Fixing American Democracy? There’s an app for that.

Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster and former president of Facebook, alongside a team of like-minded individuals are trying to change the way American democracy functions through social media. This is not the first attempt at using technology to revolutionize how citizens engage with politics – so what makes Brigade different? SKDK Digital took a dive into what exactly Brigade is, to answer that question.

Okay so, what exactly is Brigade?

It’s a free app that lets users express their opinions on issues that matter to them, see how they compare with friends and ultimately build movements for democratic change. Similar to a Facebook post, users will be able to post an opinion (limited to 110 characters) and their friends will be able to take a position by agreeing, disagreeing or simply remaining undecided on the issue. After one agrees or disagrees with a position, they’ll see the breakdown of percentages of where other users stand. Once users have taken a stance on certain issues, they are then connected with partners from national advocacy groups so they can take action.

Ultimately, the app is supposed allow citizens to leverage technology to help build a movement for democratic change. Brigade’s intention is to, “create an easy, effective and enjoyable way for people to declare their beliefs, organize with others and take action to shape the policies and elections affecting their lives.”

Why was the app named Brigade?

In an interview with CNN, the Brigade’s CEO Matt Mahan and former Causes alum, stated that the company was, “looking for something that would invoke people to come together to do something they couldn’t do alone.” Thus, they thought of Ben Franklin and the Bucket Brigades. If you aren’t familiar with Ben Franklin’s Bucket Brigade, also known as the Union Fire Company, it was created in 1736 as a volunteer firefighter group. Essentially, the Bucket Brigade was a group of individuals that would collectively gather to put out fires. Mahan stated that “there was no better symbol for citizens coming together by working in a coordinated way they couldn’t do alone.”

Can I download Brigade yet? Is it open to the public yet?

Well, kind of. Anyone can download the app but only those with an access code will be able to use it. So Brigade isn’t quite open to the public yet. As of now the app is available as an invite-only beta. You can request an invite and once you get an access code, you’ll be able to use the app.

How is this different from other social networks?

In an interview with the Politico, Sean Parker says the challenge with other social networks, like Facebook, is that, “the norms on [Facebook] dictate that you obey a certain set of social rules on the kinds of things you share or don’t. When it comes to your civic identity or your political identity or your charitable identity, frankly you don’t want to express that side of yourself on Facebook. It’s not the right medium to do it.” Hence, Brigade was created — giving users an outlet for to express their opinions on the proper medium.

Will Brigade actually help get people involved in civic democracy? What about Millennials?

Well, here’s where we don’t know. Since the app is an invite-only beta and hasn’t been around for long, there are no analytics that reveal how well the app is performing to get citizens more engaged in American democracy.

There are some questions that still need to be answered. Like, how will Brigade instill a sense of civic responsibility in citizens if they are already apathetic? And how exactly will Brigade get voters to download the app? How will the app differ itself from so many others that have tried to engage citizens about issues they care about? Will it get more citizens to the polls?

On their blog, Brigade states that:

“Voter participation in America has been steadily declining for the last 50 years and the 2014 midterm election marked the lowest point since the 1940s, but advances in social technologies offer promising opportunities to reverse this trend. At Brigade, we’re hard at work building tools that will allow people to declare their beliefs, organize with like-minded individuals, and take action to shape the policies and elections that affect their lives locally and nationally.”

But here’s the thing…. there have been several apps in the past that have tried to engage Americans in civic democracy, but none of them have been significant enough to say change the voter turnout rate in the 2014 midterm election. And the apps that have been successful, in engaging and connecting citizens to causes they care about, started off on already developed social media sites. Take Causes for example, initially created as an application within Facebook, the website saw a huge decline in engagement after it branched off on its own. Past opinion- sharing apps, like Causes and State, faced a downfall because they couldn’t get a solid user base. It’s also notable, that Twitter already provides a platform for users to voice political opinions to a mass audience.

Tell us what you think.

Do you think Brigade is the right medium to leverage technology and create civic change? Would you join? Tell us by tweeting at us @SKDKnick.