Magazine article Tikkun

The Promise and Peril of Internet Democracy

Magazine article Tikkun

The Promise and Peril of Internet Democracy

Article excerpt

There's perhaps nothing more irksome to progressive-minded Americans than the current administration's contention that it represents a revival of our nation's populist civic tradition-especially when the right-wing's popularity seems more orchestrated by radio hosts armed with talking points supplied by Republican think tanks than energized by any genuine groundswell of public opinion. Yet the Left's exploitation of the Internet and other apparently more citizen-driven media networks may prove no more authentic, and-in the wake of Howard Dean's waning candidacy-entirely less effective than we previously had hoped.

Still, the promise of a properly orchestrated bottom-up media campaign is so tremendous, and the downside of its mishandling so very perilous for the future of participatory democracy, that it behooves us to take an honest look at the current state of Internet-enabled democracy.

Until very recently, Internet democracy meant worthless email petitions or thinly veiled polling operations like Dick Morris's vote.com. Reducing the democratic process to binary consumer choice (Should the US support Israel? Click Yes or No!), these early efforts seemed to prove that the Internet would push decision-making even further down toward mindless, impulsive reactions. Rather than soliciting opinions or, better, creating forums for the development of new ideas, affiliations, and activism, the creators of these sites used them to help their paying clients glean the same sorts of information they were getting from telephone polls and quantitative analysis.

Under the guise of promoting democracy, most early "electronic democracy" sites were actively thwarting it. By early 2000, and thanks, in part, to the misuse of the Internet, the transformation of the informed citizen to mindless consumer seemed nearly complete, as marketing and public relations replaced the feedback mechanisms that founding fathers built into representative democracy.

But over the last couple of years, a new sort of Internet seemed to be emerging from beneath the ashes of the dot.com bust. Unable to get their voices heard or even find their sensibilities represented in the mainstream media, many, mostly younger, media-savvy people from around the world began to use the Internet in the manner for which it was intended: to share ideas and to network across formerly impenetrable boundaries. Activists publishing their own daily political commentary on wcbsites called "blogs" forced issues that the mainstream media refused to pursue, such as Trent Lett's racist gaffs, or the government's obscenely misrepresented environmental policies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.