This concept of a larger network linking the connections of many smaller networks transfers to the general workings of life in the 21st Century, particularly as it relates to the Internet’s impact on democracy and institutions of democratic citizenship cultivation.
Being a democratic citizen entails staying informed about issues affecting members of society and joining with others in determining how society will resolve those issues.
Institutions of citizenship cultivation are an extension of these democratic citizenry efforts. Undoubtedly, the Internet has and will continue impacting these entities.
Whether this impact positive or negative is the question addressed during this week’s readings.
According to author Evgeny Morozov’s 2011 book, “The Net Delusion,” there is certainly a dark side to Internet
What is Net Delusion, you ask?
Morozov defines it as the occurrence of acting on a “flawed set of assumptions (cyber-utopiansim)” with “flawed, even crippled, methodology (Internet-centrism)” (Morozov, 2011).
According to Morozov, Internet users in a democracy have been deluded into believing two fallacies: the Internet will help promote Democracy and that it will actually create a growth and lead to more people being empowered; and governments will actually be able to use the Internet, technology and new media to promote democracy around the globe (Morozov, 2011).
While democratic citizens are naively living like those in Plato’s Cave, authoritarian governments have busied themselves with disseminating propaganda via the Internet and surveilling dissidence.
In other words, authoritarian governments are using the Internet as a weapon in the war against democracy.
In order to combat this, Morozov argues “those of us in the West who still care about the future of democracy will need to ditch both cyber-utopianism and Internet-centrism” (Morozov, 2011).
In part, Morozov focused on the protests in Iran following the disputed presidential election of 2009.
Protestors disputed the victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in support of opposition candidates
Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
The protests spurred the idea of techno-utopianism, the belief that advances in science and technology will result in a utopia or at least help spur another utopian ideal, among politicians and journalists.
Twitter coverage of the protests was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” by some commentators.
Journalist Andrew Sullivan was even quoted as saying “The revolution will be Twittered!”(Morozov, 2011).
Morozov, however, refutes these claims about Twitter’s role.
He acknowledges the enthusiasm people had about using Twitter during the protests, the droves of people who
actually took to the streets and Twitter’s great role in actually publicizing the event and in getting the information out (Morozov, 2011).
However, it was not instrumental in getting people into the streets (Morozov, 2011).
Even more newsworthy was the Iranian government’s response in the aftermath.
The Iranian government began tracking everything its countrymen posted to social media and sending Facebook messages to Iranians abroad telling them not to get involved with the protests (Morozov, 2011).
The Iranian government went a step further when they began posting photos of people involved in the
protests on government websites and asking others to identify them (Morozov, 2011).
They even interrogated those who dared to use their real name when posting comments about the protests on social media (Morozov, 2011).
This exemplifies the dark side of Internet freedom.
I had no idea of the Iranian government’s post-protest actions.
I appreciate Morozov’s theory, which toes the line of conspiracy.
In terms of the first delusion Morozov explains, we believe the Internet provides a number of individual and communal benefits. Some of those benefits include greater access to information; ability to telecommute; an outlet to voice their thoughts; helped create transparency and government
accountability; spurred political mobilization; and helped spread the idea of democracy beyond American borders.
To some extent, the Internet combats some of the characteristics impeding our ability to be good active citizens such as: work related constraints; consumerism; social capital; personal constraints; and suburbanization (Chadwick p.90).
However, the dark side of the Internet includes websites advocating for authoritarian government systems as well as
those sites promoting acts of terrorism as a means of protest against democratic governance.
Even in a democratic society, government censure of ideas based on libel and slander laws or those falling
under the purview of the Homeland Security Act and in a potentially extreme situation, the shutdown of the Internet are all dark outcomes that some democratic citizens would rather tuck under a rug and not acknowledge.
Additionally, the Internet creates a knowledge gap between those who have Internet access and those who don’t.
Those who have Internet access at home have opportunities to become more politically engaged, while those who do not have access to it period or only through libraries or school are at a disadvantage.
The "marketplace of ideas" has elements of being beneficial and harmful to both individuals and
society as a whole. In a democracy, the supreme power lies with the people, who exercise it either directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free
Informed citizens make better decisions.
The marketplace provides a figurative space of public discourse where the truth can emerge from a diversity of ideas competing in a free, unhampered environment.
News websites, Wikileaks, Grits for Breakfast and other watchdog sites are all products of this marketplace of ideas made available by the Internet.
However, sites of biased, completely fictional and factually incorrect information also riddle the Internet. In a marketplace with little to no controls, as with the Internet,
It may be difficult for people to fish out “the truth,” particularly, if people are only look at the first information coming their way and accept it at face value.
Ideally, in a marketplace, the best goods are the best-sellers.
However, that may not always be the case in a sea of information.
At times, unscrupulous advertisers use the Internet to spread untruths and sell products to fund Super PACS and unethical campaign teams push untruthful smear campaigns against political opponents.
Also, as evidenced with the Iran protest story, authoritarian regimes use social media sites to threaten
dissidents, making it more difficult to promote democracy.
Additionally, the Internet serves as a potential threat to traditional institutions of citizenship cultivation such as the press.
Conglomerations that own media outlets often limit and censor the news their outlets can report, or the slant in which they can report it.
This limits the flow of information, especially non-biased information, ultimately making it difficult
for news consumers to uncover the truth. Also traditional media outlets have to compete against bloggers, who in some cases do not adhere to traditional journalism values and report opinion as fact.
Furthermore, the Internet along with other forms of media has to compete with the public’s growing desire to be entertained rather than educated.
Additionally, Morozov describes the occurrence of “slacktivism,” wherein the Internet distracts a population from political engagement beyond joining a Facebook group or retweeting something.
I agree with this phenomenon and have even been guilty of it myself at times.
Overall, Morozov makes a compelling argument
We, as democratic citizens, may be to idealistic and naïve about the uses and gratifications of the Internet.
While there is most certainly a dark side to the Internet, I don’t believe we should scrap the whole idea and go completely back to older forms of communication.
In my opinion, the Internet can be an extremely effective tool for supporting democracy and non-democratic ideals.
There were wars of political, cultural and social ideals long before the Internet came along, and it will likely continue
for the foreseeable future.
As democratic citizens, we just have to do our best to use the Internet to our advantage, while acknowledging that
others are doing the same for different purposes.
As always, I love to engage in stimulating conversations with my readers so I offer up these discussion questions:
1. Have you personally experienced the dark side of Internet freedom? If so, explain.
2. How can we go about freeing democratic citizens from this Plato’s Cave of the Internet?
3. What do you think the future holds in terms of the Internet and democracy? Will we lose the war of ideals?
If you’d like to discuss this topic and offer your opinions, feel free to contact me. Thanks!
Chadwick, Andrew. Internet Politics:
States, Citizens, and New
CommunicationTechnologies. Oxford: Oxford
Morozov, E. (2011). The net delusion:
The dark side of Internet
freedom. New York, NY: