Knesset prepares to go virtual

Skype, Facebook and Twitter part of planned “accessibility revolution.”

March 11, 2010 23:22
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Soon, voters will be able to Skype into Knesset committees, write talkbacks on their favorite MKs’ Facebook pages, and receive Tweets from the middle of the most heated hearings.

As part of what Speaker Reuven Rivlin described earlier this week as the “accessibility revolution,” Knesset director-general Dan Landau revealed on Thursday that the parliament is going virtual, and by the end of the year will have initiated these and of other steps designed to bring members of the public closer to their representatives.

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“Every citizen will be able to participate in what is going on here, and to judge us for themselves; a strong and relevant Knesset is insurance for a stable democracy,” Rivlin said during a hearing on Wednesday.

“The diminished image of the Knesset is eating away at the democracy and critically harming it. In the past year, we have been focusing on procedures and activities that are designed to directly reach the public, and to provide a meeting place where the Knesset and the public could come together, to reflect the activities and processes that happen in the halls, the committees and the lecture rooms, through various means,” he said.

Rivlin said the Knesset was going to launch a major upgrade of its Web site, to make it more responsive, interactive and attractive to users. An outside contractor will work on the site, and Knesset officials have spent hours pouring over other legislatures’ Web sites, taking particular interest in Germany’s federal and state legislatures’ and the British Parliament.

One issue that arose in both Israel and Great Britain was the question of talkbacks. Almost every self-respecting Web site, it seems, from shopping sites to blogs and newspapers, has interactive features through which Internet users can write their feelings for all the world to see. Landau said that Knesset officials were uncertain about the feature, especially regarding who would bear the responsibility for censoring the posts and deciding what was appropriate.

The most likely solution, he said, would be the one adopted in Britain, in which lawmakers’ official Web sites would link to Facebook pages, enabling each MK to manage the information and comments posted on the page. When being transferred to the social media tool, users will likely see a disclaimer warning that they were now leaving the official Knesset Web site.

Facebook is not the only social networking tool likely to be adopted by the virtual Knesset. With new appointments soon to be made to greatly expand the Knesset Spokesman’s Office, newly hired spokespeople will be expected to send tweets via Twitter to update those interested in breaking legislative tidbits. Landau said it is possible that the public will be able to watch committee sessions live online, and file “real-time” questions to the committee chairpeople.

For those interested in the real-world parliament, the Knesset has extended – and plans to further improve – the options for physical visitors. Different tour routes within the building now include routes for young children, art-lovers and archeology aficionados, as well as the standard tour.

Landau also said that the “standard” tour will soon be improved and that he hopes every visit will include a stop at one of the committee meetings or the plenum, or a meeting with a current or former lawmaker.

The former MKs are among the most enthusiastic supporters of that plan, Landau said.

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