Democracy begins at home - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Democracy begins at home

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  1. Democracy begins at home • Last week – discussed the ways in which the Internet might (or might not) bring democracy to non-democratic regimes. • But some people on both left and right complain about the state of democratic culture in advanced industrialized countries like the US too. • Lack of public participation in politics and public debate • Emphasis on private gain versus collective endeavor. • This reflects a set of value judgements that everyone may not share. • But to the extent that this might be a more general problem, can the Internet provide an alternative?

  2. Lecture format • In this lecture, we will discuss whether the Internet provides for a more participatory media culture, and thus a more responsive democracy. • Particular attention to the role of Wikipedia – arguably the largest and most successful volunteer-run project ever. • Provides an example of how decentralized collaboration can work. • But also, according to its critics, of how it can get gummed up with increasing bureaucracy.

  3. Broad debate about Web 2.0 • New technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networking sites allow the building of thriving, self-selecting, communities of debate. • As discussed in class on blogs, this has led to some criticisms that it may polarize debate etc. • But also some people (Yochai Benkler) argue that it is likely to have highly benign consequences. • Creates a more participatory culture. • Provides an open and non-bureaucratic means for people to come together and participate in common projects. • Avoids stranglehold of large firms on media.

  4. Benkler on the Wealth of Networks • Benkler – takes some of the arguments about civil society and the public sphere – and applies them to the US. • Argues that we have a relatively weak public sphere, because of the dominance of large media firms, and the difficulty of access to broadcasting/print technologies. • Result is a largely passive public. • But new technologies may be changing things …

  5. Participation • Web 2.0 technologies allow people to become much more than passive consumers of culture. • Instead, they can become participants. • Sometimes geeky: • People who make their own Star Wars movies • But the point isn’t that this necessarily leads to great art – but that it allows people to participate directly in creating. • New tools allow for the creation of a networked public sphere.

  6. Advantages of a networked public sphere • It allows people to come together to (a) express shared interests that may be relatively rare, and (b) to build on them through decentralized cooperation. • Benkler argues that much more of our economy is built around sharing than we realize. • Private life and family life contribute substantially to economic activity. • The Internet allows us radically to expand these sharing activities and to engage with new partners.

  7. Examples • Wikipedia - millions of people who don’t know each other working together on a common information resource. • Open source software (to be discussed at end of semester). • Creative commons licenced music and remixes. • Full length feature films (albeit not-very good ones).

  8. Neither traditionally leftist nor libertarian • These arguments don’t fit neatly into traditional political categories. • Sound a little left-leaning … but leftists usually like hierarchy and the state. • Sound a little libertarian, but libertarians usually like markets and are suspicious of people doing things for free

  9. Criticisms of networked public sphere • Three major sets of criticism of Benkler. • (1) Cass Sunstein and others – does this result in a connected and coherent public culture, or in one that is fragmented and unhealthy? • (2) Andrew Keen and others argue that we need experts and genuine artists to be creating this content, not amateurs. • (3) Nicholas Carr and others argue that participatory structures are unsustainable in the long run, and will devolve into power-games or profit seeking.

  10. Sunstein v. Benkler • Sunstein agrees that breaking the monopoly of various “general interest intermediaries” (traditional newspapers, TV stations etc can have positive consequences. • But argues that these intermediaries played a positive role contra Benkler in creating a public space for debate. • Claims that people need a set of common experiences in a heterogenous society. • Having shared reference points and celebrations such as MLK day, Super Bowl allow us to speak with each other more easily and identify with each other.

  11. Sunstein on the Internet • According to Sunstein, the Internet endangers all this. • He claims: • (1) that Internet allows people to filter out information and viewpoints that they don’t want to hear. • (2) That this detracts from our common culture, and means that we don’t have a shared set of cultural reference points any more. • (3) Is inferior to old idea of ‘public forum’ where people are exposed to a wide variety of views.

  12. Elitists – should we defer to the experts? • A second point of view suggests that we are endangering the quality of public life. • This is an elitist view (in the non-pejorative sense) – it suggests that cultural production should be left to the artistically talented, and that the accumulation of knowledge should be left to the experts. • Argument that traditional high brow media should be left to do what they do best.

  13. Andrew Keen/Encyclopedia Britannica • Two related versions of this argument – from Andrew Keen and from people associated with Encyclopedia Britannica. • Claim that collectively produced art is pretty bad. • That collective knowledge gathering endeavors such as Wikipedia are full of errors and badly written. • And that idea that ‘amateur’ can produce worthwhile material is sheer nonsense.

  14. Is this networked public sphere sustainable? • Finally – arguments from people like Nicholas Carr about sustainability of collective projects like Wikipedia. • Claim that Benkler’s arguments about non-hierarchical production by volunteers are grossly overstated. • In practice, these schemes don’t tend to work for very long. • Either people get greedy and try to game the system, or get swamped in bureaucratic rules.

  15. Devolution of system • People getting greedy. • Many of these systems can be gamed in various ways. • eBay reputation system, Digg, Reddit etc are all vulnerable to Sybil attacks and similar exploits. • Result may be breakdown of system over time. • People getting bureaucratic. • Some level of hierarchy is often necessary to get things done. • But may degenerate into petty bureaucracy …

  16. Wikipedia • Approximately 8.29 million articles in 253 languages (includes German, French, Chinese versions etc). • English Wikipedia has just over 2 million articles. • Has 6.8 million registered users worldwide. • Plus plenty of drive-by users. • Where did this come from? • How does it work?

  17. Where Wikipedia came from • Wikipedia was the result of a failed experiment in creating an expert-based encyclopedia. • Lots of money spent, arguments had, but very few articles produced. • After this failure, one of the founders, Jimmy Wales, came across the idea of a Wiki. • Simple way to make a highly modifiable web page. • Decided to turn the encyclopedia into a wiki that was open to the public – and Wikipedia came into being.

  18. Norms and rules • Wikipedia runs on a complex system of norms and guidelines delimiting • What kinds of articles can be accepted. • Has to be about something or someone who is ‘notable’ • What kinds of writing should be present in those articles. • ‘Neutral Point of View’ NPOV • What sources are acceptable • No original research • How disputes over articles should be conducted.

  19. Internal structures • Possible to edit Wikipedia articles anonymously (although you can’t create new ones). • Logged-in users can create articles (after a period), modify them, and engage in easier communication. Also have greater voice in disagreements. • Administrators are active Wikipedians who overview debates over whether or not articles should be deleted and can protect pages and temporarily ban users. • Bureaucrats are administrators who can appoint other administrators.

  20. How does this work in practice ??? • A not so randomly chosen example …

  21. Evaluating Wikipedia • On one level, Wikipedia seems like an astounding success. • One of the most popular sites on the Internet • Wikipedia definitions almost always first or second results on relevant Google searches. • Has become the bane of high school teachers everywhere • But how does Wikipedia fare according to the criteria laid out by Benkler and his critics?

  22. Benkler’s version • Wikipedia seems to provide proof-in-practice of Benkler’s major claims. • Allows for people who don’t know each other (and may never know each other) to come together and collaborate on a common project. • Provides something that is manifestly useful to many millions of users. • Fifteen years ago – would anyone have imagined that something like Wikipedia existed?

  23. Sunstein on Wikipedia • In more recent writings, Sunstein is much less critical of projects such as Wikipedia than other Internet related phenomena such as blogs. • Why? • Wikipedia forces people with different initial points of view to come together and forge a consensus. • “Neutral Point of View” creates public space for discussion. • May not work all the time – some articles (Israel/Palestine, 2004 elections) have become battlefields. • But does a good job most of the time in getting people to articulate what they have in common. • Other projects using wikis (dKosopedia, Conservapedia) are much less attractive from Sunstein’s point of view.

  24. However, may be subject to other criticisms • Some claim that Wikipedia is being taken over by an unaccountable elite and strangled by rules. • Nicholas Carr talks about the ‘rise of the deletionists’ – administrators within the Wikipedia who delete new articles on sight. • “The development of Wikipedia's organization provides a benign case study in the political malignancy of crowds.” • People want to delete articles – even if they are good articles – because this allows for the development of ever more arcane rules (that increase their own power and sense of prestige). • Result – a supposedly voluntaristic organization that is in fact becoming a bureaucracy. • Counterclaims are possible – Wikipedia still seems to be growing despite the deletionists. • But anecdotal evidence suggests that many volunteers give up when faced with people who have a stake in the system and who use rules to justify arbitrary decisions.

  25. Is Wikipedia low quality? • Some critics have argued that Wikipedia articles are badly written and full of errors (Andrew Keen, also people associated with Encyclopedia Britannica). • A Nature study seems to show that Wikipedia articles don’t have many more errors than standard Enclyclopedia articles. • But this study has been criticized for the way that it defined and captured errors. • Some evidence that Wikipedia is lower quality than standard Encylopedias on topics that are (a) complex and (b) have a lot of people who think they understand them. • But also covers many issue areas that standard encyclopedias don’t. • And often covers them in an excellent and useful way. • Offers many things that standard encyclopedias don’t – such as up-to-the-minute updates on unfolding issues or crises.

  26. Summation of Farrell’s take • There is some validity to the criticisms of Wikipedia and similar projects. • Can get bogged down in technical rules, and silly self-elected hierarchies. • Quality may be somewhat variable. • But nonetheless, it’s a pretty extraordinary achievement. • Suggests that a public sphere has emerged on the Internet that can allow forms of discussion and collaboration that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. • Long term effects on politics are uncertain. • But within certain areas of human endeavour, allows for voluntaristic cooperation on common projects, and creation of very interesting new forms of culture.