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Schwarzenegger Co-opts Twitter for Budget Ideas

BY Matthew Burton | Saturday, September 19 2009

A few months ago, Governor Schwarzenegger used his Twitter account to request radical ideas for solving California's budget crisis.

This request must have gotten a good response, because the tweet has spawned its own Web site for citizens' policy ideas, with a full set of hash tag standards.

The site was launched on August 25. It aggregates all tweets with the #myidea4CA hashtag into a Digg-style vote up/vote down list of ideas. Like Obama's first virtual town hall, the most popular ideas regard marijuana legalization. (Given the recent high-level attention marijuana policy has received in California, this shouldn't be a surprise--nor should it be discarded as a comical foible of online democracy.)

The site's terms of use contain one interesting section:

Tell the truth. Spreading misleading or false information is prohibited.

This is politics. One person's truth ("Obama wants to socialize medicine") is another person's lie. Would the Governor's office choose sides in such cases by allowing or disallowing such comments?

I asked the Governor's New Media Director Rob Quigley about this policy, and what they would do were the forced into such a position:

We haven't had any such cases because social media empowers our users to decide where the boundary between a truth and lie falls and then to act on it through voting. If the score for an idea submitted to MyIdea4CA.com falls below -2, it is hidden and must be manually selected by the user to view it. As an idea's score rises, it gains more visibility.

To date we've had no reports by our users about TOS violations or requests for content to be removed as users look first to their social network peers to correct these types of issues.

I'm uncertain that this strategy will hold up in the long run. Letting users define "truth" might work with a small community, but the moment an idea gets serious attention from the Governor, the community will burst, and the loudest voices will overrule all else.

At any rate, it's good to see a government co-opting an existing tool for a practical purpose instead of wasting money on a customized clone. Many of the "ideas" so far are actually just tweets regarding existing legislation. But if any of the original ideas get attention from policymakers, I'll follow up here.