User:Mike-ZeleaCom/Vote mirroring as a counter-monopoly measure
Vote mirroring is arguably a sufficient measure in itself to preclude the formation of a monopoly in the provision of online voting services for participatory democracy. A vote mirror can unilaterally interconnect the voters of multiple service sites into a single "inter-network" of participation and thus reduce the network effects that might contribute to the dominance of a single provider. Social media in general is prone to monopolies, but their formation is not inevitable.1 By posing an early challenge, vote mirroring can level the playing field and preclude a monopoly in voting media.
Vote mirroring works by copying votes from multiple service sites (vote-servers) and reproducing them as images at another site (the mirror).2 The technique is illustrated in figure VM below. The top half of the figure shows three vote-servers together with a sample of the votes cast on each. Vote-servers A and C are providing a communicative type of service in which votes are delegated transitively, while server B is providing a conventional mass type of service.3
| | A | B | C | | | | (0) | | (0) (0) (0) | | | (0) | 1 / \ 1 | 1 | | \ | / 1 \ | | | \ 1 | / (0) (0) \ | | | \ | / (0) (0) \ 1 | \| | (0) | \ |/ | 1 / \ | 1 (2) | (0) | | (3) | / 1 \ | | | \ 1 | 1 (0) | | | / \| | 3 | \ | / | | 4 |/ (2) | | \ | / 1 | | (2) \ 3 | | \ | / | (0) | / (0) \ | (0) | (6)----(0) | \ 1 | / | \ | / | 1 / \ 1 | \ | / (0) | 1 \ | / 1 | / \ | \ | / 3 \ | \|/ | (0) 1 \ | \|/ 1 \| (7) | (0) | (8) (2) | | ---------------------+--------------------+------------------------- (0) D (0) (0) (0) | (0) | 1 / \ 1 | 1 \ | / 1 \ | \ 1 | / (0) (0) \ | \ | / (0) (0) \ 1 | \| (0) \ |/ | 1 / \ | 1 (2) (0) | (3) | / 1 \ | | \ 1 | 1 (0) | | / \| | 3 \ | / | 4 |/ (2) | \ | / 1 | (2) \ 3 | \ | / (0) | / (0) \ | (0) (6)----(0) \ 1 | / | \ | / 1 / \ 1 \ | / 3 (0) | 1 \ | / 1 / \ \ | / \ | \|/ (0) 1 \ \|/ 1 \| (7) (0) (8) (2)
The mirror (bottom) reproduces the votes of all three servers. This involves translating the votes from their various native formats on the original servers into the single format used on the mirror. Voting methods differ greatly and the translation may therefore entail a degree of information loss, making for an imperfect image. Such imperfections cannot invalidate the overall technique, however, because a best effort at an image is always a better reflection of reality than no image at all. For example, knowing that these particular votes (figure above) all concern a single issue, the mirror has represented the four end-candidates as rivals, with 7, 6, 8 and 2 votes respectively, because this gives a truer picture of the options available to the voters.5
Uses of a mirror
This section concerns the direct uses of a vote mirror by a participant. The table below summarizes these uses for different categories of participant together with the associated costs and benefits. Of the four uses shown, three are of benefit to the users of any voting service, while the fourth is of benefit to users of mass type services in particular.
|Use of original vote server||Use of mirror|
|Service type||Participant role||Use||Cost (if any)||Benefit|
|Any||Candidate||Soliciting votes 5||Overview of voters|
|Overview of rivals|
|Voter||Comparing candidates||Overview of candidates|
|Mass||Trailing candidate||Delegation||User registration||Visibility to voters|
|Viability as candidate|
A mirror may be used by a candidate as a tool for soliciting votes. It provides two benefits for this purpose: an overview of all the voters in a single interface, plus an overview of the rival candidates (compare top and bottom in figure VM). Seeing all the voters is especially beneficial, because online voting tends to be a continuous process in which voters are free to shift their votes.5
A mirror may be used by voters as a tool for comparing candidates. The benefit it provides for this purpose is an overview of all the candidates, together with the "live" structure of their voter support. Only a mirror can provide such an overview.
A mirror will typically provide a voting service of its own, making it a combined mirror and vote-server. This is a convenience for any voter who uses the mirroring part to compare candidates and then wishes to shift his vote. Rather than having to register as a user on the candidate's home server, he simply registers on whatever mirror/vote-server he prefers, which is most likely the one he is currently using. He can then shift his vote to any candidate.
A mirror can provide a delegation service to a candidate on a mass voting site, where it would otherwise be unavailable. This may be particularly useful to a candidate who is trailing in votes, as it increases both her visibility and viability. A new voter will often explore upstream and inspect the supporting structure of votes before deciding where to place his own vote. A candidate who presents herself in that context is more likely to receive a vote than one who appears as number 29 (or 229) in an ordered list.
| | A | B | C | | | | (0) | | (0) (0) (0) | | | (0) | 1 / \ 1 | 1 | | \ | / 1 \ | | | \ 1 | / (0) (0) \ | | | \ | / (0) (0) \ 1 | \| | (0) | \ |/ | 1 / \ | 1 (2) | (0) | | (3) | / 1 \ | | | \ 1 | 1 (0) | | | / \| | 3 | \ | / | | 4 |/ (2) | | \ | / 1 | | (2) \ 3 | | \ | / | (0) | / (0) \ | (0) | (6)----(0) | \ 1 | / | \ | / | 1 / \ 1 | \ | / 3 (0) | 1 \ | / 1 | / \ | \ | / \ | \|/ | (0) 1 \ | \|/ 1 \| (8)----(0) | (0) | (8) (2) 1 | | | | ------------------------+--------------------+------------------------- (0) D (0) (0) (0) | (0) | 1 / \ 1 | 1 \ | / 1 \ | \ 1 | / (0) (0) \ | \ | / (0) (0) \ 1 | \| \ |/ | 1 / \ | 1 (2) (3) | / 1 \ | | | | / \| | 3 | 4 |/ (2) | (0) | (2) \ 3 | (0) | (0) | / (0) \ | (0) \ 1 | 1 (0) \ 1 | / | \ | / \ | / \ | / 3 (0) | 1 \ | / 1 \ | / 1 \ | / \ | \|/ 7 \ | / \|/ 1 \| (14)------------(6)----(0) (8) (2) 1 / \ 1 / \ (0) 1 \ (0)
Note that up to three servers are involved. A delegate is both a candidate and a voter. Here the role of candidate is provided by the mass server (B) on which the delegate continues to receive her original votes, while that of voter is provided by the second server (A) on which she casts her own vote. The third server (D) is the mirror that combines both roles and reveals her as a delegate. If the mirror were to provide its own voting service, as well, then it would be more convenient to cast the delegating vote there directly.6
Counter-monopoly effects of mirroring
If the benefits outlined above are roughly accurate, then the counter-monopoly effects are clear. Votes will shift in favour of preferred candidates regardless of their home servers. Users will tend to migrate to those servers that provide a convenient combination of both mirroring and voting services rather than relocating with every vote shift. But any vote-server is capable of hosting a mirroring service and sharing equally in the full extent of voter participation.8 A new server without any actual users, for example, would still have all the voters. Such an advantage cannot easily be dispensed with. Network effects are likely therefore to entrench vote mirroring as a practice; and, with that, no imbalance in the distribution of users could ever tilt over into a monopoly.9
|Defence||Why it is likely to fail|
|Copyright||Non-creative factual information is exempt|
|Closing data APIs||Data scraped from user interfaces|
|Opaque client platform||There is none, all can legally be hacked|
This defence is ineffective because non-creative, factual information is generally exempt from copyright protection. A vote conveys the simple fact of assent or agreement and people are free to inform others of that fact.
Closing data APIs
Closing the data APIs is an ineffective defence because the data necessary for vote mirroring can instead be scraped from a user interface. This defence would have to be combined with an opaque client platform in order to be effective.
Opaque client platform
This defence is ineffective because no such platform exists. The only opaque platforms with sufficent coverage to support a monopoly bid are Flash and Java, both of which have open source implementations on the client side.10 An open source client can always be hacked and internally scraped.
|Secret ballot||Lower credibility of results|
|De-socializing the medium|
In this defence, the identity of the voter is kept hidden. This is an effective defence because votes cannot accurately be imaged without knowing the voters' identities.7 One of the costs associated with this defence is a lower credibility of results. There are methods of verifying private votes, but none is so simple and credible as the method of full disclosure available to public vote-servers.
Another cost is the de-socializing of the medium. This cost is more serious, because the social attractions of a medium are largely eliminated if the participants can no longer identify each other. It is unclear therefore how this defence could be reconciled with a competitive strategy, especially one in which the goal is a monopoly.
There is no viable defence against vote mirroring. The immediate effects of mirroring are sufficient in themselves to prevent the formation of a monopoly in voting services.
- ^ Public telephone networks are an example of a social media that formed as a monopoly. Online examples are Twitter, Facebook and Skype. Email is a counter example.
- ^ Vote mirroring is the invention of Thomas von der Elbe. See the original description.
- ^ On the distinction between communicative and mass voting, see http://reluk.ca/project/votorola/d/theory.xht#medium.
- ^ How a candidate may be both a person and a text is described here:
- ^ a b c d Vote mirroring depends on knowing whether two sets of votes on otherwise distinct servers are concerned with a common issue. When they are, the candidates receiving the votes may faithfully be represented as rivals in a common pool of voters. The method of determining this on a case by case basis is still under active development (mid-2011), but probably the users of the mirror are the best qualified for the decision work, as they have the most at stake. In that case, it would have to be accounted as a cost of using the mirror.
- ^ If the vote were cast instead on mirror D, then the total for the end candidate on server A would have remained 7. It would be incorrect in any case, as the results calculated on all the non-mirroring servers (A, B, C) are incomplete. None of them takes into account the full set of votes on the issue.
- ^ a b Vote mirroring depends on shared standards of voter identification and authentication. These may be grouped together under the category of "voter registration". Voter registration differs from user registration in tying the user's identity to a physical place of residence, among other real-world properties. The purpose of voter registration is not only to establish the user's eligilibility for voting on local issues, but also to prevent the user from multiplying his votes under false identities (sock puppets). The dependency on voter registration is not particular to vote mirroring, but is shared by voting in general; vote mirroring need only be sensitive to the various methods of registration employed on the vote-servers.
The dependency is moot, however, because no public vote-server currently implements and enforces voter registration. Users on any server may employ sock puppets if they wish. Vote mirroring might make the practice somewhat easier to get away with, but the incentive and opportunity to exploit this at an effective scale would depend on vote mirroring itself becoming entrenched as a practice. In that light, the problem goes beyond the scope of this essay. But the solution is simply to enforce voter registration when it becomes necessary. The costs of that enforcement will be easier to bear after the problem has exposed itself.
- ^ Glossed over in the main text is the requirement of shared standards for the replication of the mirrors themselves. (Thanks to Alex Rollin for pointing out this omission.) Such standards include issue identification and voter registration.57 It may be enough to say that the requirement is not absolute. Having two sets of standards that are mutually incompatible would not result in the fragmentation of the mirroring inter-network into two halves, but only in the creation of two inter-networks that were layered, as it were, one atop the other. Each would be complete in itself and would reveal the full complement of participants. The individual user would then have a choice of which to frequent. In other words, a mirroring inter-network may itself be mirrored, and it follows that none could ever be locked in by network effects and imposed as a kind of monopoly solution.
- ^ Crucially vote mirroring unbinds the role of participant from that of user. Only the former is subject to network effects, and unbound it can no longer reinforce an imbalance in the latter. A user is free to choose her own vote-server based on quality of service, but that choice will not affect the fact of her broader participation and thereby the choices of others.
- ^ Java itself is open source. For Flash clients, there is Lightspark. http://sourceforge.net/apps/trac/lightspark