Quick followup to my “standing in line for democracy” post: I had complained to Steven Clift of e-democracy.org about the message restrictions on the United States Issues Forum. He followed up with a couple of thoughtful emails. “The goal,” he says, “is to produce a more thoughtful, civil exchange.” He acknowledges that it’s an experiment that might not work. He notes that, in effect, message overwhelm turns potential participants off. This is an old issue with email lists, often a cause for moderation, less often handled with arbitrary constraints like this. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, and I’ve rejoined the list. I’ve been pretty silent on this stuff for a while, preoccupied with other issues, but I’m hoping to find ways to promote more and better conversational environments. What we’re calling “social media” often isn’t as social as we need to be.
This is odd – e-democracy.org’s 125-member United States issues forum, is described as “a civil, more deliberative discussion of national public policy issues and politics in the United States among people with diverse political perspectives.” I joined, and was having an interesting and potentially productive discussion with an intelligent, seemingly reasonable Tea Party conservative. However my last post in that discussion was blocked – the list limits members to one post per twelve hours. “We limit the number of posts any one person can send within a set time frame to increase the number of voices heard and keep overall e-mail volume in check. Please try posting again later.” The implication is interesting: democracy is not about enabling discussions, but restricting them. From their perspective, I suppose the idea is that an unrestricted list will be dominated by a few voices. Savvy online communitarians know that every forum will have a few vocal members, though, and many more observers who rarely if ever speak.
A restriction like this just seems tone deaf to me, especially on a list that espouses deliberative discussion. The restriction leaves the list inherently stilted.