solved in collaborative and innovative ways, outside of the political system, because that system, as it exists, is ill-equipped for this sort of problem solving.

The Internet provides new opportunities for citizens to collaborate in the democratic decision-making process, and we have explored such opportunities in the past. But the Internet certainly changes fast—what are your favorite ways to incorporate digital technology and the Internet in collaborative decision making? Tweet us with your thoughts and ideas at @PublicAgenda, with the hashtag #techengage. Let's explore together how technology and engagement can intersect to improve our nation's political process.



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