Sean Parker, the billionaire entrepreneur and investor behind Napster, Facebook and Spotify, has unveiled an ambitious new app aimed at making American democracy cool amongst opinionated young adults.
The app, Brigade, is still in its beta-testing phase, but it aims to serve as a low-key and simple way to get young adults to discover and articulate their political stances on domestic and global issues, engage in debates, and eventually form groups of like-minded people and even influence social change.
Parker is partnering with Matt Mahan, previously the CEO of Causes.com, an online campaigning platform which was absorbed by Brigade Media. Mahan explained:
“The mission of the company is to empower people in their civic life and to have influence over the direction their society goes in by having them articulate and identify where they stand on issues uncover alignment with friends, get organized into groups of like-minded people and ultimately act collectively to shape the policies that affect their lives.”
The app starts out by offering a stack of cards with politically influenced issues like “Trade with Asia,” for example. Users can choose to agree or disagree with statements like “Massive international trade agreements hurt small businesses in America” and “International trade deals expand opportunities for American goods abroad.” Once a user takes a stance, you can look at the poll results of that issue as well as read the arguments for and against each side.
Over time as users develop their profiles, they may compare their leanings with family members, friends and colleagues to see who they are most politically aligned with — or who they disagree with most. Parker plans to bring on more features as the app develops, like forming groups of politically aligned people and providing analytics for campaign partners.
Mahan also suggested that users may receive social credits by converting people on certain issues:
“If I decide to switch my position because of a friend’s reason, they get social credit for that. That’s our highest signal-to-noise ratio.”
There are currently 13,000 users in the private beta test, and Parker is working very closely with users to further develop the app to entice larger markets. So far, the average user takes a stance on 90 political issues, which the company believes is a pretty high level of engagement. Brigade has so far been seen in some early events with senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul.
Parker explained that most people may not be politically outspoken, but everyone still has opinions they care for:
“When we were thinking about how to engage people in politics, most people say they don’t care about politics. They hate politicians. Congressional approval ratings are at a historic low. Trust in government is at a historic low. From one point of view, the system is about as broken as it can be. But when we interview users, we find that everyone has an issue they care about or something that they want to change in the world.”
For Parker and Mahan, the idea is bold but the method remains modest for now. Parker explained that the problem of using social media to get people involved in politics has been an old problem for many companies, “But if we want to build a platform to disrupt democracy, we can’t ignore politics. We need to meet people where they are.”
Their greatest obstacle is whether people actually want to publically share their political opinions on an app. Being open and even argumentative about political leanings can unsurprisingly cause contention between family and friends. Brigade must also get users to return to the app to keep sharing somehow.
There is also the added fact that people already use Twitter to voice their political opinions to a mass audience. Past opinion-sharing apps like State failed because they couldn’t land a solid user base.
Parker and Mahan are so far taking it slow to perfect an app that will hopefully bring efficiency to the notoriously sluggish American legislative system. Parker said:
“Washington couldn’t be more different in terms of the way it’s designed to work slowly. The Constitution was designed with the intention for the wheels of power to move slowly. What we perceive as dysfunction is a fault correction mechanism, designed to prevent bad things from happening. That tends to contradict the basic values of Silicon Valley in which we raise money, move fast, break things and get things done quickly with the hacker mentality. When you have a Washington political system that’s designed to move slowly and a Silicon Valley culture designed to move quickly, there’s going to be tension.”