WASHINGTON, October 3 - The Internet should play a greater role in lawmakers' interactions with citizens and foster a "networked grassroots democracy," Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said Friday, speaking at Google's Washington office.
Newmark described himself as a "libertarian-moderate" and said he was a technology advisor to the presidential campaign of Democratic Nominee Barack Obama. Newmark said he had come to view his role at craigslist.org as that of a "community organizer." He said that the principles he has learned since starting the site in 1997 could be used for more effective and transparent leadership by government.
Congress needs a way to distinguish real constituent e-mail from "click-to-complain" form letters and "astroturf" campaigns, or fake grassroots campaigns orchestrated by lobbyists, Newmark said.
Not only does Congress need a better way to verify the authenticity of constituent e-mail, but the members themselves need to foster online discussions among their constituents, Newmark said. At the very least, legislators should have a directly-reporting staff member monitor online "buzz" and report back. Authentic constituent communities can help filter out bad ideas and allow better collaboration between government and citizens, he said. "Any kind of leader" needs to use the power of the network.
Further, transparency and accountability can provide further advances in good government, Newmark said. Of greatest importance is for the Senate to join their House colleagues in putting campaign finance records online.
Newmark also praised the principle of network neutrality, or the notion that carriers should be barred from charging favored customers for the ability to expedite internet delivery to consumers. Google has been very supportive of legislative and regulatory efforts to enshrine neutrality rules.
Net neutrality is necessary to "preserve basic American values," he said. Even though parties on both sides of the debate "aren't that far apart," interest groups on both sides have done harm by turning the issue into a divisive one.
Network operators should be honest with the public on the network management practices they deploy and provide a "level playing field" in exchange for their use of public rights-of-way and wireless frequencies, Newmark said. The next administration, he said, should make sure to enforce that level playing field, and deploy broadband service to as many people as possible. "We don't want to leave anyone out" of access to the high-speed internet.