Channeling Tech for Political Insight

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Posted by: briansittley Comments: 0 0 Post Date: January 24, 2017

tech-politicsWhile a bit off-topic from our usual biz-tech postings, today’s post is no less relevant in view of our nation’s recent political transition in Washington.  Our comments today are gleaned from a Wall Street Journal article by Personal Technology editor Geoffrey Fowler that asks the timely question: “Can Tech Make Democracy Better?”
Fowler points out the difficulty of what you’d think would be an easy task: Can you identify the roughly 30 public servants who represent you from the local to the national spectrum?  It’s harder than you’d think.  Fowler searched for online tools that might help.
One notable site is the Internet Archive’s searchable database of everything newly-elected President Trump has said on TV, assembled and hand-curated by humans and focused solely around Trump’s 800+TV appearances.  There will always be value in “checking the tape,” he notes, at a time when facts are often considered “up for debate.”
Open-data advocates including the Sunlight Foundation and Code for America have attracted thousands of volunteers who have put a lot of data online.  But while there are a lot of databases out there, what’s currently posted is just a fraction of everything the government is up to.  Fowler has found a few nonpartisan tech tools he says “could empower us to keep politicians honest,” and which we offer to our readers today as a public service.
There is no single source to find all your representatives, he notes.  Start at myreps.datamade.us, created by a civic data firm in Chicago.  You type in your address and find your representatives in the national and state capitals, as well as some city representatives.  Even there, only about 50,000 of all 519,000 elected American officials are listed.
A site called Govtrack.us lets you “follow specific legislators in Washington to see their voting records.”  The site also sends email alerts on bills your representatives may sponsor.
Votesmart.org links issues to details about what specific politicians have said and done.  Another site, Washingtonwatch.com helps convert pieces of national legislation into the cost or savings for the average family.
Yet another site, Brigade.com, is working to turn politics into a social network, and is currently oriented toward elections.
And then of course there’s Facebook and Twitter, where you can follow as many of your representatives as choose to post their views on pages there.
Taken together, you can consider these sites your Civic Feed.  In today’s new digital democracy, these new sites and portals provide citizens with some of the basic data we all need to stay informed, hear a candidate’s own words and views, and decide on candidates whose views most align with ours – not to mention, the truth.

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