Cyber-Republicanism

By Tran, Sarah | William and Mary Law Review, November 2013 | Go to article overview
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Cyber-Republicanism


Tran, Sarah, William and Mary Law Review


Interestingly, the universalism goal of republican theories closely resembles the stated aspirations of certain social media sites. For instance:

   [Twitter states that it] lends itself to cause and action. Every
   day, we are inspired by stories of people using Twitter to help
   make the world a better place in unexpected ways....
   As more community-centric organizations join the platform,
   citizens will increasingly engage with the efforts taking place to
   move their community forward. (125)

According to Twitter, tweets have helped "make the world a better place in unexpected ways" by heating a dorm room, promoting public health, saving a dog's life, and even opening African courts to direct communication with the public. (126) Twitter's assertions that it is helping "make the world a better place" and enabling citizens to "move their community forward" embody two tenets of universalism. They imply, first, that Twitter is a forum for citizens to pursue the public good and, second, that some values are more important to the world and communities than others.

Despite the universalism aspirations and achievements of certain social media sites, it is important to recognize that social media sites do not in and of themselves promote universalism. The sites can lead to the sharing of negative ideas just as well as positive ones. (127) Individuals have used the sites to share child pornography, fuel terrorism activities, and bully others. (128) Nonetheless, because citizens can use social media sites as mechanisms for promoting universalism, the sites provide value to our political system. Additionally, the negative messages that are shared via social media sites can stimulate dialogue and discussion of appropriate behavior and shared values.

This is precisely what happened when the Public Relations Department of ASUSTEK Computer, Inc. (ASUS) posted a public tweet that included a photograph of a woman, taken from behind, with reference to a nice looking rear. (129) This tweet was widely condemned on social media sites as offensive to women. ASUS subsequently deleted the tweet from its site, issued an apology on Twitter for its "inappropriate comment," and committed to not repeat its mistake again. (130) But the incident has brought the male-dominated technology industry into the spotlight and raised awareness of the importance of promoting gender equality in the industry. (131) The widespread denouncement of the ASUS tweet, thus, exemplifies how social media users may use offensive communications as teaching moments to promote universalism.

In summary, social media constitutes a tool for promoting universalism. Through social media sites, citizens have engaged in the pursuit of what they see as the common good, even when they have little private interest at stake in the issues, and have contributed to monumental changes in government and corporate policies.

3. Political Equality

The third principle of republican theories is political equality. To some republican theorists, the commitment to political equality required direct public participation in the political processes. To others, like James Madison, political equality could be achieved by having government representatives who were "derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it." (132) The basic thrust of the commitment to political equality was that government should not be controlled by elite individuals and interest groups. (133) Instead, all individuals and groups should have the ability to influence the political processes. (134) A fundamental premise behind the republican commitment to political equality is that viewpoint diversity is good. In recent years this premise has been considered essential to our democracy. (135)

It would likely be difficult to think of a forum more conducive to political equality than a social media site.

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