Waaromkiesjij.nl in filter bubbles and transforming the democratic process. 

“The internet has been around for a while now, I can talk to my cousin in Canada within a second but I can’t talk to fellow Dutch people?! In theory you could get in touch with everyone but in practice it seems quite difficult to meet people with different political views”. A talk with founders of waaromkiesjij.nl, Leon, Sem and Ruben. 

Running up to the elections, the startup waaromkiesjij.nl resides on FreedomLab Campus. On the platform, voters are matched to people with different political preferences. In a private chat environment they can discuss the political statements presented (such as ‘civil service should be introduced for young people’). In this way, voters actively engage in the political debate, bringing the democratic process back into society. “What we try to get across is that politics doesn’t only happen in Parliament. Politics is about very everyday issues ranging from your taxes to your personal health insurance”.

Where did this all begin?

“It started in our living room about two months ago when we were discussing the difficulty to get into a political discussion with people who hold different political views, people from outside your own ‘filter bubble’.

Filter bubbles… What’s that buzzword about?

Indeed there is a lot of talk about social media bubbles nowadays. In general, people tend to surround themselves with likeminded people who think alike. Because of that, it’s very difficult to have your opinion challenged fundamentally. Specifically on social media because most of what you see there is personalized on the basis of what you have already liked (read: what you prefer). So everything you see looks alike and this makes it very difficult to get in contact with perspectives that contradict your ‘likes’. Therefore, one of the objectives of waaromkiesjij.nl is to break those bubbles. To orchestrate conversations between people who look at political and social issues in a different way.

Another objective from waaromkiesjij.nl is to ‘activate’ the political process?

What we see now is that once every four years, leaders mobilize their electorate. People watch the leaders’ debate and maybe Tweet about it, but that’s as far as it goes for participation. It’s a one-way street where the leaders interact with each other but not with the voter or the voters not with each other. Therefore, it’s a passive, top-down process. What we try to offer is that voters debate themselves in order to develop their political preference and views on political issues. Or even just to see what other people think about certain topics which could lead to new evidence that contradicts your opinion and you might re-evaluate what you thought before.

So, are you ‘disrupting’ the political process?

We want to make it co-exist. We are not going to go out to discuss politics in The Hague with 17 million people but what we can do is at least bring the debate to the people and establish this line of communication between voters. People can then agree to disagree, but at least they are more convinced and have a better understanding of what they vote for.

What’s the big challenge in attracting voters to the platform?

Unfortunately, people see discussing politics as an elitist thing, something for the upper class. Nowadays, people don’t even go out to vote anymore and they don’t relate to politicians. Politicians themselves have widely acknowledged this and present themselves as trying to listen to average Dutch voters. So this is a very relevant theme that is running through societies, throughout the western world. What we try to get across is that politics doesn’t only happen in Parliament. Politics is about very everyday issues ranging from your taxes to your personal health insurance.

Cool. Now, I am a voter. How does waaromkiesjij.nl work?

When you go to www.waaromkiesjij.nl, you click on the party of your preference and you will automatically be connected to someone who has a different political preference. Then, a political statement will be presented to kick start the discussion. Then it’s up to the two of you. If you are ready for the next discussion, you can be connected to someone else and a different political statement. If you are not sure what to vote or if you have a very specific political preference, you can indicate this and will be connected to someone who does. In that way, the platform is also a way to simply discuss particular themes of interest to you.

Moving to the role of technology. Why did you choose for an online platform?

Well, the internet has been around for a while now but why do filter bubbles exist? I can talk to my cousin in Canada but I can’t talk to fellow Dutch people?! In theory you could get in touch with everyone in the world, but in practice this seems quite difficult. And because of scalability. We wanted to have a much impact as possible within a short timeframe, you need an online technology that can help you reach a lot of people quickly. A platform where you can chat makes interaction so easy and accessible, no logistical problems of bringing these people together.

So you have heard it: www.waaromkiesjij.nl

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