It’s happened to all of us. Your congressperson tweets something stupid, and you jump into the comments with the devastating reply: “Sir, this is an Arby’s.” It might feel good, but wouldn’t it feel better if you had some assurance that your representative was actually seeing your display of wit? Well, there’s a Chrome extension that might be just up your alley.
The makers of ePluribus believe that they’ve devised a system that will enable every reply guy online to raise their voice. The new Chrome extension is part of an initiative that somewhat counter-intuitively intends to reduce the volume of spam that politicians receive in the information age by giving users the power to send their representatives a message through official channels when they tweet, post on Facebook, or reply in comments on websites.
The system is relatively simple: You download the ePluribus Chrome extension, and it will ask for your name, home address, email, and phone number. If you go to a website that’s integrated with ePluribus, you should see an ePluribus dropdown menu in the comment field that allows you to choose one of your political representatives to CC on your message. Your friends and followers will still see your tweet or post, but it will also be sent to the representative of your choosing through their official webpage. The real power of ePluribus is that it will also verify that you actually live in a politician’s district by mailing you a card with a verification code. This is intended to help weed out spammers and assure politicians that they are genuinely hearing from one of their constituents.
The company’s co-founder Liam McCarty told Fast Company that ePluribus wants to create a system in which the government can trust online feedback isn’t being gamed by bots or other bad actors. McCarty believes that we can avoid situations like the ongoing FCC scandal in which the 94 percent of public comments on its decision to repeal net neutrality were found to be fake or duplicates.
The company is also offering its service for the comments sections on news websites and claims to have already partnered with “14 major U.S. news sites” including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
My first instinct was to think that this would only exacerbate the meaningless of online comments and mail sent to politicians. But ePluribus also wants to help sort through the noise. The company outlined its larger plans for “the world’s first civic network” on its now complete crowdfunding campaign. Politicians and their staff will be given access to a data dashboard that breaks down the comments by topic of concern and other categories. With a quick glance, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s staff can see that his constituents think his new beard looks like a dead animal. Or New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can monitor in real time the exact ratio of hate to horniness she’s receiving from conservatives that live in her district.
This seems to be where the business model comes in. In an FAQ on its Indiegogo page, ePluribus says it will make the data dashboard available to representatives for free, “if at all possible.” So, they aren’t closing the door on the possibility of charging for that service. More importantly, they say that “ePluribus makes money by selling aggregate, non-personally identifiable data and analytics to interested organizations, like media and academic institutions.” Because of course they do.
We reached out to ePluribus to ask a number of questions about how they intend to monetize the data they collect. We asked if the company will be selling data culled from the content of messages and also whether it intends to sell data to campaigns or pollsters. We’ll update this post when we receive a reply.
What say you? Would you trade data about your politics for the chance to easily scream at your rep? Do you want ePluribus integrated with Kinja? How long will it take before an ePluribus user gets themselves arrested?