Incredibly enough, I have been reading some inexplicable negativity towards recent news about Iceland’s online participation in the revision of the Constitution. The debate originated yesterday, when an article written by Alda Sigmundsdóttir (brilliant author of The Iceland Weather Report) for AP – Associated Press, circulated all over the web and it was in several cases translated and partly rewritten; excerpts from Sigmundsdóttir’s article were incorporated and quoted into other articles by non-Icelandic media.
As it usually happens, a lot of information was lost in the process of quoting without pointing to the original source article and in translating it. Therefore, in a few cases, it was reported that Iceland was drafting its Constitution via the Internet — via Facebook and Twitter, that is. Which is, of course, totally untrue and ludicrous.
Given these — wrong — premises, concerned voices were raised on the problem of Iceland’s take on direct democracy: how can a country rely solely on the Internet for such a crucial deed as drafting a constitutional document? How can democracy be granted also to those with few or no means of access to the Internet? And so on and so forth. You got the point.
The foreign media, in many instances, refrained from offering in-depth explanation of what is the Constitutional Council that is currently revising the original Constitution, how it was elected, who are its members and what is its actual role. It was also preferred to indirectly support the notion that Icelanders are drafting their Constitution via the Internet because it seemed more of a quirky curiosity to foreigners — and thus more inviting to read. The role of the web in this question was significantly exaggerated: it’s actually less decisive than a lot of foreign media made it appear.
Even after the crisis, which caused a relative downgrade in its rankings in several fields, Iceland is still one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. It is also one of the countries with highest ranking in the network readiness index. According to Statistics Iceland, more than 90% of Icelandic households have access to the Internet. Internet use encompasses individuals of a wide age range. Many older Icelanders are very organized and educated regarding new media and technologies. My former landlord is a former fisherman aged 70+ and one of his greatest concerns is to improve the Google ranking for his commercial website. Just to make a comparison: my mother is an avid computer user, but she barely knows how to send an email — and she’s much younger than my former landlord.
Being the situation as briefly explained above, it’s no wonder that Iceland decided to make use of new technologies and means of communication also in this specific instance. This doesn’t imply that citizens are being deprived of their just democratic rights. Leaving aside the local debate regarding the constitutionality and validity of the vote that took place (this would require another entry of its own), Icelanders exercised their democratic powers when they were called to elect the Constitutional Council. The Council is now accepting input from citizens, trying at the same time to keep them updated in the most transparent manner also making use of the Internet. The two things — democracy and Internet participation — are not excluding one another. The Council doesn’t necessarily require the input from citizen for the work of revision of the current Constitution. The online participation is an extra vehicle, if you wish to call it thus, to a more efficient flow of information.