Academic journal article Asian Perspective

How Does Rising Internet Usage Affect Political Participation in East Asia? Explaining Divergent Effects

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

How Does Rising Internet Usage Affect Political Participation in East Asia? Explaining Divergent Effects

Article excerpt

Recent advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) have fundamentally changed the way people communicate and interact with each other. According to data from the Internet Telecommunications Union, the mobile-cellular subscription rate in the Asia Pacific region has rapidly grown from 22.6 to 91.6 per 100 inhabitants in the past ten years (2005-2015), while the active mobile-broadband subscription rate has also increased from 7.4 to 42.3 per 100 inhabitants in the past five years (2010-2015).1 The popularization of the Internet enables people to communicate with each other in a timely fashion and easily acquire information regardless of spatiotemporal restrictions. Across Asia, the spread of the Internet has created a new mode of communication within and across societies, but the political ramifications of this new reality remain largely unknown.

The nature of the issue can be expressed in a simple question: How do advances in telecommunication technology change the way people participate in politics? In recent years, the Internet has played a crucial role in political mobilization across the region, including in Thailand (the Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt political movements), Taiwan (the Sunflower Movement), and Hong Kong (the Umbrella Movement). Many scholars speculate about the extent to which changing modes of communication affect people's organizing capability in different political contexts and how Internet technology might facilitate effective political mobilization that challenges the established leadership (Oates, Owen, and Gibson 2006). If social networking via the Internet can replace traditional face-to-face contact, then we should expect greater organizing capacity in society as Internet usage rapidly increases. On the contrary, if social networking through the Internet and face-toface contact are not functionally equivalent, then Internet usage might crowd out the time and energy people spend on political participation (Prior 2005).

In this study, we examine how the rise of the Internet changes the way people participate in politics in Asian contexts. Our analysis is organized into the following sections. In the next section, we discuss the innovative nature of communications in the Internet era, mainly focusing on Internet-driven effects on electoral and activist participation. The third section provides a literature review and examination of how Internet usage affects political participation from a cross-disciplinary perspective, specifically focusing on East and Southeast Asia; we then propose three psychological hypotheses that explain the emergence of the divergent effects. In the proceeding two sections, we propose a research design and conduct multinomial logistic regression analyses using the full samples and subsamples by regime type with data from the latest wave of the Asian Barometer Survey (ABS III) to test the psychological hypotheses across thirteen political systems in East and Southeast Asia.2 Next we discuss the results by considering how state policy characteristics explain the divergent effects of Internet use on political participation, and the last section contains our conclusions.

Preliminary Investigation on Internet Usage and Political Participation

Following the rapid expansion of the Internet on computers and mobile devices, joining political or social organizations is no longer necessary for people to participate in political activities; people can directly voice their opinions and even challenge the government using digital means (Penney and Dadas 2014). Even though the evidence connecting online personal networks to greater activist participation remains unclear, civil uprisings such as the Orange Revolution and the Arab Spring have revealed a connection between Internet use and the effectiveness of the movement's organization (Karatnycky 2005; Khondker 2011). At the same time, rising Internet use may also be meaningful for electoral participation. …

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