Fifteen years ago, Sean Parker revolutionized music sharing with Napster; five years later he upended social networking as the first president of Facebook. Now Parker wants to change the way Americans think about civic engagement.
With Brigade Media, a startup launched earlier this year, Parker and other Silicon Valley backers want to create a network focused on citizen engagement and political life. Brigade is still under development, but its developers hope to fundamentally alter the way citizens organize politically. Brigade acquired Causes.com and Votizen in June, two websites that also seek to boost civic engagement.
State and local elections will be a primary focus for the venture, says Brigade president James Windon, formerly of Causes.com. “What we want to do is help people understand how significant state and local offices are,” Windon says. “A lot of people don’t know what the offices are or what they do. Even if they know what they are, they don’t know who the candidates are or what they stand for.”
Governments have been trying to tap technology to increase engagement for a few years now. Cities from Phoenix to Cincinnati have utilized apps such as Nextdoor and MindMixer to help solicit ideas and feedback from citizens. Whether Brigade will be a game-changer remains to be seen. The platform itself won’t launch until early next year. Still, Windon says social networks like Brigade are well positioned to drive citizen engagement. “Many elections are decided by very small margins. Mobilizing 100 or 200 people to do something is exactly the thing that those networks are good at doing.”
Windon adds that the goal isn’t just about higher voter turnout on election day. “The fact that people only pay attention every four years is the essence of the problem. We hope to approach politics in a more routinized way.”