For the past three weeks, users of the Our Say website have been posting political questions and visitors have been voting on which question they would most like to see answered, writes freelance journalist Bhakthi Puvanenthiran.
Why didn’t I think of that? It’s the question that the founders of every social media upstart want you to ask about their project. For the co-founders of democratic social networking platform Our Say
, Eyal Halamish, Matthew Gordon, Gautam Raju and AYCC’s Linh Do, getting this response has been about dropping the cynicism -- "social media for social good".
Certainly it felt like a social good, as more than 100 punters packed into the sunny front room of Sydney Road’s Penny Black pub last night for a debate between candidates for the seat of Brunswick: Labor’s Jane Garrett, The Greens’ Cyndi Dawes and Independent Phil Cleary.
For the past three weeks, users of the Our Say
website have been posting questions and visitors have been voting on which question they would most like to see answered. In the final debate for the Battle for Brunswick, it came down to a question about a high school for Coburg, one about facilities for the community hockey club and a broader question about each candidate’s background and experience.
Two hours of solid debate ensued, in an electorate where political activism is a proud tradition -- but for James, 21, who proposed the question about Brunswick Hockey Club and rallied 439 votes (each user is given a limited number of votes), it was something else altogether: a chance to set the agenda, and get a considered response, promises for action
At the close of the event, co-founder Eyal Halamish encouraged punters to have talk to the people around them. "These are the people you brush shoulders with in cyberspace -- now you can have a beer with them." If nothing else, Our Say’s
key triumph thus far has been taking their online success and giving it to the local community in a tangible form, something where social media projects like Get Up
have not fared so well. "We’re definitely trying to rebuild civic society in the way that it existed in the past. Of course there are challenges in getting people to mobilise. But there are also people who are so passionate, they will drive it offline. They’ve been taking laptops to people in the community and make them a part of it: online and off."
Launched in August 2010, just in time for the federal election, Our Say
has great hopes for the future, despite currently running off a shoestring.
When asked about any plans for the upcoming NSW state election, there had been no clear decision yet. "Of course we’ve thought about it, and it’s probably something we’ll do, but we’re keen not to look only at political decision makers, but also corporate and community based decision makers. We want them to see their communities as more than just dollars or votes," said Halamish.
There’s work to do for Our Say
, but so far it seems, the idea is a strong one. After all, as Cleary put it, "it’s the old pub politics, just in a new way".