Site Holds Vote on Debate Questions David Colarusso's Web site, Community Counts, allows users to vote for their favorite YouTube presidential debate question. He says the site's long-term goal is to leverage new technology for the benefit of democracy.
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Site Holds Vote on Debate Questions

Hear NPR's Alex Chadwick

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Robert Smith mentioned the online group Community in his report. The editor there is David Colarusso, and he joins us by telephone. David, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. DAVID COLARUSSO (Editor, Community Counts): Hello, Alex. It's nice to be here.

CHADWICK: Community Counts, this is a YouTube users group that follows YouTube political content, yes? And you're trying to have some influence on what happens with the questions in the debate tonight. What's your goal? What are you trying to do?

Mr. COLARUSSO: We have two goals. The sort of short-term goal is we would like to influence tonight's debate and get the questions asked that the community really values. But the long-term goal is sort of to talk about how we can leverage this new technology to benefit democracy in the future.

CHADWICK: Do you think it will be kind of a tryout for the technology, for people to see how it's working tonight? Is this a important event for the online community?

Mr. COLARUSSO: Yeah. Well, I mean it will be interesting. And I don't think there's going to be any clear point at which we see something, we go, oh, my goodness, everything's changed. I think what's going to happen is that this is going to start something that we'll look back later and we'll say, ah, that's where it started.

CHADWICK: Well, people do complain that having CNN sift through the questions and choose which one to use, that that defeats the whole idea of the net. What's your view on that?

Mr. COLARUSSO: Well, that's - I mean that's really what we're responding to is this perceived need that it should be more than simply just letting people ask the questions, but we should have a say in what questions are asked. People have been able to ask questions of candidates for a long time and so, in a lot of ways, this debate seems more like a town hall than a debate. What we want is we want something new. We want citizen-driven questions, not just citizen-produced question.

CHADWICK: That impeachment question - Robert played that in his report - that's your vote leader right now. And that's how you want to decide this. You want to have everybody on the online community vote on which questions should be asked.

Mr. COLARUSSO: Yeah. And I mean CNN has some interesting complaints about that. And I think they're easily actually overcome.

CHADWICK: I found a question on there for Senator Clinton from someone who said, Senator Clinton - and it looked like a serious question first - what would you do for a Klondike bar?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLARUSSO: Yeah. I mean we have mechanisms built into place so that what we get in our top selection are serious questions. And what we do is we let people visit the site, vote a question up or down. And we're explicitly asking them, do you think this is a good question or do you think it should be ignored? And this really gets rid of - we don't have the UFO question up there on our top page, we don't have the Klondike bar question on our top page.

And people really seem to respond to that genuine question: Do you think this is a good question? So the idea that you're going to get frivolous questions by letting people vote, I think, is really easily addressed by the (unintelligible) that that's not what happens.

CHADWICK: But, you know, here's a criticism. If you...

Mr. COLARUSSO: Mm hmm.

CHADWICK: If you choose the questions by letting people vote on them, then the candidates will know what questions they're going to get. They'll be all prepared for them. There won't really be any spontaneity there.

Mr. COLARUSSO: Well, there's, you know, two ways you can respond to that. One is that it's obvious that CNN doesn't actually have a problem with letting the candidates see what potential questions there are. They're all available on YouTube right now. So if you didn't want them to get an idea of what the ones selected were going to be and you wanted to use votes, you could simply hide the votes. Or you could simply say it's not an all or nothing proposition. We'll take five of the highest ranked questions and then choose the rest.

CHADWICK: David Colarusso is editor of the online site Community Counts. He'll be watching the debates tonight. David, thank you.

Mr. COLARUSSO: Thank you.

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