Liz Gannes

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Al Gore and Sean Parker Blame TV and Money for Ruining Politics, and Say Social Media Ought to Fix It

“Our democracy has been hacked,” said former U.S. Vice President and investor Al Gore today at SXSW today. Serial Internet entrepreneur and investor Sean Parker prefers the term “co-opted,” but he agreed.

“In the print era, when this country was founded, reason and truth and facts played a bigger role,” Gore said. Now, television and money have overtaken the American political system and lowered the level of discourse, both he and Parker said, in an interview that was added to the schedule of the Austin-based interactive conference over the weekend.

The two men said they think social media can make campaigns and governments more efficient, vetted and more democratic.

“I would like to see a new movement called ‘Occupy Democracy,’ where people who are Internet-savvy remedy this situation,” Gore said (by the way, he co-founded Current TV, so I assume they’re excluded from the rant about television).

“We are in the early days of using the power of social media to activate people,” Parker replied. “Just having large numbers of people on social media doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything more than create virtual farms and innovate newer and more psychologically addictive ways of wasting people’s time.”

He said he thought tools that help voters become more educated and mobilize around elections at all levels could combat the role of campaign spending. “Money is just a proxy to buy votes,” Parker said.

The two plugged various political Internet start-ups — mostly Parker investments — such as NationBuilder, Votizen, Causes and Electionear (see our recent coverage of NationBuilder and Votizen).

Gore also called for a big-data-style approach, in the manner of CompStat, for vetting the American health care system. And he asked those in attendance to continue to activate for net neutrality and against Internet censorship.

Before the people who are currently in power figure out how to use social media, Parker said, “there may be a window of opportunity to take back the system.”

Parker said he thought the SOPA and PIPA protests had awakened the technology industry from its apathy, and perhaps even beyond “armchair activism.”

“I call it the ‘Nerd Spring,’ kind of like the Arab Spring, but the SXSW version of it,” Parker said.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus