Democracy and its Impact on the Internet

Democracy and its Impact on the Internet

While the use of Internet for strengthened Democracy has a long way to go, its benefits may far outweigh the negatives. Democracy is further progressed by a society that has access to information and is able to freely discuss politics and what decisions made by the government means for them. The Internet opens up a world of opportunity for education, accountability and accuracy of information. However, according to some it can also be a dark place with no hope other than turning us back to the ways of the past. In either case, whether you’re a blogger or a politician the Internet provides a domain in which all opinions can be shared, reblogged, and emailed at the click of a button.

What is Democracy?

In order to discuss whether or not the Internet can support Democracy it is important to know what Democracy is. Democracy is an ever-evolving concept that was originally created on the principle of “majority rule”. In early times, back in ancient Greece, democracy was considered a negative form of government. Early philosophers worried that if the majority would rule the government, it would end up being subject to tyranny of the majority. If the majority so willed it, they could oppress a minority, simply because they hold the power.
While this idea of democracy is plausible, countries such as Canada and the US have taken steps to prevent a majority of citizens deciding that a minority should have different rights. Instead of ‘true democracy’, which is highly unlikely to exist, we have a liberal-democracy. In a liberal-democracy the principles of liberalism outweigh the decisions of the majority. People of a liberal-democracy believe that humans have inalienable rights and that their importance is key to the success of the society.
There are systems of democracy that can be direct in which the people are able to make decisions on a wide basis, this is often done through referendum. There is also representative democracy. This is a commonly used method of democracy in which highly regarded individuals are elected to power through a voting process and given tasks that help to run the state or nation.
While one model of ‘democracy’ may have been successful in the past, it is important to remember that government is always changing to fit the needs of its people. We should not push the information age away simply because it may challenge the idea of a representative democracy, especially if there are benefits that can be seen with a new method of government.

The Argument Against:
Silo Mentality:
Some experts believe that the Internet, while leading to more information, is not leading to an open minded debate. These experts believe that the Internet merely allows individuals to meet up with like-minded individuals and discuss only their opinions. Instead of searching stories based on neutral goals “people are going towards news sources that mainly reflect their own view” (Manjoo).
Without the Internet it would have been increasingly difficult for one to subject themselves to only their own opinion. A person could not easily go out and find a radical group that believed that something as ridiculous cats were majestic, but on the Internet, this could be possible.
Instead of promoting a healthy engagement Internet silos may “make us stupid and hostile toward each other”. (Sanger) [1] The Internet is a place where ideas and concepts float around openly with no control, direction or basis for operation. If a democracy were to run smoothly, the citizens of a country should have access to information that is unbiased and be lead towards a healthy debate that may educate them and lead to a well-informed decision.

 

Democracy Needs Experts:
The view of Andrew Keen is that “[d]emocracy is not about people deciding. It is about finding educated, high-quality figures, who will make wise decisions” (Keen). What Keen is talking about is representational democracy. This model is currently how both the United States and Canada run their countries. In order for a representational system to work, we need the people who are running the country to be well informed and able to make wise decisions. The Internet challenges this by allowing just-anybody to post their opinion and influence the views of a larger public. On the Internet there are several blogs that you can read that will have nothing to do with the true moral of a political issue.

An environmental scandal, such as fracking, may have negatives to be heavily concerned. However, an Internet group who wishes to have their views heard might skew information and leave out valuable data that could sway public opinion to their side. A full account of the story may actually end up pointing out that the benefits of such an endeavour could far outweigh the negatives. Perhaps the province is in much need of the additional money in order to go to education programs. Politics, in order to function properly, needs to have a balance of give and take. Often times in the political world there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer and the expertise of professionals is important in weighing the pros and cons of a situation. This is clear in situations such as finance where risks may need to be taken in order to take hold of future gain.

The Argument for:
Access to Information:

The modern age allows for a free flow of information. This can be especially seen through the rapid speed at which news travels around the globe. When a major news event happens, we are immediately confronted by the story. There are of course, some inaccuracies, but these are usually ironed out. As new information develops, it is presented to the public at a rate that exceeds even imagination. The vast difference between our information age and only one-hundred years ago can be seen in the first reports of the Titanic sinking. On April 5th 1912, the Trenton Evening Times reported that all passengers on the Titanic were safe and that the ship was still floating.[2] If the same situation were to occur today, only a century later, we would quickly know who was on the ship, if was afloat, and what that meant for the world. It’s still possible to have inaccurate media in our modern society. Everyday there are blogs, websites, and ‘media’ sources reporting on stories that turn out to be false. The difference is that a ready availability of information leads to the demand for quick and accurate amendments to these sources. In an age where ‘everyone’ can be a journalist there is a great importance placed on respectability. If you are not able to provide clear, concise, quick, and accurate news, you will not be listened to.
If informed decisions are a great importance for democracy to work, it should be noted that the Internet provides a great outlet for political thought development and for finding resources in order to defend, or possibly change your position on a subject. Never before has there been so much information available that could change or validate your belief in a particular topic. You could believe that fracking is of the utmost value to your province, until your Aunt Margaret posts links to articles that show an area devastated by the practice. If you’re curious, and willing to learn, you may click on the article and come up with a conclusion that you wouldn’t have before. The Internet gives us access to people and ideas that we may never have considered before.
Education on the Internet is not only coming in the form of widespread media and bloggers. Once a purely institutionalized idea, universities and colleges are now offering full courses and degrees over the web. Some schools are offering select courses through distance-education, while others have their entire school as a web-based program. Learning online is valuable because it replaces boundaries set up by location and allows for students to receive a wider education with less limitation.
According to an article on the subject of E-Learning, “[d]uring the fall 2010 term 31 percent of U.S college students took at least one online course” (Bell, and Federman 165). Depending on the degrees being offered E-Learning may just be a valuable way for a greater percent of the general population to become educated and be able to make wise political decisions. Its popularity is rising because of the conveniences that are involved with control over personal education.

For many people, education is limited due to the cost. Virtual education provides a cheaper experience, while still quality education. This is because many of the traditional costs to run a school are eliminated. There is far less staff to run an online school, and there is less of a power bill. Unlike traditional schools there is also the ability of flexible schedules that allow much time for working, and even providing for a family. The Internet provides citizens with a meaningful way to become more educated, something invaluable to a healthy democracy.

Professional Media:
Instead of being choked out by the rapid flow of information the professional journalists have an even bigger responsibility than ever before. Journalists can now give updates on stories via their Twitter pages, blogs, and Facebook accounts. While there are many amateurs who can make a name for them selves on the Internet, many citizens will look for a name that they’ve heard on the daily news. Journalists are being accessed like never before, and are held accountable for their every action.
There are several news organizations that have been born online such as Huffington Post, which organizes blogs from around the Internet into a convenient place. However, there is also a place for traditional news to make its way into the 21st century. ABC News, CBC News, and The Globe and Mail can all be accessed from their web pages, and articles can conveniently be shared with friends and family on various micro-blogging, and blogging sites.
A difficulty for professional media may be the increased hardship of being paid for information when information seems to be at an all-time high. However, many sites are now going by a subscription model or using advertisements in order to fill the gap. While there is scrutiny for advertisements on the Internet this isn’t much different than traditional print media which sells ad space, as well as television programs that allot twenty minutes of an hour to paid programming.

Experts are not always right:
Many believe that experts are required in order for politics to function properly. The famous philosopher, Plato was an advocate of this elitist viewpoint. Plato believed that in order function properly the government should be run by only the best of the population.[3]
What should be said is that these so called experts that we hire are not always right. There has been a large history of experts abusing power, or making decisions that have been devastating for the people within.
Representatives in a democracy could be respecting the beliefs of their party, maybe the beliefs of their electoral community, or even acting on their own judgment. It is often confusing as to what these representatives are supposed to do. The Internet could allow for a greater transparency for those elected into power. It is also possible with the widespread of the Internet that a more direct approach of democracy could be enacted. This idea is widespread into the future, as firewall approaches would need to be heightened before this is possible. However, ideas such as ‘soap boxes’ could be valuable in the decisions made by the government. If there were a clear idea of what the people want, perhaps there would be more emphasis on politics that are directly influenced by public opinion.
Scandal is a part of the human condition that will never be eradicated. Humans have been making mistakes since the beginning of time, but we have also been growing. Capital punishment, a once prominent part of society is now limited to very few states or countries. Canada, as a whole, refuses to put criminals to death. Democracy, like our ideals on capital punishment will grow and shape over time. The Internet’s challenge to representational democracy’s ideas should not be taken as a negative. Every system needs to evolve if it wishes to remain in power. The Internet has opened up opportunities for democracy that could not have been imagined in the past. This does not mean that the past model of democracy was wrong, or unjust, but simply that new technology is changing the way the world operates and giving us the prospect to upgrade ourselves into something better.


The Decision:

There is an argument that the Internet, with its control and access to information, can help oppressive powers to continue their goals. However, in terms of democracy this argument is invalid. Countries that are opposing the free-flow of information on the Internet are not democratic countries and therefore have no place in the argument except as a cautionary tale of why democracy is important. While these dictators are a huge global issue, they are not an issue of democracy. In order for democracy to be threatened by their ideals, they would have to be a part of democracy.
If democracy can supposedly be threatened by the actions of a government, which will use the Internet to spy, then perhaps it is who runs the government and their ideals that should be changed, and not the Internet. Since the right to privacy is a clearly labeled aspect of liberal-democracy, it should be said that it is up to the government to uphold these standards. Regardless of what you are able to do, you ought to follow the laws, which were made, by your country, and your people. Whether it is a representative or a direct democracy there is no place for law breaking in society, unless it is to challenge an oppressive law that goes against our inalienable rights. The government may well be able to tell us all that we must speak English and no other language but it would be breaking the law in doing so, and would go against our right to speak out own language.
Of course there are limits to some laws. It would be a hassle to print all of our official government information in not two, but several languages.
While a ‘Silo Mentality’ may seem like a risk to democracy it should be examined that there has never been a time when people could not simply ignore their opposition and simply seek out groups that agree with them. Perhaps it would have been harder without the Internet to find groups that disagree, however the Internet also offers more opinions that challenge your beliefs. Also, many people could have still had this mentality in the past and simply only purchased newspapers that held their own beliefs. In the modern world it is nearly impossible not to see your oppositions position, as it is there with every google search, facebook scroll, or with every hashtag on twitter. Since this position relies on the nature of people who are unwilling to change their own beliefs, even with readily accessible information, it may be true that they cannot be changed. Unfortunately ignorance is not something that can be easily cured simply by the lack of the Internet. There will always be people who refuse to give up their opinions, regardless of logic.

Democracy is an ever-changing process, and instead of focusing on the democracy of the past, we should focus on that of the future. The benefits of the Internet, such as a wider education, and more accuracy cannot be forgotten simply because Tim is going to rant about his day, his eleven cats, and his arthritis. The Internet may have more people who aren’t experts but if these sources prove to be wrong, people will crave sources that have information that is accurate and efficient. The way of the future is not one paved with gold, but it is paved with good intentions and the ability to quickly fix your errors.

Bibliography

Debate: The Internet and Democracy. Dir. Andrew Keen, Jimmy Wales, and Farhad Manjoo. FORA.tv & Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2010. Web. 4 Dec 2013. <http://fora.tv/2010/05/18/Debate_The_Internet_and_Democracy>.

Bell, Bradford, and Jessica Federman. “E-Learning in Postsecondary Education.” E-Learning in Postsecondary Education. Volume 23.Number 1 (2013): 165-185. Print.<http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/23_01_FullJournal.pdf>.

Pocklington, T.C. Liberal Democracy in Canada and the United States.

Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Print.

MacKinnon, Rebecca, Evengy Morozov, and Xiao Qiang.”Liberation Technology.”

Journal of Democracy. Volume 22. Number 2 (2011): n. page. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.

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Krotoski, Aleks , dir. “Episodes 1-2.” Dir. Aleks Krotoski. The Virtual Revolution. BBC Two: 30 Jan 2010. Television.

Strike, Kenneth A. “Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy /

Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice.” Journal of Policy Analysis and

Management 18.1 (1999): 168-74. ProQuest. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
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  1. ProQuest. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.

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[1] This is the opinion of Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. Unlike Jimmy Wales, Larry now criticizes Wikipedia’s direction of amateur-based articles and editing and has since co-founded Citizendium, a site that dedicates itself to having expert opinions.

[2] This information comes from an ancestry site which links the original news article in form of a photograph.

[3] From T.C Pocklington’s Liberal Democracy in Canada and the United States

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