The Internet: Good or Bad for a Democracy?

The emergence of the Internet has been accompanied by both negative and positive reactions in terms of its ability to create a democracy. On one hand, Barlow calls for the Internet to be a government-free space in ‘A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace,’ stating that the Internet should be a place where anyone can enter “without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force or station of birth.” Barlow continues to say that legal concepts and government control do not apply to the Internet. While Barlow’s ideas of an uncontrolled/unregulated Internet encourages equality and freedom, two essential components of a democracy, the notion that the Internet permits a democracy is ultimately rejected in Simon Columbus’ ‘The New Causalities: Prisons and Persecution’.

Although the Internet provides people around the world with a tool to communicate and share ideas that could lead to the emergence of new democracies, it does not provide protection for people who share their opinions online. Thus, although we now have access to view websites run by people of all nations, “governments decide what we are allowed to see and, most important, to create” (Columbus). In ‘The New Causalities: Prisons and Persecution,’ Columbus explores the arrests of bloggers all over the world, emphasizing the fact that governments, not citizens, ultimately control the Internet. Along with being able to control the Internet, governments can use the Internet as a way to spy on their citizens. Governments are therefore allowed to silence and censor peoples’ opinions online, using it as a surveillance tool and ultimately preventing the emergence of new democracies around the world. Columbus’ research forces readers to question whether the Internet will ever belong to the people, or whether governments will always have the power to censor and control this mass communication tool.

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5 Responses to The Internet: Good or Bad for a Democracy?

  1. jlpirr says:

    I think that there is room in your discussion to pose a few interesting questions. I do agree that the government is making it very difficult to be democratic on the internet, and I do not like that many people’s rights are taken away. I think that one interesting thing to think about is, “Who is mainly targeted due to their internet use?” To explain this better, I would suggest thinking about politicians versus doctors. More often then not, we see news reports of politicians who have “hidden secrets” via social media or the internet, and there is often some scandal that is behind it. If you take, for example, doctors, there are far less reports of doctors’ social media activity unless it involves a patient. This is just one example to show how our society is very lop-sided in terms of who they criticize and who they do not. I think that this is more of a reason for our society to start advocating for more internet equality and to hopefully get government officials to realize that they are moving away from democracy by singling out groups of people.

    I think that these points can also be related to the ideas we discussed last week about the filter bubble moving society away from democracy. There are so many forces surrounding today’s internet that allow people to get sucked in, distracted, and caught in their own small world. Another question that could be interesting to pose would be, “Why do you think governments want to punish people who move towards democracy, like the bloggers that we read about, and consequently make it seem as though staying inside the filter bubble is worthy of praise?” I think that these readings have shown us that it will be very difficult to create a perfect democracy on the internet, and that it is even more difficult to find a solution to this problem.

  2. erikpeulicke says:

    I think the argument you pose is very interesting, especially concerning the debates that have recently surfaced in our government. Barlow’s idea that the internet should be a free and independent society is nice, but having such a large portion of a portion of the population online, it is difficult for governments to just ignore the opinions surfacing on the internet. I think there has been a certain balance that has appeared in terms of government involvement online.

    Using the United States as an example, we now know that the internet isn’t as private and separate from the government as we originally have intended. Surveillance online has been a major point of concern among users that people have begun to watch what they say on the internet because they fear the consequences. However,the public has drawn a clear line the government has not been able to cross. For example, there was a bill named the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or “SOPA” that attempted to limit the ability to peer-to-peer share online. Due to the public outrage, the bill was withdrawn and deemed unconstitutional. This is an example of how the public can begin taking a part in reducing government restriction online.

    I am not sure how long this balance will exist and which way it will go from here. The internet continues to be a huge concern for governments, but I’m not confident the public will yield their internet society so easily.

  3. kcwassman says:

    The juxtaposition between the ‘Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace’ and Columbus’ point that government actually controls information in many cases, prohibiting democracy or democratic principles. This lead me to think about Pariser’s filter bubble which restricts what we see as well. The key difference being that the main idea of the filter bubble is that it’s something you personally create, not something you’re forced into by the government. But, Columbus’ point that government does restrict information made me realize that our filter bubble is even smaller than originally thought because it’s restricted to sites we can see in our respective countries. This leads to the opposite idea of the ‘Declaration of Independence of Cybersace’ and even though the internet can be used to spread democracy, sometimes it’s harder than we imagine.

  4. John D'Adamo says:

    I really liked how you seamlessly discussed Barlow and Columbus and the filter bubble. As the poster above discussed, however, the filter bubble is supposed to be something you design and not the government. It seems that Internet could be good for democracy if the information we consume is similar, however with the filter bubble and it’s algorithms it is getting harder and harder to get that uniformity. As we know, Barlow’s argument is not super relevant these days because of sites like Facebook and Twitter and it’s algorithms that guide what you see, and on the issue of anonymity there is very little, as one’s real name is usually integrated in the metrics. The Internet has evolved into a personalized bubble since the days of Barlow, which is very interesting in its scale.

  5. Pingback: Term 8 Week 2: Does the internet encourage democracy? | CELTBloggersL5

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