Apr 26, 2010
Dahlberg and Papacharissi discuss the potential of the net to facilitate public sphere and the flaws in assuming that the internet brings equality and democracy. The Internet has the possibility of creating channels of communication, allowing the spread of political opinion and discussion. The asynchronous nature of computer-mediated communication promotes democracy and community. Information available online is “fast, easy, cheap, and convenient” (383) and online information is unmediated which allows Internet users to find unbiased information. However, these possibilities may not be utilized fully and are restricted to those with access.
Both Dahlberg and Papacharissi bring up the issue of the digital divide. The illusion of openness of the Internet is only theoretically possible. People have different accessibility to online technologies and information. Those without access to these materials are deprived of online representation. It seems that those with the biggest contribution to the online public sphere are elitist. Even if there is online information available to all, one still needs to require the skills to access and apply information. “Organizing, tracking, and going through information may be a task that requires skill and time that several do not possess” (pg. 383). Those who have the skills to effectively access and use online information have an enormous advantage over others as these individuals are able to be more active citizens and have a higher participation in the public sphere. Additionally, certain groups may not want to participate in political discourse, which gives a false perception of the political opinions of the majority of internet users. Papacharissi states how in researching political Usenet and AOL groups, it was found that demographically conservatives were a minority among internet users. However, it was found that conservatives dominated political discourse.
Yet, the internet might not even have the potential to be democratic and have rational discourse. Papacharissi cites a study that “emphasized that the technological potential for global communication does not ensure that people from different cultural backgrounds will also be more understanding of each other” (pg. 385). People tend to vent emotions and express hasty opinions when communicating online instead of creating rational focused discourse. This could mean that online political discussion does not promote democratic ideals. Although the Internet allows users to express themselves, their words are not necessarily read and may not even have a slight impact. Online expression might give the false perception of empowerment. Their expressed opinions may not have any social value in their current political spectrum.
Although the internet may promote a sense of sociality, it might not give way to solidarity. The internet contains vast amounts of information and networks. Those with similar prospectives could join other with the same goals and views. Additionally, the anonymity creates a lack of solid commitment. People can express themselves differently online than in real life. Papacharissi states how “much of the political discussion taking place online does not, and will not, sound different from that taking place in casual or formal face-to-face interaction” (pg. 389). Hence, the internet may not have the potential to bridge the gap between “politicians, journalists, and the public” and online discussion could give the false notion of enhanced political awareness and solidarity.
The internet allows a diverse variety of people to discuss and argue about political matters allowing these individuals to be confronted with culturally diverse viewpoints. However, it does not have the potential to become democratic. Political discussion is dominated by those with access and those groups who decide to express their political opinion online. Even if equal access was supplied to the other 94% (pg. 387) of the global population without access, these users would have to have the skills and literacy to express political opinion. Many may not even have the urge to. Interestingly, Papacharissi brings up the point that ”political discussions online are a privilege for those with access to computers and the internet, [however,] those who would benefit the most from the democratizing potential of new technology do not have access to it.” (pg. 387)