Democracy and the Internet

  • SumoMe

Democracy or the rule of the people, has been the most desired and effective form of government whose power has been tested since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet in today’s supposedly modern and progressive world, oppressive autocratic regimes continue to deprive their citizens of the right to determine how their country is governed. Keeping in mind the recent societal revolution brought about by the internet, it is of utmost essence to debate whether the internet will actually help or hinder democracy. Essentially, at the end of the day, the Internet is a tool whose role in promoting or curbing democracy will ultimately depend on who uses it and where and how it is used. I opine that on the whole, the Internet is a friend of democracy because anything that liberates the individual is ultimately going to aid democratic processes.

In June of 2009, there were massive protests in Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Presidential elections. The most remarkable thing about these protests was the widespread use of websites like Twitter and YouTube to garner followers and sympathisers online and mobilise public opinion to strengthen the movement against the rigging of elections and tampering of democracy. These protests, nicknamed the “Twitter Revolution” set a precedent in how the internet could be used to spread awareness speedily to millions of citizens. This shows that the internet has the potential to act as the medium of choice for democractic movements. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader in Myanmar, decided to setup Facebook and Twitter accounts to reach out to her own supporters.

Not only can the internet nourish upcoming movements for democracy and fair elections, it can help stregthen existing democractic setups. Due to the nature of the internet, it has immense scalability and can connect millions in an instant. Democracy works best when it is done face-to-face between the elected and the citizens. However when there are millions of citizens this is simply implausible. This is where the internet steps in to ensure that citizens can have access to the government en masse and thus promotes transparency and accountability of those in power through E-governance or online governance.

The power of the internet as a platform for like-minded people having common goals or interests should be undisputed. During the Indian general elections in 2009, the ‘Jaago Re’ campaign that appealed to ordinary Indians to vote and participate in the elections leveraged on the accessibility of the internet to spread the idea of getting more young Indians to participate in the vibrant democracy and raise their voices and concerns at the platform. In China, despite the rampant online censorship, there are open discussions and debates on forums and blogs about politics and democractic reform that would certainly not have been possible in the real-world public domain under the noses of the Communist authorities. So through blogs and forums the internet provides platforms for organisations and individuals thus enriching and revitalising democracy. While making my case, there is certainly an assumption that the true unrestricted power of the Internet is at the disposal of the citizens. For example in China the much talked about “great firewall” is omnipresent online. Moreover, the present Communist regime uses the internet extensively for propaganda. However, I believe that if an authoritarian regime censors and restricts the internet to maintain its iron grip then this itself is testimony to the fact that the regime fears the liberating power of the internet.

An additional assumption present is that citizens have access to true information regarding events in the public domain and be willing to use the internet for participation and thus invigorate and corroborate democracy. However, I believe this is a reasonable assumption since most of those who are ruled over would naturally want to be in control of how they are ruled and the internet provides citizens the best way to participate in their governance. Democracy is a basic right of citizens worldwide since it allows for empowerment of the common man and distributes power to those who are affected by it the most. I frimly believe that despite some assumptions, whenever democracy takes birth or rejuvenates, the internet will be at the vanguard.

Sainyam Gautam

Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/paragdgala/4422804694]

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