How Social Media Can
Improve Political Debates
Two recent Gallup polls found that American voters are less enthusiastic about voting and see the government as their “biggest problem.” While some experts blame partisan “echo chambers” and “antisocial networks” that inspire conflict for democracy’s demise, one tech expert says that technology can still create a more engaged electorate.
“The problem is that Independents and moderates in both parties are seeing their voices overshadowed by the political extremes, especially on social media platforms,” according to Aaron Rafferty, co-founder of political technology platform BattlePACs. “Young people, in particular, may find it difficult to break into entrenched and polarized political discussions where their voices may get lost, or, even worse, they may feel bullied and antagonized.”
Rafferty wants social media to become less antagonistic and more constructive. His startup aims to create a safe space on the internet for discussing and debating political issues, and he says that Web3 has created the tools to make that happen. Web3 is a catch-all phrase for a decentralized iteration of the internet, which is based on peer-to-peer interactions, the encrypted ledger technology known as blockchain, and autonomous organizations (DAOs) that vote using tokenized smart contracts. Like DAOs, BattlePACs uses a non-fungible token (NFT) that will enable users to “vote” in political simulations via blockchain.
Initially, Rafferty says, the mission is to affordably “tokenize” the political process. For under 10 dollars, community members will be able to purchase an NFT that gains them access to digital collectibles, election simulations, online debates, cause-based campaigns, and more.
“The NFT acts as both a ‘vote’ for a political party, as well as a ‘ticket’ to access other features on the platform,” Rafferty explains. Within virtual forums, debaters will be ranked according to their effectiveness, and an algorithm will award winners with donations to Super PACs and/or nonprofits aligned to their political interests. The amount will be determined by the size of the community, as well as the overall sales of BattlePACs’ NFTs.
Despite recent election controversies involving Twitter and Facebook, Rafferty is quick to point out that the internet has no political party affiliation. The problem is that Republicans and Democrats tend to self-select, and the algorithms that power Web2 social media platforms group users into ideological bubbles where they largely engage with users and content with which they agree. Meanwhile, Independents may feel unwelcome or simply uncomfortable expressing contrary views online.
BattlePACs aims to turn down the temperature by enforcing bipartisanship. “Republicans, Democrats, and Independents will all be welcomed as community members,” Rafferty says. “Rather than antagonize one another, we will encourage them to engage in civil conversations, prioritizing issues over party affiliation to break down the barriers that impede progress and a mutual understanding of the other’s perspective.”
Rafferty adds that, because there will be no direct impact on specific races, there will be no need to antagonize or embarrass opponents. “It will be more about winning arguments than destroying enemies,” he promises.
The Young Can Run – and Win
This past November, Maxwell Frost, an Orlando-based community organizer, became the first Gen Z Member of Congress when he won election to Florida’s 10th Congressional District at only 25 years old. Rafferty says that the presence of Gen Z in the United States Capitol should underline how important it is for the younger generation to be involved in politics.
“The media tends to cover the old guard, so young people have not seen themselves reflected in politics,” Rafferty explains. “We need to shine a light on up-and-coming young politicians who will be making a difference for decades to come.”
Gen Z, Rafferty adds, has the potential to be the most politically active generation in history, thanks to both their tech savvy and their unprecedented interest in social causes like ESG and racial equity. “What’s missing is not the will to participate,” he says, “it’s a civil, fun, and productive means of connecting with one another.”