Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists flew to Capitol Hill last week to promote the Startup Visa Act, a bill that would amend immigration law to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to stay in the United States -- and create jobs here -- if they demonstrate funding from U.S.-based investors.
This wasn't just a stakeholders' party. So far, more than 780 voters have sent over 2,800 messages to their elected representatives through 2gov, a nifty tool that channels Tweets to Congress. And 95 percent are supporting the bill.
2gov taps into the viral nature of Twitter to bring as many voters as possible into the decision making process in government. Once users sign onto 2gov using their Twitter accounts and submit their online petition, their statements aren't just broadcast live on Twitter. An engine grabs the Tweet, verifies the identity and the constituency of the person who sent it, so that Tweets can be collated it into a report and delivered to the right elected representatives.
2gov's authentication process weeds out astroturfers -- people who have been paid to create online buzz and the illusion of a real grassroots movement. The term was coined from the brand of synthetic grass, if you were wondering.) David Binetti, the chief executive officer of Votizen, the company that developed 2gov, said he'd been trying to use the concept for USA.gov, the monolithic government information portal that he
co-founded in 2000, but the technology wasn't quite ready.
The tide has changed a lot since. To cast a wider net, 2gov will soon be integrated with Web sites such as Facebook. Plans to use phone text messaging to send out petitions are in the works. Binetti said he was pleasantly surprised by the level of civic participation: More than 90 percent of Tweeters had been legitimate voters. He expected more than half of users to be spammers. Why? More online users are realizing the need to take responsibility for political speech and ensure it gets through to the right channels.
"People want to have their voice heard, and they're realizing that more things get into the political discourse if they have some measure of authenticity," Binetti said.
Startup Visa made a trending topic last week, meaning that it was one of Twitter's most talked-about issues. (You can read more about the controversy the bill has invited here.)
An hour after an e-gathering of Startup Visa supporters was scheduled at noon on March 2 on Twitter, 5,000 people announced their presence by Tweeting with the #Startupvisa hashtag. Binetti jumped on the bandwagon. He Tweeted, "I support #Startupvisa and it's more important than Justin Bieber." (Justin Bieber, the 16-year-old pop star, is still trending; Startup Visa is not anymore.)