Does the Internet encourage democracy and political participation? Why/why not?
The Internet can provide a forum for democracy and political participation to flourish, especially in ways that have not occurred before. It enables average citizens to “have a voice and feel they are making a contribution” (Coombs, 2009, p. 185). The immediacy of the Internet allows for opinions and feelings about the political process to be expressed rapidly, altering the fluidity of how taking the political pulse of a nation occurs. But, as Coombs also mentions, “… none of this would work if it weren’t easy to participate” (p. 185).
This can lead one to stress the importance of the design and simplicity of such an online environment. If it makes use of a straightforward interface that is unproblematic to tap into, one could assume democracy and political participation is facilitated and ensured for those who wish to contribute. Professional grassroots organisations such as GetUp! do this effectively. I think this factor (ease of use and a safe space to express such involvement) is of high importance – it has been documented that social media tools such as Facebook can potentially act as a place for slacktivism, where “… ease of membership and identification detracts from more serious and coordinated efforts to affect social change” (Marichal, 2013, para. 2). This highlights the value of expert associations, which can assist in the coordination and deployment of such proletarian efforts in political participation.
Coombs, A. (2009). How cyberactivism changed the world. Griffith Review, 24, 183-189.
Marichal, J. (2013). Political Facebook Groups: Micro-activism and the digital front stage. First Monday, 18(12). Retrieved from http://ojphi.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4653/3800
TUTOR’S ADDED FORUM QUESTIONS:
Does the perception of being intouch with us absolve them of actually being in touch with us? In others words does the reliance of web2.0 or other social media mean they don’t actually have to ‘get down and dirty’ with us in the streets and in the trenches?
I think that perception of being in touch with us, as you said, does absolve them… for a lot of people. It is my opinion that many are distracted in Western societies. We are self-absorbed, with shorter attention spans because of being inundated by information from all corners of our worlds. A lot of us reside in our own filter bubbles, as Eli Pariser spoke of at TED. However, on the other hand, if one is politically interested, one can go to great effort to make sure that our representatives have no choice but to be engaged with the people. That’s why I do like the work of grassroots organisations… they can, on occasion, have more power in the community than the pollies do. A good example of this was mentioned in one of the readings for this week regarding the 2007 Australian federal election: “Howard exposed himself to considerable criticism from the online community in what is a medium that is very open to user response” (Flew, 2008, p. 6).
As for Web 2.0 and social media, there is power in those tools – people can find out with more immediacy what the pollies are up to and potentially consider how it affects them, their community and the nation more readily. However, they can also make us more lazy as well. A trend or a cause can make us feel passionately opposed to something, but this wave of protest can just as easily dissipate as fast as it came. The trick is to not only find the soft spot of what will ignite the public, but to maintain the fervour and interest, so that it builds over an extended period of time.
I could be romanticising things, but, imagine if a politician and their staff maintained sincere and persistent contact with their constituents… wouldn’t the people become more interested in the politics of a nation, knowing that they were being effectively heard? I know that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but I see the potential for real power in harnessing those technologies for the good of a nation. Perhaps, there needs to be a generational shift before we can realise such potential? A disclaimer though… the realist / cynic in me thinks that it is more likely that this realisation would be used for evil instead of good.
Flew, Terry. (2008). Not Yet the Internet Election: Online Media, Political Commentary and the 2007 Australian Federal Election. Media International Australia, 126, 5-13.
Nice work, Maha,
But is there also less information/interaction in a way now because the immediacy and flexibility of social media and web2.0 means politicians have to watch every word – so they end up saying nothing? I dunno. I am trying to think through – for myself in many ways – how we seem to have leaders – one in particular 😉 – who is so dramatically out of touch with people – which seems to come from being a member of a particular class, which is not necessarily a problem within itself – all our leaders at the top end of things have probably all come from that same class – but is so far removed from the everyday that web2.0 interactions seem to have limited impact. But I don’t know, I am making an assumption – perhaps it is operating in other ways – outside of official discourses to provide space for resistance within the ordinary.
Yes, there is less interaction/information now – as I mentioned in my original post, I think there needs to be a generational shift here for this to take full effect. Part of me still holds a glimmer of hope – the success of the Kevin ’07 campaign was Australia’s version of Obama’s 2008 campaign on a much smaller scale.
In preparation for the first assignment, I came across the most fascinating paper regarding this very topic. It documented the use of social media in Australian and New Zealand elections. It provided an overview and observations on how parties and politicians were not embracing these technologies so readily because of their lack of understanding and/or discomfort with giving the people the power to criticise and control over how they wished their interactions online with the government should play out.
It’s well worth a read if anyone out there is interested. I had an even clearer idea of where we may or may not be heading in the future as a nation. Again, I still believe this depends on the personalities of those in power, their ages, and their willingness to let the people be heard.
But yes… with that “one in particular” that you referred to, sadly, such a direction is presently hard to imagine.
Macnamara, J., Sakinofsky, P., & Beattie, J. (2012). E-electoral Engagement: How Governments Use Social Media to Engage Voters, Australian Journal of Political Science, 47(4), 623-639. http://10.1080/10361146.2012.731491