Silicon Valley techies like to tackle big social problems and that’s awesome. Now, a group of billionaire technology founders want to reinvent the Democratic Party by using tech to shape their policies, but that may precisely be the problem.
WTF is no longer just an explicit acronym (what the f***), but it now also stands for “Win the Future," a new project started by the founders of LinkedIn and Zynga. It’s both a platform and movement that crowdsources issues and candidates by allowing participants to submit issues and solutions and then seek support through Twitter retweets from other participants.
If they win enough support, the issue/solution will become part of WTF’s political platform. WTF also plans to take out billboards around Washington, D.C., with the most popular policy positions in an effort to get Congress to listen to the issues of their community.
Mark Pincus of Zynga explains:
“We wanted to move beyond just thinking about this moment of resisting and get to what comes next,” Pincus said during one of our conversations. “What could it look like for our country for the parties to be more open or inclusive, and get to a web-based process that puts more aggregated power into the voters’ hands? And that’s a big part of the genesis of WTF.”
For Business Insider, Pincus is much harsher on Democratic party politics:
"I just don't feel respected in the political process as a large donor or as a citizen voter," Pincus said. "I just feel patronized. Everything I get is like, 'Hey, you couldn't possibly — it's too complex and sophisticated what really goes on,' and, 'Hey, leave it to us, and we will go and represent you and fight the good fight, and just give us money.'"
Apparently, WTF isn’t just dabbling in issues and ideas, but had planned to launch a potential challenger to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi in a primary election. That idea is reportedly on hold – for now.
This is yet another attempt to use technology to democratize politics. We’ve seen other attempts before like MoveOn.org in the 90s and 2000s, which defended former President Bill Clinton against impeachment and fiercely opposed the war in Iraq.
This could be different for a couple reasons. First, there is #resist Trump energy to capitalize on. Like some other grassroots, anti-establishment movements over the past few years, there is energy, but unless it can be harnessed and directed toward real policy change, it eventually fizzles. The clock is ticking.
Second, many people want to break through the Democratic establishment, which pushed candidate Bernie Sanders out in favor of Hillary Clinton, to advance issues and candidates they want. To many on the left, Democrats have not gotten their act together. Pincus said as much:
“I think it’s nearly certain that it hasn’t learned the lessons of 2016 yet,” he told me days before WTF launched. “There are some very great voices. … But as an overall whole, as a party, I think they’re, frankly, still getting their act together on presenting a coherent view of the future that they want to build to.”
There’s a good chance for WTF to pick up steam. However, they face two big challenges: entrenched interests of the Democratic Party and insularity. No one likes change, especially if it challenges their power and money. In addition, if WTF becomes an echo-chamber, they will miss the concerns of Americans who don’t consider themselves progressives. Access to the internet and apps like Twitter aren’t universal, so entire populations may be left behind.
We’ll see whether WTF becomes a political force or just another tech flop.