Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is the Internet a Democracy?

by Christine Mortesen 2 comments

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If so, why?

If not, why not?

Let me know what you think below.

Comments 2 comments
Nick said...

I'm not sure if democracy is the word you are looking for...if you mean an open system where every individual person has an equal say, I would say no...but it's complicated as can be argued that question or distinction does not apply as a separate observation from ourselves as humans.

Sure, anyone can post whatever information they desire to the Internet, which makes computer networks the most 'free' of any media mankind has invented. It wasn't too long ago that written language itself was highly controlled so that only the powerful could communicate with each other, in an effort to keep the majority of people ignorant. Certain books were kept under lock and key! The invention of the printing press is arguably one of the most important events in memorably human civilization, and the Internet is the next step...making it extremely promising for us as a species overall due to it's (by nature) extreme fluidity and ability to resist control. But there many lurking variables to consider that call into question the Utopian ideal of a free and open Internet.

First of all, it is nearly impossible for the average user to maintain anonymity online. This is problematic because let's say, for instance, you post information that exposes government and/or corporate corruption. You could easily be tracked and harassed in real life, making potential whistle blowers afraid of revealing this sort of information. What's going on with Wikileaks currently is a prime example of this conflict. Then again, it wouldn't really be a good thing for something like nuclear secrets to get out in the open, we'd live in a pretty toasty climate if everyone had a personal nuclear weapon. "Cut in front of me at Burger King will you? Eat this!".

Secondly, those with the most capital and political influence still have the ability to communicate to the most individuals online as they currently do in the rest of the media landscape, for much the same reasons they control traditional media. Take for example and Those are very highly trafficked sites because of their gravity as traditional media outlets. He could reach millions of people a day by writing "Who wants to come to my sexy party? Love Rupert" in huge bold letters with his address on the homepages of and while I can't even get people to view my Craigslist post inviting them to come to MY sexy parties. Being a media baron definitely has it's perks, now why didn't my college adviser tell me about the Media Baron major...useless I tell you! My point is, there are only a handful of companies that control the majority of the information you receive and this follows on the Internet. The cool thing is your ability to create your own communities and perhaps even challenge those at the top or at least take away their control to a certain extent, and you have the potential at least to get your message to millions all over the globe.

Ultimately, the Internet is nothing more than a mirror allowing us to view our individual selves in light of the collective Internet consciousness. There are no artificial, digital consciousnesses to observe and ask whether they inherently represent a democracy or structure of "equality". Equality to what standards? The Internet cannot be a utopia of global equality because WE do not exist in a utopia nor a true democracy. The reason why you can't ever have democracy in general is because we are human...and humans can be assholes to each other. Look at communism. In theory, that way of life is "fair". Everybody shares resources and we all determine collectively how best to use the resources to make the world a better place and create innovation...while at the same time dancing to the Jackson 5 down the lane licking savory lollipops and telling each other how much we love one another. In reality some asshole like Stalin comes around and is like, guess what we are all equal! And I get to determine what it means to be equal...and if you don't agree with that definition I'll gun your ass down with a Kalashnikov while drinking entirely too much vodka. Oh and you all must live equally in poverty so I can buy lots of guns to kill those who don't believe in equality. You get the idea.

The Internet does have the potential for great things, I just hope we as humans follow that path rather than one of fear, control, and greed that leads us to a locked down, firewalled Internet like in China or a tiered system where you have to pay your ISP more money to access certain sites or 'packages' of sites like how basic cable is now. The Internet was conceived to be completely open, so that's a great reason to be optimistic...but there are powerful forces riding against a free, democratic Internet, just as there were forces against the printing press and allowing non-elites to be literate and communicate with each other.

Nick said...

Wikileaks situation I was referring to

Christine Mortensen
Visual Designer, UX Advocate, Social Medial Maven, Interactive Media Strategist, Blogger, and in my spare time I'm a Runner, Volleyball Player, and Bloody Mary Fan

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