If you wanted to use the internet to actively participate in the democracy that is America, would you know how to do it? Most of us tech savvy folks – I’m assuming you’re tech savvy since you’re reading a blog – would probably feel pretty confident that we could use the internet to voice our opinion. But we’d probably be wrong.
At least, most young adults would have that incorrect assumption, according to research presented at the 12th International Digital Government Research Conference by researchers from Penn State University.
Jens Grossklags took twelve internet veterans and asked them to perform several tasks. Give your opinion on health care to the relevant government agency. Or tell the right people that you want stricter prescription drug regulations or that you’d like to see harsher restrictions on oil drilling in the ocean.
I’d like to think I’d be capable of such seemingly simple tasks, but apparently only half of the participants managed to succeed. It could be that young adults generally know nothing about the way government works. It could be that they have no interest in participating at all. Or it could be that the Federal government is a giant confusing web of agencies and that their websites are horrible at collecting opinions and comments from the general public.
Shouldn’t democratic governments make that part easy?
I’m sure part of the problem was that the people in the study were impatient and most likely morons when it comes to the Federal government. But I’m also sure that the government agencies in question – the White House, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, for the examples above – could do a better job of soliciting input and making it easy to contribute.
For example, when the relevant search terms are put into Google, all of the top search results are private companies. Government agencies don’t fare well in the Google algorithm, apparently. And even if the correct site is found, locating an easy way to send a comment or an email isn’t usually readily apparent.
At least, those were the findings of the research study.
The study also comments on the misconception that young adults are naturally skilled at using the internet and can do anything on it. I point to the accurate conception that most young adults just don’t give a shit and have no clue how the government works.
Perhaps even the students conducting the study?
If it were me, I’d contact my representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I’d ask my friends on Facebook to do the same, and create an easy link for them to do so. I think hearing from direct constituents is a far better way than randomly emailing a Federal agency. And if people can’t figure out how to contact a representative, God help our country.