Cyberpolitics CMC LM 3
"Politicians used to put out leaflets with pictures of their family and pet dog and copies of their lousy speeches and it would be enough. Unfortunately many politicians now just create a web site with pictures of their family and pet dog and their lousy speeches but it is not good enough," Stephen Coleman, Oxford Internet Institute
‘The Technology out there is going to change the country therefore it is going to change politics.’Doug Bailey, publisher, Hotline ‘I can’t think of anything except kissing babies that you can’t do online’ Michael Cox, scientist George Washington University
Characteristics of the Internet • Seen as an unusual form of communication that falls neither into private or public form of communication. • Has various various features; email, publishing showcase. Organisational facilities, synchronous and asynchronous features, bulletin boards, chat, MUDs, etc • Can be one to one or one to many. • Can be non-hierarchical and anarchical
Internet’s features for political Empowerment • Internet has a five plus one component; email penetration, electronic newsletters, electronic forum, archive for easy retrieval, the world wide web which is also publishing showcase. The plus-one component is the existence of informational and organisational links for spreading material and co-ordinating activities in offline mode (Walsch 1999: 2).
Internet and Politics • With the advent of new media, there has been much speculation about its effects on enhancement of the ‘political’ in many societies. • This notion of the technology offering opportunities for broadening political participation has been discussed in many political frameworks from totalitarian systems to democratic frameworks. • In effect, there is a sense of technological determinism with regard to this sort of speculation.
Participatory Democracy • Democracy hinges on the principle of participation and representation. • The internet due to its features of connectivity and interactivity promises the capacity to facilitate ‘mediated democracy’. • The public and ruling elite can in a theoretical sense communicate without the distortion of media.
Democracy and the Internet • In a liberal democratic framework, the Internet has often been associated with the notion of virtual ‘public sphere’. • Habermasean ‘public sphere’ was based on rational discourse and participation being the pillar of democratic decision making. • In this sense, the Internet offered the potential for citizens to interact with the process of policy making.
Critique of the ‘virtual public sphere’ This notion of the Internet constituting a virtual public sphere has been criticised; • Technology does not fix the problem of apathy nor can it induce participation.The core issue associated with the decay of democracy remain. • It can lead to a form of ‘mouse-click democracy’ where people become trigger-happy (plebscitary democracy. • Even if everyone took part – how will governments deal with all this feedback?
Critique of Public Sphere • What about issues of digital divide? Issues of accessibility and use, education levels. • There were concerns about the bias of the media – which tended to favour the more educated and the politically more engaged. • It also assumed that the new medium was free from ‘refeudalisation’ (Habermas) which the traditional media is often accused of.
The Internet and Authoritarian Governments • The Internet as having the potential to challenge the dominant discourse of the government and traditional media. • Giving dissidents a global platform to disseminate their views. • Links them with other like-minded people • Access alternative forms of information
Activism and Democratisation • Hill and Hughes’ (1998:129-130) research found that 'people were becoming internet activists to share beliefs.' • They also point out that people posting Internet messages that oppose specific governments and governmental policies are doing so in those newsgroups that are, on average, devoted to countries that are low in democratization. • They infer that 'maybe people do use the Usenet newsgroups as a relatively safe form of political expression against less-democratic even repressive regime’ (Hill and Hughes 1998: 88). Specifically Internet message about the less democratic nations is far more likely to be anti-government.
Degree-Zero Politics • Tiziana Terranova (2002) points out the Internet offers the potential for the production of different type of politics where the capacity to connect and disconnect is used productively. • social movements can form on the Internet but rarely do they solidify into concrete social movements which spillover in the offline society. These virtual formations melt back into the virtuality and she terms this quality ‘degree zero’. • Harry Cleaver (1979) refers to this aspect of virtual activism as ‘hydrosphere’ - a fluid space ‘changing constantly and only momentarily forming those solidified moments that we call organisations.
Distinct Characteristic of Cyberpolitics • Politics in cyberspace has its own distinct characteristics – above all much of the information that makes its way into ‘virtual reality’ is unreliable. • For example some of the pictures of atrocities against Chinese Indonesian women (2000) posted on a website for overseas Chinese turned out to be photographs of outrages committed elsewhere and at other times. Yet is it precisely the ease with which virtual reality can be manipulated that • makes it ripe for the politics of mobilisation (Hughes 2000: 204).
Reconciling Politics and the Internet • Need to take into consideration issues of digital divide and inherent biases with the Internet. • Issue of diffusion – It does not have the centrality of traditional media in such societies. • Governments can restrict access through regulations and technology – proxy servers or banning websites even though complete control is questionable. Cuba simply outlaws the sale of personal computers to individuals. Myanmar outlaws personal ownership of modems. The Saudi government censors the Internet by requiring all web access to be routed through a proxy server that it edits for content. • The issue of surveillance and privacy – the Internet can be used by authorities to monitor their movement and discourse.
Internet and Complete Control • Some of the assumptions about Internet and empowerment are made on the basis that it is not possible to control the Internet. • While complete control is tenuous it can be controlled to a degree. • According to Lessig (1999) the Internet can be controlled through markets, regulation, social norms and the ‘code’ – where the architecture of the Internet can be manipulated to receive or censor information.
So does the Internet enhance the political? • Many theorists are divided on this. • Technology is neither good, bad or neutral and its effects is moulded by the society it is suspended into. • New Media itself cannot change the political scene, it’s the extent to which it is adopted used and incorporated into a society that determines change.
Cyberpolitics and Power • The Internet can be used by those in power to further augment their presence. Hence it has been argued that the Internet amplifies the existing state of power relations in society. • Many governments have a strong web presence. Many government departments and offices have online presence.
Examples of CyberpoliticsAmerican Elections • Recently in terms of the American Elections, Bush campaign strategy on the Internet includes registering voters, identifying supporters. The campaign site also contains pages that display downloadable forms for voters registration and absentee voting. • Bush’s web feature include a fact or ‘flog’ Log. The latter exposes factual inaccuracies of opponents. • Kerry used to the Internet to effectively raise at least $14 million. • Both candidates used the Internet to facilitate meetings and interaction among supporters.Available: http://www.foxnews.com
Internet and the Global society • From the mid 1990s when an avalanche of e-mails pushed governments to sign the international Treaty to Ban Landmines, civil society's activities have become more and more dependent on information and communication technologies (ICTs). • Indymedia –Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage..Civil society organisations like this are trying to publicise views independent of governments and authorities.
Internet in Asia • The relationship between the growth of the Internet and attempts to control the Net reflect the democratic potential of the medium. • In China, online activism have become more evident as Internet users express support for each other online. • Falungong Spiritual Movement – most prominent example illustrating the subversive potential of the Internet. E-mail played a central role when its members secretly planned and organised a mass demonstration in Beijing in April 1999.
Subversive Role of the Internet • An example of the politically subversive role of the Internet comes from Indonesia. The fall of Suharto’s New Order regime was said to the backed up by an e-mail list providing the intellectual elite of Indonesia with the right ammunition to counter the propaganda machine of Suharto. • TheApakabar list, moderated by an American from Maryland in the US played a crucial role in the fall of the regime (Harsono, 1996; Sen and Hill 2000). From Digitisation and its Asian Discontents: The Internet, Politics and Hacking in China and Indonesia. By Joen De Kloet. Firsty Monday. • Http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue7_9/Kloet/
Implications of Sept 11 • According Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) China has the biggest number of Internet-users in prison, a total of 48 as of Jan 2004 and nine in Vietnam. • RSF also asserts that since Sept 11, the threat of terrorism has been used as justification in many countries to increase surveillance on the Internet. • Following Bali bombing Indonesian government passed anti-terrorism laws, increasing police powers and allowing detention without trial.(Asia Rights: (1) July 2004).
Where the Internet has made a difference • In Serbia, the chief democratic radio station simply shifted online through servers based in the Netherlands when then-President Slobodan Milosevic shut down domestic transmissions during his final months in power in autumn 2000. • The Burmese expatriate opposition operates almost entirely online and has begun slowly forcing reform in that country's autocracy. • In many former USSR-controlled states the Internet was used to keep the global community informed