It used to be that the dissemination and digestion of information online was analogous to a superhighway. Something would come in—an instant message or an email, say—and you’d spit something out in response. You could have multiple such conversations going on at once, but each took place on a one-to-one basis.
Today, the digital conversation is infinitely more muddled. People you’ve never met poke and prod until you accept their “Friend” request on Facebook. Texting has replaced speaking in many social circles. Hell, I have an email thread hundreds of exchanges in length and involving dozens of people, all debating our respective strengths at managing a fantastical professional football team.
The information superhighway is no longer a two-way street; it’s a Fifth Element-style free-for-all with lots of unidentified flying objects and little to no rhyme or reason.
Just Googling where to get the best Thai food can be a trial in patience. But when it comes to attempting to identify the best political candidate, well, forget it. It seems like the political agenda is to never answer the actual question. Turning to your social networks affords little clarification either: 24 million texts were sent during the 2012 Presidential debates alone.
It was with this in mind that Cambridge residents and tech entrepreneurs Nikita Bernstein and Beracah Yankama created WhyWeVote.org, a platform to elevate the quality of political discourse by allowing people to state, discover and build on their political positions.
Coupled with Albine’s 2012 Presidential Election Val-You Calculator—a fun way to see how much your vote is worth this election—and you should be well informed come Tuesday.
Bernstein recalls the 2008 presidential election and being frustrated with all the competing rhetoric clouding his understanding of the relationship between the politicians and the issues.
“I had no idea who to vote for,” said Bernstein, “and so felt that I needed to educate myself on the issues to be a responsible member of our democratic society. To vote on gut, I felt, was just not responsible.”
It’s a noble premise; a way to cut through the noise and form an opinion based on facts, questions and crowdsourced knowledge. It’s also anonymous, which puts it in stark contrast to other social exchanges on the web.
“One thing that I’m proud of is the way WhyWeVote anonymously protects the user from their opinion about an issue,” said Yankama. “It provides an opportunity for a user to learn about an issue, particularly what others think about their own position, without the social backlash.”
The system seems to be working.
One post currently on the site reads: “I don’t know much about politics, but Obama is charismatic and he seems to be doing the right things.”
Tweeting that same sentence would likely elicit a barrage of responses; some in support, some not, some downright nasty. And it would be tough to wade through the nonsense in an effort to clarify—or even change—your position.
Posted to WhyWeVote, however, and the exchange is markedly different. One reply, labeled a “Clarification,” touts the importance of charisma in a political candidate and contends that Romney lacks such a characteristic. Another response, a “Counterpoint,” states: “This is not a well-informed reason to cast a vote.”
It’s a political exchange that, while seemingly simple, is a refreshing departure from the buzzwords flying around network television and the Internet. Visitors to the site can simply read up on issues or candidates that interest them or they want to learn more about, or they can post their own position for a more tailored discussion.
Either way, the goal is no pressure, no judgments—just information and answers.
“Our goal is to elevate the quality of political discourse,” said Bernstein, “to attract smart participation, to challenge people that, to vote, they need to understand the issues that are important to them, and to provide them with an opportunity to educate themselves and to contribute to the education of others.”
It’s a return to the one-on-one digital conversations of yesteryear—a superhighway straight to the truth.