Many people on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace have hundreds of friends. Yet there are many questions that arise with the use of social media. How many of these “friends” do users actually know? Do the opinions of the friends/followers truly matter?
But here’s another question to ask about social media: What if all of the friends/followers were the same and could vote a politician in or out of office?
A new social media network, VoxVerus, has the potential to close the gap between elected officials and their constituents. Launched more than three months ago, VoxVerus creates a community that is strictly limited to an elected official and the registered voters within the official’s district.
“The idea is to put the elected representative and the people that voted for him in one place so they can carry on a conversation,” said Brent Regan, founder of VoxVerus.
Features of the social network include an “issue of the day” to have members either vote or comment on a topic. Comments can be rated on by the community with the highest rated going to the top of the list.
“Very quickly, you find out what the consensus is among the people that are participating,” said Regan. “As people participate, they earn ‘rating’ or ‘status’ in the community. The more they participate and the more that participation is seen as helpful and beneficial, the higher that person’s status becomes. It’s just like in life – you got trusted individuals you go to for advice. Inside the VoxVerus community, the people that participate earn the respect and trust of others.”
Regan, a long-time entrepreneur based out of Idaho, said the development of this social network began 18 months ago when prompted by his wife’s comment on the state of political affairs. “‘Somebody’s got to do something,’” Regan’s wife said to him. “I’ve been married 23 years. I know when my wife says, ‘somebody,’ that means me.”
At press time, the website’s status is patent pending and working to expand to a smartphone app. Regan said many elected officials on the state legislative level are taking interest in the site. He also stated that the site was privately funded by both him and individual investors.
When asked how the VoxVerus site could be used by Native communities, Regan said anyone could use it at any location, as long as there was Internet access.
“If you’ve got a representative who’s willing to form a community, anybody with Internet access can log on,” he said. “It takes about three minutes a day to go in, read the issue of the day, make a comment if you want, and log out. It’s that simple. It’s free, it’s non-partisan. There’s no charge to the representative. There’s no charge to the user. It’s just a very powerful tool that is sitting there. All you have to do is pick it up and use it.”
Overall, Regan felt that the purpose of VoxVerus is to take social media’s flow of information and reverse the process. In this way, the voice of the everyday person could be heard by their elected representatives.
“All of the social networking, e-mail and communication tools we have today are designed to take one person’s voice and cast it to many, many ears,” said Regan. “What we need to do is reverse that process, take many voices to bring them together and combine what they’re all saying and what they all agree on.”
One Native legislator who frequently uses social media and e-mail to connect with his constituents is Oglala Lakota tribal member Kevin Killer, D-S.D. One of the elected state representatives from South Dakota’s District 27, his district overlaps with a large part of the Pine Ridge Reservation. With South Dakota’s legislative session running 38 days of the year – from January to March – Killer uses his Facebook page to stay in contact with Native and non-Native constituents while he’s in the South Dakota capital of Pierre.
“My constituents in Pine Ridge live up to 200 miles away from the capital, so they can’t literally go up to the capital and hear testimony,” said Killer. “But through Facebook and through social media, they can stay in contact with me on almost a daily basis just by reading the posts. I find it can be very effective in updating the constituents. As we say, the Moccasin Telegraph gets around really fast. Facebook helps expedite that.”
At press time, Killer had not visited the VoxVerus site. However, Killer said he has both a personal Facebook page and one for his office. The majority of his constituents still contact him through his personal Facebook account. Killer also said he tries to post as much as possible about the legislative session but he’s limited by the amount of characters allowed for Facebook’s status updates.
“A lot of bills impact our constituents in different ways, especially Native constituents,” he said. “The bills that will hinder our tribe in terms of sovereignty, that’s a big issue all the time. That’s something I make sure to post on and give people an update on the analysis. Anything that has to do with improving state-tribal relationships, I especially want to post that. Respecting that nation-to-nation relationship, we need to keep that strong.”