THE INTERNET AS A DEMOCRATIZATION TOOL 10
TheInternet as a Democratization Tool
TheInternet as a Democratization Tool
Theinternet is considered one of the most fundamental and groundbreakinginventions in the contemporary human society. Indeed, it may be wellacknowledged that the revolutionary nature of this tool is evident inthe fact that it has been incorporated into almost every element oraspect of individuals. Not only have business entities incorporatedit in their marketing and sales enhancement but also individuals havetaken it up particularly as a way of increasing their networks.Scholars have acknowledged that in less than a single generation, theinternet has modified the ways of lives of individuals in a mannerthat few would have thought or conceived during its nascent stages.The internet was initially a preserve for computer savvy individualsbut has evolved to the point of giving an equal voice to every personthat has a web connection and a computer, thanks to the world oftweets and blogs. Of particular note is the fact that a larger numberof people across the globe look for information and news from theinternet, with research showing that the internet has even surpassednewspapers as the main source of international and national news.Testament to the increased capabilities of the internet is the factthat President Barrack Obama used it in reaching millions in thecourse of the presidential campaigns, with his administrationlaunching numerous creative techniques for the use of the tool ingoverning the country. Similarly, it has been acknowledged that theinternet played a crucial role in the mobilization of masses in theArab spring, which saw the elimination of a number of despots andcreated room for democracy in the countries in question. However,questions have been asked regarding whether the internet stillmaintains its element and tendency towards liberal democratic values.While there may be varying opinions, it is evident that some elementsof the internet may be a threat to democracy.
First,the claim that the internet promotes democracy is based on the notionthat it promotes free flow of information. However, this may not bethe case in a large number countries. Indeed, research shows that 40countries across the globe have been actively censoring the internetwith 25 having blocked Google in the last several years (Lagerkvist,2010).This has given governments false legitimacy through the eliminationof material critical of their anti-democratic policies, as well ascoming off as psychological bulwark against dissent and discontent.Essentially, governments retail the capacity to regulate theinformation that gets to their citizens and use this capacity inpromoting pro-regime information, as well as preventing access topro-democratic and anti-regime content. A case in point is Chinawhere access to information in the internet is limited, with Googlebeing banned from the country. This underlines the fact thatauthoritarian governments may use the internet to enhance mediarepression (Lagerkvist,2010).
Onthe same note, the internet has made it increasingly difficult touphold individual privacy. Indeed, scholars note that the internet inall its benefits makes considerably easier for governments,especially authoritarian ones, to locate and target dissidents. Thesemay be located through their IP address, as well as records that arekept by internet cafes. Scholars have underlined the fact that it hasbecome increasingly impossible by modern day’s standards tomaintain one’s anonymity in the internet (McChesney,2013).In the past, the only technique that governments could use to trackdown and monitor the activities of the individuals that they deemedas dissidents or oppositional to their rule was surveillance. Theinternet, however, has made it easier for governments to quashopposition. Researchers and scholars have acknowledged that since2003, at least 202 bloggers have been subjected to arrests across theglobe, with 162 of the cases being based on political reasons(Hindman,2009).Of particular note is the fact that the governments never really needa real reason as only 37 of the cases were taken through a judicialsystem to be tried. Similarly, governments may undertake internetsurveillance targeting leaders, political parties, religious andethnic groups, political parties and civil rights movements. It goeswithout saying that in instances where governments can determine thenames of political dissidents and arrest them, there would beconsiderable difficulty for successful movements to take place as thepotential participants would be intimidated by the deficiency ofleaders. Essentially, the internet would have been used in reversingthe democratic momentum.
Similarly,it is imperative that one examines the manner in which the internetis used even by the individual citizens of a particular country.There are numerous instances where the citizens of countries acrossthe globe use the internet in ways that may be a detraction fromdemocracy. Scholars have underlined the fact that the notion that theinternet encourages democracy is based on the assumption that theindividuals that have access to internet will put it to good use andfor proper use (Hindman,2009).However, this is not always the case as there are some dementedindividuals that use the tool to rob others of the same freedoms thatthe internet was supposed to safeguard and protect. A case in pointis the rampant cyber bullying that has been taking place in therecent times. Cyber bullying underlines the use of informationtechnology to persistently harass or harm other individuals in adeliberate manner. There have been numerous instances where victimsof cyber bullying have eventually resorted to suicidal tendencies allin an effort to escape from all the hate that is visited upon them bytheir purported friends. Similarly, numerous pedophiles and sexcriminals have been targeting young girls and boys through theinternet, where they can communicate with them and lure them into theillegal and irresponsible acts where the monitoring of their parentsmay not be sufficient (Hindman,2009).Of course, this compromises the safety of individuals in thelong-term, thereby limiting the same freedoms that the internet wassupposed to be safeguarding or promoting in every part of the globe.On the same note, recent times have seen the increased utilization ofthe internet as the fundamental medium for coordination by thejihadist groups that seek to undermine the legitimate governments ina large number of Middle Eastern countries. This happened in April2007 when a group of hackers attacked websites pertaining to variedkey ministries, politicians and utilities in Estonia as a way ofretaliating for the elimination of the Soviet War memorial(McChesney,2013).Further, hackers have the capacity to block access, modify and damagecontent, as well as organize malicious activities as was the case forEstonian hacktivists and other acts of terror. Similarly, there havebeen instances where information is misused as is the case of theUnited States where neo-Nazism has persistently revolved aroundcontention and the utilization of the internet in promoting theviewpoints of demented minds. Scholars have highlighted the exampleof United Kingdom animal rights activists who have been seen asposting information pertaining to individuals that they deem to betargets, an element that may result in intimidation (Margolis&Moreno-Riaño,2009).The possibility that the internet may be hijacked and used forless-than-ideal purposes, which underlines the fact that it does notnecessarily directly encourage or promote democracy but rather may beused by individuals to prevent or counter reform. Of course, thisintroduces questions pertaining to the limits on democratic freedomsas a result of the colonization of the internet by corporate entities(McChesney,2013).It has been well acknowledged that a large number of trusted newssites that individuals frequent for information simply undertakereproduction of the views made by the powerful western corporations.Still on this, the corporate social network platforms such asFacebook often carry out surveillance and use the information of itsusers to come up with profiles that they eventually sell to businessentities. The profiles are used in crafting proper and targetedmarketing messages that would be in line with the profiles that havebeen created. Unfortunately, it is always the case that the entitiesthat collect personal information of individuals do not always focuson the protection of national security or personal dignity andprivacy (Lagerkvist,2010).The private sector often has ownership and exercises control overthese communication channels, a dangerous state of affairsconsidering that the private firms’ primary focus is on profitmaking rather than security, in which case they would only invest insafety levels that they deem satisfactory to their private purposesrather than the safeguarding of privacy or security of individuals.This is worsened by the fact that between 90% and 95% percent of theintelligence and military communications are often handled by theprivately owned systems (Margolis&Moreno-Riaño,2009).This means that the systems make the intelligence and militarysystems vulnerable for exploitation and attacks, which is an affronton democracy. On the same note, the private entities are not limitedwith regard to the individuals or entities that they get to share theinformation of the users with, in which case it becomes pretty easyfor malicious entities to use that information to compromise thesafety and dignity of other people. A case in point would be theinstances where business entities reveal such information to entitiesor do not put sufficient safeguards to the information, therebyallowing the information to be stolen and alternative identitiescreated. Such stolen identities are, with no doubt, an affront tosecurity and democracy at large as it is rarely or even never thecase that the culprits would be using such stolen identities forproper reasons. In most cases, such information is used to commitcriminal acts against the country or the society, if not the personswhose identity has been stolen.
Ofcourse, this does not undermine the fundamental role that theinternet plays in safeguarding the democracy of individuals andnations. This is particularly considering that the internetencourages free flow of information both within and beyond theborders of the country, which plays a crucial role in enhancingproper democracy (Howard &Hussain, 2013).In instances where governments manage to control the media, they havethe capacity to direct the information to the citizens and cast theregimes in good light (McChesney,2013).This would allow for the prevention of news pertaining to violence,arrests, repression and faked elections from ever getting to thepeople whose rights have been violated. While this is the case, suchcontrol is only effective in other forms of media such as newspapers,magazines and TV as they are easy to shut down or even locate. In thecase of the internet, governments can only go as far as blockingaccess to certain websites or even making avid utilization offirewalls for censorship. This would, however, not preventindividuals from posting and uploading videos on other websites suchas Facebook and YouTube, with other social networking sites such asTwitter allowing for the dissemination of information within andbeyond the country (McChesney,2013).It goes without saying that once the information becomes accessible,governments would find it extremely difficult to persist in censoringthe internet. This was the case for Egypt and Tunisia where theinformation leaked through the social networking sites out of thecountry, with videos and pictures taken from cell phones beingbroadcast on international news broadcasts. This made it extremelydifficult for these governments to reverse the situation and depictthemselves in a positive light. The internet comes as a proper wayfor promoting free media, which is crucial to the creation andmaintenance of a functioning democracy as it allows for governmenttransparency and accountability.
Similarly,the internet improves communication between individuals in differentcountries. It goes without saying that the internet does not simplyavail information to oppressed individuals within a particularcountry bur also sends the message pertaining to that situation toothers across the globe. It allows individuals within particularregimes to share ideas regarding how reforms can be made in thegovernance of their own countries, in which case different peoplelearn from the experiences of others who have had a similar past(Howard &Hussain, 2013).A case in point is the role that the internet played in the Arabspring, with Egyptian protestors knowing of the progress and resultsof the Tunisia revolution and determining that there was apossibility that the government could be overthrown. This underlinesthe notion that information pertaining to the actions of othercountries and governments may result in an increase in the push fordemocratic reforms across the globe (Hindman,2009).Further, it may be acknowledged that the flow of information from thecountry makes it increasingly difficult for the internationalcommunity to ignore or turn a blind eye to the ensuing events and,therefore, increase the likelihood for them to take actions. Theaction may create or generate the external and internal pressure thatis required for democratic reform as was demonstrated in therevolutions that took place in Tunisia and Egypt. Scholars haveacknowledged that the contact between nations may also have aconsiderably subtle impact as it improves communication between theclosed and open societies especially with regard to business andother forms of exchange (Margolis&Moreno-Riaño,2009).This is bound to result in exchange of values. For instance, a largeproportion of western firms are increasingly taking ownership oflarge shares of East Asian and Middle Eastern businesses, therebyallowing them to exert pressure on governments to eliminate themeasures that they have put in place for economic protectionism, aswell as enhance their accountability and transparency (Howard &Hussain, 2013).Of course, this allows the open societies to be effective inenhancing democracy in such countries as they have the capacity totouch where it really hurts the economy.
Inconclusion, the internet may have been one of the most groundbreakinginventions in the contemporary human society. Indeed, it has allowedfor enhanced communication between countries and improved efficiency.Even more notable is the role that the internet has played inenhancing the democracy in countries particularly given itsimportance in the Arab springs. It has been well acknowledged that alarge proportion of information was disseminated over the internet,with pictures and videos of the situation in these countries beinguploaded to news websites across the globe. As much as this may havepromoted the democracy of these countries, the internet has also beencredited with compromise of the same. This is particularly given theeffect that it has on personal privacy and its enhancement ofsurveillance. It may be acknowledged that it is extremely difficultfor individuals to protect their privacy in the contemporary societyas almost every other website collects their information for varieduses. Even more worrying is the fact that the usage to which suchinformation is put is never really under the control of the user butrather private companies. The situation is worsened by the fact thatother malicious entities may access such information and compromisethe security and democracy of the people in the long-term.
Hindman,M. S. (2009). Themyth of digital democracy.Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Howard,P. N., & Hussain, M. M. (2013). Democracy`sfourth wave?: Digital media and the Arab Spring.New York: Routledge
Lagerkvist,J. (2010). Afterthe internet, before democracy: Competing norms in Chinese media andsociety.Bern: Peter Lang.
McChesney,R. W. (2013). Digitaldisconnect: How capitalism is turning the Internet against democracy.
Margolis,M., & Moreno-Riaño,G. (2009). Theprospect of Internet democracy.Farnham, England: Ashgate Pub.