1) Voters would like to but don’t know what the political parties stand for
All the feedback, evaluations and focus group work I have read as a digital project manager for the election coverage in Denmark points to one major conclusion: The voters are having a hard time distinguishing the political parties apart when looking at what they actually want to change. So, their choice ends up being based on more superficial reasons like tradition, likeability etc. I have a feeling that a similar thing is happening in the U.S..
The political process is not always as open and transparent as one could have wished for. Lately it has even gone the wrong way in Denmark. Politicians are getting more ways of shielding their administration and policy work from the press and public.
Many information campaigns aim at raising the number of people voting. But the effort to get people involved in Politics should really take place between the elections. Interest in joining political parties has also dropped over the years as the direct democracy in most parties has dwindled. Making more people politically active would perhaps have a network effect in attacking the problem.
The media market has in many ways favored less coverage of policy content and more process coverage. The market mechanisms in the media business is to blame for this. Quality news coverage is blooming for a select elite of subscription media companies. But we need to figure out a business model that informs the rest. Bundling of news sources might be a solution.
Gamification of the political coverage like the Scandinavian candidate tests is a popular but last-ditch effort to let the voters get to know who they are voting for. Open APIs and easier access to public data like voting data would make it easier to not just hear what the politicians plan on doing but actually survey what they are doing.
2) People feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of daily news and need a way of staying above water to be informed citizens
Part of the reason people are overwhelmed and unable to sort through the news anymore is that they simply don’t trust it. Fake news and low-quality news have blurred the lines to a place where many simply just tune out. But I believe that being a critical consumer of news (and commercials) is the best way to avoid this. And it should start in our schools.
A push-back on both social and mainstream media might be what is needed to slow down and look up from what is in front of us right now.
The same market force issues that affected the voters’ knowledge of the political parties’ agendas are at play here. Cable news and social media has whipped the news into a frothy mess where it gets increasingly harder to tread water and stay above.
The web is still not set in stone. So, news corporations should experiment and invest in new ways of updating and summarizing the news. The current article format and social media ecosystem is often doing the opposite by making readers find old and obsolete articles instead of collection all we know.
3) Facts don’t matter anymore
The last year has given us an almost total collapse of facts. Institutions and media organizations are getting away with outright lying. The result is apathy and probably also polarization. Stronger libel laws might take the edge out of it. But they might just end up creating an even worse situation if used to strong arm the people pointing the actual liars.
It used to be okay to dismiss women and use ethnic stereotypes in everyday language. It is not anymore. Mainly because of changed social norms that made it unacceptable. Might this issue also be attacked that way?
It turns out there is a big market for non-facts and untrue content as long as it riles us up and satisfies our preconceptions. But it also turns out the death of facts is a huge business opportunity for a select group of media companies like The New York Times and Washington Post that have experienced the famous Trump Bump. But how do we make the bump scale?
Fact-checking and truthfulness ratings have not had a major impact on the spread of fake news. De-platforming might but also brings its own issues. That is not to say that code doesn’t have a role to play. Platforms need to get better at removing or flagging misinformation but it will probably not be the sole solution.