E-Networks and Democracy, Vol. 9 - 2002, No. 2
The Internet in many ways changed our established conceptions not only about space, time, and access, but also about publicness, activity and interaction. The interplay of these changes is clearly expressed in the idea of electronic public sphere, which itself depends heavily on the working of the dominant forms of communication. But it should be posed as a question rather than simply assumed whether new possibilities for participatory opinion formation come from interactive qualities of the Internet alone. As argued in this paper, cyberspace is constituted not only by interactive communication, but also by the forms of representation that are more similar to the elements of so-called mediated publicness, which originate from the process of normalisation of cyberspace. By approaching these issues through the conceptual framework of dialogue and representation, it is possible to reduce the complexity of cyberspace and thus to engage in a systematic analysis of the existing realms of public and political action.
Political conversation for many people is a taboo activity, particularly with acquaintances or strangers. Online, there are a wealth of political conversation spaces, designed for acquaintances and strangers to interact. The question is are there people talking politics online who do not do so face-to-face. Put another way, are the same people who talk politics online the same ones likely to do so face-to-face. In this essay, I present findings on people’s reported political conversation behaviour online and offline from secondary survey analysis of a research project studying the effects of political deliberation. The survey analysis suggests that there are people who talk politics online who do not do so in face-to-face situations. Half of the sample that reported talk online reported no acquaintances with whom they talked politics. Moreover, in logistic regression analysis, those who talk online are categorically different than those who do so face-to-face. Variables that positively predicted likelihood to talk with friends and family included gender (female), political interest, general political knowledge, and political talk with acquaintances. Age was a negative predictor of likelihood to talk with friends and family. Variables that positively predicted likelihood to talk with acquaintances included gender (female), political interest, and political talk with friends and family. Variables that positively predicted likelihood to talk online included gender (male), political interest, political talk radio listening, and Web use. Variables that negatively predicted online talk included internal political efficacy and general political knowledge. The Internet may provide a new context for political conversation for those who would not normally engage in face-to-face political conversations, thus bringing new voices into the public sphere.
Online Structure for Political Action: Exploring Presidential Campaign Web Sites from the 2000 American Election
From the perspective of a citizen-Web user, what forms of political action might the presidential campaign sites in 2000 have catalyzed? This article explores the online structure – conceptualised as an electronic space within which an individual is given an opportunity to act -- for political action engendered by presidential campaign Web sites in the 2000 U.S. election. The Web sites of the thirteen presidential campaigns that were active in the 2000 American election are surveyed and analyzed. We find that the online structure facilitated both online and offline political action, and illustrate several dimensions of this phenomenon.
This study examines two political discussion lists affiliated with the Dutch political parties D66 and GroenLinks, and the possible contribution of these lists to democracy. Discussion in a democracy, it is argued, should be deliberative: based on rational argumentation, not monopolised by any particular individuals, and related to public affairs. The aim of this study is to assess the deliberativeness of political discussion lists on the Internet. To this end, the degree of contribution from participants to the lists is measured. The findings from this study suggest that, whereas the discussions on the lists as a whole were not monopolised by any individual, both lists had only a small number of very frequent participants. The contributions of members of this in-group were oriented towards one another. Opinions were mainly expressed without argumentation, and when argumentation was given it was predominantly based on common sense or on external sources such as newspapers or teletext. These two discussion lists do not live up to the expectations of furthering democracy. They may, however, eventually serve to fill the gap between the institutionalised public discussion that exists within the party elite and the uninstitutionalised, informal public discussion that transpires in other public and private domains.
China resumed the sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. To preserve this former colony as an international finance centre, China is abided to rule Hong Kong under the philosophy of “One Country Two Systems” principle, which guarantees that the capitalism of Hong Kong remains intact within its territorial boundary, across which China’s communism is the dominant ideology. However, local citizens started to question the authorities’ determination to preserve the principle soon after 1997, when self-censorship in traditional media was notorious and they conceived that the continuity of press freedom and other democratic practice were being eroded. Under this critical period of public anxiety, the proliferation of online media gives the residents a ray of hope. The public seems to believe that these new communication media create a free and autonomous space and an emerging online community relatively immune to official controls. Such protection comes from the public’s unconscious construction of a “one city, two systems” ideal – an analogy of the “One Country Two systems.” This paper aims, through a case study of an electronic chat room of an online newspaper, to examine whether it is possible for local citizens to engage in a democratic form of online communication. In the wake of a closed political environment, the search for minimally free political practices in these spaces has serious implications for the dominated public to engage in democratic struggle. The significance of this study lies in theorising about such a form of democracy and, practically, it sheds light on the potentiality and possibility of political struggle in a region under political domination by an authoritarian state. The paper concludes that forms of organised domination exist in the chat room. The chat room becomes a polarised site of struggle where authorities and citizens engage, disparage and overwhelm each other.
This paper has focused on online political forums as newly emerged public spaces that contribute to the enhancement of public deliberation. Its aim has been to study the deliberative feature of the Internet and assess the extent to which ordinary citizens contribute to the political process through public debate online. The main research question is concerned with the way in which the Internet facilitates participation in politics, enables democratic deliberation, and provides a forum for reasoned argumentation. The extent to which this occurs has been studied through the content analysis of open public forums in Greece, the Netherlands and Britain. Research findings show a high level of interactive communication, high degree of search for information, diversity of opinions and publics and a moderate degree of substantiated argumentation- indicating an enlargement of public space in principle. However, the analysis stresses that unless netizens test their opinions in public systematically, the notion of the Internet as a tool for democratic deliberation is seriously undermined and runs the risk of being replaced by a push-button democracy. In that respect, cyberspace resembles the familiar world of everyday politics as an arena for the ongoing struggle for power and influence, despite the hype surrounding it.