Is Democracy peaking?

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, July 5th, 2016 - 48 comments
Categories: democratic participation, internet, Media, Politics - Tags:

facebook democracy

According to democracy expert Larry Diamond “between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries, while many existing authoritarian regimes have become even less open, transparent, and responsive to their citizens.”

Across the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, total voter participation continues to decrease in both local and central government.

Young people in particular are not voting, and not weeping about it either.

But for minorities, for women, and for postcolonial countries, real blood and sweat has been spent in achieving the right to vote.

So is it OK to get to Peak Vote?

Perhaps, if there’s a better model.

Facebook now has 1.7 billion users and is tracking towards 2 billion, out of a total roughly of 7 billion people. WeChat already has nearly 800 million. Facebook has surpassed voter participation by any single government in the world.

And before you say, Facebook and Twitter and WeChat are just perpetually manipulating us with all their corporate corporation stuff (See America: World Police, and the Film Actors Guild sequence), let’s look at the deeper principle of strengthening and expressing our autonomy, and reforming society.

Is it really worse, when registering to vote, to lose our information to our government than to a corporation? Does it make you feel any safer? (For the record, I’m not on Facebook, and I vote in everything. Which just makes me old, and odd). When we vote does anyone except a politician really know how it’s going to affect our people and our lives and our experiences?

Facebook and democracy work on entirely different principles.

Facebook (et al) is based on free association. You join or decline to join. It’s based on you contributing what you know best: your actions, your ideas, with your people. It builds as much interaction as you like. Comparing Facebook to democratic voting is like comparing a 7-geared Camaro to a slingshot. Slingshots just give you one shot, which you then reload. The Camaro is a machine in which you have full reflexive command over its speed, direction, and ratios.

You also form networks and coalitions. A fully involved, evolving and cooperative process occurs. This, not voting, is the basis for society itself.

I betcha you’ve had more productive conversations about policy and politics just on this little site than you’ve had in your analogue lifetime in a hall with some grumpy numpty railing on about The World Today I Mean Young People, Really, Civics Lessons Would Fix Them.

Facebook (et al) lets you effectively vote over your realm, with the people important to you, every hour of the day if you want.

The problems with voting-based democracy include: parties who decide policy from a handful of members, moronic politicians who too often become populist tyrants, and of course, the tyranny of the 51% majority. With Brexit and Trump and Erdogan and all manner of other nut-jobs rising via the vote, one could be given pause about voting.

I’m not proposing doing away with vote-based elections from citizens. Put your smelling salts away, my brethren and sistren. Except for participation itself, MMP has definitely improved things here anyway.

But the gyre is turning. Participation in society is changing. We don’t have to confuse Brexit etc with the decline of a liberal world order and reaching a humane limit to democracy. But we can safely and effectively look elsewhere for the renewal of the expression of how we form, sustain and re-form society itself. And that may be by means other than voting.

48 comments on “Is Democracy peaking?”

  1. Greg 1

    Politics has always been about the message delivery, maybe peoples reactions are just being tired of the propaganda and bullshit, populated by misleading use of statistics and self aggrandizing of the political elites. =NZs average wage at $31, wheres a list of NZ workers on this wage, Key’s prediction of 3.6% wage rises, who was lucky to get that. =no one I know.

    TV soundbites has eroded the delivery of political policy and debate.
    National are now reverting to form, in putting out policy on the hoof,
    as a tired party without idea’s, and a leader that wont last the election year.

    Does any of this sound familiar:

    and they wonder why the peasants are revolting:

    First Aboriginal MP in Australia=about time,

    • Ad 1.1

      If we were tired of the “propaganda and bullshit”, we would have turned away from the sports section of the tv news some time ago.

      Brexit was replete with propaganda and bullshit. As is Trump.

      We love it.

      • miravox 1.1.1

        Well thought post, Ad, thanks. Another piece to put with the following:

        It’s not democracy that is the problem, according to this article. It’s conflating voting with democracy. And the argument is that voting is not the best way to keep a democracy healthy.

        Democracy is not the problem. Voting is the problem. Where is the reasoned voice of the people in all this? Where do citizens get the chance to obtain the best possible information, engage with each other and decide collectively upon their future? Where do citizens get a chance to shape the fate of their communities? Not in the voting booth, for sure…

        …This single-minded focus on elections is actually rather odd. During the past 3,000 years, people have been experimenting with democracy and only in the last 200 have they practised it exclusively by holding elections. Yet we regard elections as the only valid method. Why? Force of habit is at play here, of course, but there is a more simple cause, based on the fact that elections have worked pretty well over the past two centuries. Despite a number of notoriously bad outcomes, they have very often made democracy possible…

        …Elections are the fossil fuel of politics. Whereas once they gave democracy a huge boost, much as oil did for our economies, it now turns out they cause colossal problems of their own. If we don’t urgently reconsider the nature of our democratic fuel, a systemic crisis awaits. If we obstinately hold on to a notion of democracy that reduces its meaning to voting in elections and referendums, at a time of economic malaise, we will undermine the democratic process…

        This is quite a long read for a newspaper article, but worth it imo. It needs to be long to deal with the history and the approaches to democracy the author is discussing.

        • Colonial Viper

          Reminds me of a State Department spokesperson being asked if the US was finally successful in bringing democracy to Iraq.

          “well, they’ve just had successful elections…”

          • miravox

            Similarly dictators use elections to ‘prove’ democracy is in their countries. I’m not sure what the answer is, but the conversation about what a makes a successful, inclusive democracy needs to move beyond who ticked a box on a voting form (which may be better than nothing, but not sufficient).

    • AmaKiwi 1.2

      Democracy is about how decisions are made.

      Do you and I get to vote on legislation to resolve the housing crisis or how to reduce the gap between rich and poor or how our country should cope with global warming?

      No. “Parliament is sovereign” which means whoever controls parliament dictates the laws. It has always been so except once upon a time the public’s views were less polarized so we had the impression of a pseudo democracy.

      If the people are not sovereign, it ain’t a democracy.

      • Greg 1.2.1

        NZs Parliamentary democracy is party tyranny.

        Democracy is a lot of things, but NZs isnt about balance the interests of the people or about some majority rule.
        =National rule with a minority of total votes.

        Parliament is ruled by a Party, it is Sovereign because it has the powers of the Queen backing it.
        She is our head of State, and totally useless in protecting us from a corrupt and criminal political party, but then thats what minority rule gets us when the majority of people dont vote.

        • Ad

          Democracy is an instrument, not a policy.

          • Greg

            Democracy is access to a nations credit card via its tax payers, and paying favours and getting favours, =$$

            NZ politicians are not directly responsible for policy, and none have ever been held legally accountable.
            The party leader cant sack electorate MPs, just list ones.

            we dont have this:
            The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them in doing, closing a perceived loophole that allowed a person who instructed someone else to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually commit the crime personally.[1]


  2. save nz 2

    +100 “According to democracy expert Larry Diamond “between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries, while many existing authoritarian regimes have become even less open, transparent, and responsive to their citizens.”

    I think we can totally see that has occurred in NZ. Democracy is being eroded by dirty politics and corruption. The MSM are biased and nothing is being done. Those eroding democracy are benefiting by their own actions, by making things unfair they are actually turning people off voting to their benefit.

    Democracy is even more important now, without it countries will face civil war. Once they put in TPPA with more unfairness and inequality then all around the world people are going to revolt. If you can’t see that happening you don’t know much about history.

    It is scary stuff what is going on in NZ under National and Key as chairman of the IDU.

    The warning signs that erosion of democracy has gone to far is Brexit, rise of Trump, Sanders vs Clinton and Blairites vs Corbyn, where politicians and people have lost their way in democracy and just turning on each other to get their own agenda through rather than democracy for societal benefit.

  3. Greg 3

    Remember this Bill, it got taken out of the Box and silently disappeared:

    National wants to take away our right to silence

  4. Lanthanide 4

    Focussing on Facebook as the saviour of voting is a bit naive, really.

    In 2009, Facebook instituted a policy where the active members could vote on changes to site governance, requiring a 30% turnout for any proposal to be binding.

    In 2012, they decided they wanted to end this system, and so put up for vote the decision to end future voting on site governance changes.

    At the time, they had over 1 billion active users, and so would need ~300M to vote in order for the result to be binding.

    Over the course of the voting period, they received 668,752 votes, 88% of whom voted to retain future voting rights. In other words less than 0.06% turnout to vote on the future of voting for Facebook. Since that fell short of the 30% turnout required, Facebook ended their democratic experiment and now users have no direct say on their governance.

    People go to Facebook to look at cat videos and share photos about what they did in the weekend. Not to vote.

    • save nz 4.1

      +100 Lanthanide – Facebook/Google are the new Microsoft. Beware.

      Corporations are not government and any crossover should be frowned on. Neutral for both.

    • Ad 4.2

      I’m not proposing it as a savior of voting. Check the post.

      It’s a bit deeper than that.

      Facebook et al is supplanting human public participation.

      Don’t have to like it – life is about your relationship with your device.
      Don’t believe me? Switch everything off for a month.

      • Lanthanide 4.2.1

        Boiling it down, this post just seems to say “people are doing stuff on Facebook these days”, and not much more than that.

        • Ad


          Voting is in decline.

          Participation in society through voting is being hollowed out by digital exchange.

          It’s really, really big.

          All involved in politics need to adapt to the scale of change to enable their participation in society.

          We have Neolithic emotions, Medieval institutions, but 21st century massive instruments and tides. The mismatch is growing with every election and every large social-change movement we see around us.


    • Greg 4.3

      Facebook is still only a window into GenY lives.
      It can be dangerous to post stuff, and workers have been sacked for it.

      Political discourse in universities is almost non existent, = see Germaine Greer about that,

      =where are the political left?

      Politics in Print and on Television is expensive, National could buy front page adverts,
      and still lose an election because they need people not to vote to win as an incumbent government.

  5. Chris 5

    This is precisely the objective of a dumbed down media. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Weldon get to head an outfit like Mediaworks, those of his ilk, personal mates with Key and so on, the explosion of reality tv etc. We do love it because we love watching ourselves and they know that and they also know there are only a certain number of tv hours in a day.

    Gone are the days when we used to see this sort of stuff on tv almost every night of the week:

  6. Nck 6

    Labour Greens and others need to propose mandatory voting, if they haven’t already. If they can make this happen, empowering people, then change can occur for the majority and make democracy more effective.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Empowering your people by threatening them with prosecution? Saving the village by destroying the village? Did you even read what you wrote?

    • Greg 6.2

      It sure works in Australia, defacing voting papers is a result, how many voting papers are invalidated there?

      Again, politics of the youth especially at university now is dominated by sexual identity and alleged rape culture. Only 1/3 of graduates are males, making up part of the sports elite and entitlement,

      Politics has been sidelined.

      So are youth being disenfranchised, particularly males.

      Finally some equality?

      • Colonial Viper 6.2.1

        Yes I see all the gender equality types crying out for urgent action and reform on how the education system is leaving young men far behind in both participation and achievement. Not.

        • Greg

          This is one of the social costs of leaving boys behind:

          “The Department’s latest annual report claims that 2,196 inmates started a Corrections’ literacy and
          numeracy programme in the year to July 2010.18 However, only 9% – that’s 198 inmates – were
          assessed by a tutor as having reached a satisfactory level and actually completed the programme.
          That figure represents just 1% of the daily muster.”

          its a pretty pitiful result, and to keep private prison full and profitable,

          =so who is paying for it,

          Finding direct educational failure rate of boys takes some searching…

          • Colonial Viper

            well, I hear the numbers of female prisoners is now increasing faster then men, so yay for gender equality.

  7. Colonial Viper 7

    Virtually every single time the west has gone to war in the last 20 years, the public has ben against it.

    The power elite of the US and the UK have gone around the world regime changing in the name of democracy – and against the will of their own peoples – but each time the result has been societal collapse and country implosion. Not democracy.

    Maybe we should chat about why the elites have been working so hard and so successfully at implementing their model of highly managed democracy and why the middle class and upper classes support this wholesale against the interests of the bottom 2/3 of the population.

    Before we start looking at Face Book for bloody answers.

    • Ad 7.1

      I’m not looking to Facebook for answers.
      I’m looking to where participation in society is going.

      Meanwhile, re the west going to war ……………

      Claude McKay, 1889 – 1948
      Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
      And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
      Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
      I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
      Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
      Giving me strength erect against her hate.
      Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
      Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
      I stand within her walls with not a shred
      Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
      Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
      And see her might and granite wonders there,
      Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
      Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

  8. McFlock 8

    Firstly, there’s no such thing as “peak vote”.
    It’s swings and roundabouts, not a finite resource. Democracy has been pretty rare throughout human history, even if you count the “democracies” that excluded women and slaves. Any retreat in the last 20 years is a blip that’s insufficient to draw a conclusion on.

    As for digital networking, in a heavily moderated forum I find it’s more useful as a news (including analysis) vector than having discussions that are “more productive” than the ones in real life. For every person you bring up who hogs committee meetings with long, rambling diatribes against the youth, there’s someone here who will go on about 9/11 or blame Labour for everything.

    An unmoderated forum like FB is almost useless for networking – news about local events is fine, but some friends link stories about ships lost 90 years ago in the Bermuda Triangle alongside valid links about current events. All links are treated as equal, and this is not conducive to making an informed opinion. The discussions are even worse.

    The people who turn up online or to meetings are the ones who have time to turn up (myself included). If I were a builder who needed both hands to nail joists and both eyes to ensure I did it correctly and safely, I’d be restricted to the goddam radio as a news source.

    What I will say as far as productive conversations go is that face to face I’ve given and received good advice that was confidential. Face to face you can see the mad glint or slight, superior-than-thou smile which indicates that the grand design being alluded to is only so much marsh gas. Online it can take a bit of time to figure out if someone is a complete nutbar, or a nutbar on only a few topics. Face to face it’s pretty easy to pick the do-ers from the talkers.

    But above all, I’ve seen people help change the entire dialogue of the country when it comes to things like child poverty. It takes hard work, boring work, as well as interminable meetings and online activity. I have one friend who daily shares FB stories and moderates a group on a particular issue, and even though I no longer read them by gum she keeps reminding me about that issue via the title and removing spam from the group. Occasionally we have a coffee when she needs advice about how to deal with difficult people who are trying to either stomp on or co-opt her campaign. Frankly, I feel that those conversations are more productive than most of the ones I have here. There’s more depth, less derail, good faith guaranteed on both sides, and she’s not a nutbar.

    • Ad 8.1

      I’d certainly agree that good old analogue conversations are best.
      And are superior.

      Perhaps not where the world is leading though.

      • McFlock 8.1.1

        Noise vs substance.

        • Ad

          The noise is substance itself.
          Crowds and Power.

          • McFlock

            I disagree – look at trump. Sure, there’s power to whine, he might even win, but there’s no direction. They’re not dictating to him which way to go, they’re not directing policy. He makes sounds, they go yay. What will he actually do? Nobody knows.

            But the substance of an action is the power plus the impulse direction. That’s the difference between an engine and an explosive: coordinated power. That moves you forwards, even against established resistance. Explosives just move you in all directions at once, with a bias towards the direction of least resistance.

            Slacktivism power can be focused, but dissipates quickly – the occupy movement, for example. But it needs establishment leaders and face to face conversations to sustain any change long enough to change policy.

            • Ad

              I’m not familiar enough about Trump’s Facebook or Twitter campaigns to comment.
              If your general point is that old-school analogue demogoguery isn’t going away, hard to disagree.

              • McFlock

                My point is more that the “power” of the crowd, the great leverage of social networking online, is largely unfocused and unproductive.

                It occasionally creates an explosion, but rarely creates fundamental change.

                Whereas the power of face to face meetings is focused and productive, even if one attendee wanders off into lala land. Policy gets confirmed. Strategies are formed. Ideas get to people in a position to make them happen.

                That’s why the Cabinet Club happens.

                • Ad

                  I think you have a confused conflation of different kinds of power.

                  We used to have a town hall. Speeches were made in analogue. There was one immediate and common source of messaging that radiated out in analogue time. This form was stretched and amplified through newspaper, then radio, then televisual space. The history of political space is a history of communicative technology.

                  The day of the central analogue town hall is gone. The days of door-knocking conversations is way, way long gone.

                  Fundamental change is happening through Facebook/Weibo et al, but in an entirely different kind of power than you understand. Don’t confuse their lack of focus for lack of power. They are altering the world – as I point out from the stats. They are also altering what counts as politics.

                  Facebook et al is not a mere niche of technology or a business proposition, or a mere supplement to the analogue world. It is a cultural paradigm shift. It is a giant new empire that is more fluid and moving faster than any empire we’ve seen before.

                  • McFlock

                    In your post you mentioned “productive conversations about policy and politics”.

                    Lots of people are having lots of activity, but what are they actually producing?

                    People talk about an issue on FB, a dentist’s office might get boycotted, but it doesn’t change lion hunting in Africa. Or someone makes a twitter comment about Aids before getting on a plane to Africa, but still has a decent career in PR once the outrage dies down. Sure, it ‘alters the world’, but not in any way that actually fixes the world to stop the next outrage.

                    Cellphone footage of cops is good, but the main use is as evidence in actual criminal cases.

                    That’s not to say that online activity is futile, it’s just often not so much a “paradigm shift” as it is an “energy suck”. It’s an excellent news source, when editorial control is intelligent. But it’s frequently a self-selecting echo chamber.

                    Whereas actual productive conversations, that change government or party policy, that improve public safety, and so on, those are often, even usually, face to face or in a group meeting. Not often as large as a “town hall”, but if you get 80 regional managers at a conference then you can begin to fundamentally change whatever NZ industry they’re in. More than if they were just all Linkedin contacts sending each other TED talks.

  9. Rosie 9

    For the record Ad, I have to say I very much enjoyed reading your post and the following comments.

    I have nothing to add except to say, in regard to fb, I find it a sociology fascinating phenomena. I have been dead set against it for a long time. I felt there was something creepy and voyeuristic about it. There’s a level of psychological nakedness and vulnerability about being in the machine but bigger than that, it’s a great tracking device for govt’s. Ditto iphone/spy phone.

    I made a decision along time ago for a number of reasons to live in the dark in our comm technological world. But last week I joined fb and was given an unwanted iphone4s by a family member. The light has been switched on and it’s blinding.

    I am amazed by the flow of energy, of INFLUENCE by the stronger voiced members of fb. I can see how easy it is for those to sway others, in any direction. Yes, like lanthanide says it’s full of cat video’s and for people to share their weekend’s activities. That’s fine but I can see what a political tool it has the potential to be, for good or bad.

    I’s still rather sit with people, share a drink and talk politics with them. I’m not sure if people do that or not, or if they do, whether it’s just a formally educated politically engaged elite that are part of an enclosed group. Maybe it’s fb where the ordinary folk go.

    • Greg 9.1

      Its a lot less private than it was, even if you have maximum privacy settings,
      the police can override privacy settings:

      • Rosie 9.1.1

        Am aware that Police can police fb. Sometimes they even catch moronic criminals that way, the ones that post their crimes on line.

        After the Telecommunications Interception Capability & Security Act was passed a few years ago we can’t assume anything is private. We’re under a surveillance spotlight to some degree in our on line lives.

        • Colonial Viper

          Everything you communicate or receive over the internet is held on FVEY server farms for eternity.

          • Rosie

            Yes, creepy isn’t it? Or others would say “thats just the way it is, get over yourself” but I wonder if we give away a little of our independence, or is that independence really only in our heads?

            In all honesty I have found the new fb experience greatly enjoyable on one level but also surreal and somehow troubling. Maybe I have a pessimistic personality.


    • Ad 9.2

      Cheers for that.
      Just a few of us left huddling in the dark of analogue space.
      Such a twinkly firmament.

      • Rosie 9.2.1

        Some how that statement reminds me of Red Dwarf. Nice.

      • b waghorn 9.2.2

        i joined a few years ago, put bugger all on and filter out shit i don’t like , its connected me with more people , and i get to see some hardcase stuff that makes me laugh.
        I also use it in a very gentle way to try and nudge people into a progressive path.

  10. Greg 10


  11. Ian H 11

    Facebook is annoying and creepy; Twitter is full of nasty people insulting each other. Both are dominated by social justice warriors acting out their indignation and aggression and trying to shout other people down. It is all personal insults and mindless groupthink and I have had nothing to do with either for a very long time. If that is your model to replace democracy then God help us all.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Swiss tax agreement tightens net
    Opportunities to dodge tax are shrinking with the completion of a new tax agreement with Switzerland, Revenue Minister Stuart Nash announced today. Mr Nash and the Swiss Ambassador David Vogelsanger have today signed documents to update the double tax agreement (DTA). The previous DTA was signed in 1980. “Double tax ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Maintaining momentum for small business innovation
    Small Business Minister Stuart Nash says the report of the Small Business Council will help maintain the momentum for innovation and improvements in the sector. Mr Nash has thanked the members of the Small Business Council (SBC) who this week handed over their report, Empowering small businesses to aspire, succeed ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Seventy-eight new Police constables
    Extra Police officers are being deployed from Northland to Southland with the graduation of a new wing of recruits from the Royal New Zealand Police College. “The graduation of 78 constables today means that 1524 new constables have been deployed since the government took office,” says Police Minister Stuart Nash. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Tax refund season ends near $600 million
    Almost $600 million has been paid into taxpayers’ bank accounts in the past two months, after the first season of automatic tax assessments. Revenue Minister Stuart Nash says the completion of this year’s tax refund season is a significant milestone. “The ability of Inland Revenue to run auto calculations for ...
    3 weeks ago