Assignment 12 – last one!

Due April 26, 2010 via bSpace

According to Moore, “the new superpower [i.e., the focussed discussion on the Internet] demonstrates a new form of ’emergent democracy’ that differs from the participative democracy of the US government. Hindman reaches a somewhat more cautious conclusion: “[It is important] to consider who speaks, and who gets heard, as two separate questions. On the Internet, the link between the two is weaker than it is in almost any other area of political life.” Which of these views do you find more persuasive, and why? Is the Internet likely to have a profound effect on the democratization of political discourse?

Your responses:

I find Moore’s view of “the new superpower” highly optimistic, and Hindman’s view, while more realistic, still pretty optimistic. The view that the internet will have a profound effect on the democratization of political discourse is a very dangerous view indeed. As we discussed in class, and I alluded to in my photography assignment, the most dangerous type of propaganda is that which is believed to not be propaganda. It is troubling when Moore claims the online community to have “freedom from special interests” (p. 5), and equally, if not more so, troubling when Hindman suggests online politics to be free of “the commercial biases of traditional media organizations” (p. 10). Just because the commercial interests are not as apparent does not mean they no longer exist, especially when the true original source of incoming news is questionable at best. I believe Hindman does have a more realistic view of online politics when he states that “pluralism fails whenever vast swaths of the public are systematically unheard” and the “mechanisms of exclusion may be different online, but… are no less effective” (p. 10). Of the millions of online blogs, the ones that are found are the ones that have the highest ranking on search engines. Do those search engines have “commercial biases”? You better believe it. -Zach T.

I find Hindman’s view more persuasive than Moore’s view. One of my main problem’s with Moore’s view is that he treats the internet as the first medium the public sphere has been able to use to discuss politics. He overlooks things like coffee shops, newspapers, television journalism, protests, etc. that have long been outlets for political discourse mentioning only formal political arenas happening in the legislature(Moore Pg. 3). Moore seems to believe that the Internet is the first and only way people can regulate the government and assumes that people will jump at this chance because they have not been afforded this ability before (Moore Pg. 2).
However, Hindman argues that the Internet has not revolutionized political discourse because there is still a disconnect between who speaks, who gets heard, and who is even listening. Hindman takes into account the idea of Google page ranking (Hindman Pg. 12) and has a more realistic view on how politically active people are and how much people use the Internet for political discourse (Hindman Pg. 14). Hindman also brings up arguments like the digital divide which points out that there is still a discrepancy between ethnicities and ages as to who is active on the Internet (Hindman Pg. 7). -Rachel

With the emergence of the internet as a political tool and rallying-point, it is easy to herald it as the savior of democracy. After all, who among us did not turn to CNN or other similar sites during the past election, to both inform our viewpoints and debate our ideals? Not only is it a broad source of information and opinion, but also one of movement- as Moore writes, “It is stunning how quickly the community can act- especially when compared to Government systems” (Moore p.4). Indeed groups are formed and lines drawn almost instantaneously online- just think of the Neda Video which grew to be the symbol of a movement after it was shared online during the riots in Iran. What is perhaps more difficult to accept is that this new trend is the sign of an entirely new form of government, and in particular democracy. As Hindman notes, “Those arguing that the Internet is transforming politics come from the upper echelons of politics, journalism, public policy, and law” (Hindman p.2). It may be true that everyone has a voice online, but unless your voice carries authority and a degree of weight it is rare that your words will achieve prominence and a large audience. This truth harkens back to the traditional governmental system, and leads one to conclude that Hindman is correct in asserting that the Internet may not be the ultimate answer to political justice and equality. Perhaps it is more like a current permutation of that all too familiar term- the public sphere. While it has influence on the path the Government may take, it itself cannot be a form of true Democracy. -Isobel

It is nearly impossible to contest that the rise of the Internet as a superpower has exponentially supplemented the democratic diffusion of information for the general public, but it is debatable whether or not the idealization of the word “democracy” has deliberately promoted the assumptive notion of “progress.” Moore’s argument embodies the the latter notion, explaining how the Internet is a true implementation of democracy in the sense that it voices the “will of the people” as an “emergent action of its millions of participants,” and constitutes a digitally tangible “body” with a “beautiful mind.” In addition, the realtime dialogue is “dedicated to keeping mass media honest by identifying bias” in a kind of checks and balances activist initiative. Such a bottom-up mobilization illustrates the growing force of individual Internet users, but Hindman is clear to point out that attaching the word “democracy” to this exchange of information is dangerously wrong. “Democracy” is now a term loosely used to signify freedom, but has lost a more concrete definition in relation to how it is politically applied today. Although he does not refute the power of the Internet, as it serves to inform, organize, recruit, and induce participation of ordinary citizens, a paradox emerges: the extreme openness of the Internet has fueled the creation of new political elites. Overall, this redistribution political influence has allowed anyone to “publish” information and expand the political voice and equality of individual advocacy in the traditional “democratic” sense of the public sphere. However, with such an open infrastructure, it is risky to credit the Internet with successfully bringing about virtually universal access to informational freedom, because like any technology, it can only aid in progressing socio-political interaction, not standardize “progress.”  -Erica

According to Moore, “the new superpower” explains how he thinks the internet can democratize society. He states that, “Web connections enable a kind of near-instantaneous, mass improvisation of activist initiatives”. With the web, individuals can come together to create a movement that can outstand the first right which is the dominant US government. He feels this is more powerful because individuals from all across the world are coming together on blogs etc to unite and this technology has enabled this type of universal connection. Although this idea seems very intriguing, Hindman presents an argument that I feel Moore overlooked. What Hindman presents is the, “digital divide” that explains how not everyone has access or the comprehension to use the internet. I agree that the internet is used as a privileged to people how know how to use it successfully. Unless everyone can have equal use and entrance to the internet, there will not be the outstanding democratization of the people that Moore feels is going to happen. Not everyone has the technology or educational advancements to keep up with the mass advancements of technology. So unless there is a universal technology class that every human in the world can take, the effect on democratization of political discourse is not optional. I do feel that we have made major advancement is allowing people to connect globally and create movements that would not have been possible other wise. In conclusion I feel that we have made a right step in a positive direction but there are still inequalities in this world that Moore has overlooked. -Rachelle

Hindman’s view is more persuasive because Moore states that his most important point is that the individual plays a vital role because “Any one of us can write a blog, send out an email, create a list” (Moore, 2) Although these are true, Moore forgets to take into account the people who do not use the Internet to express their views. If an individual with a set attitude chooses not to use the Internet but through letters to the editor or handing out pamphlets, Moore does not address how does a democracy would take into account that individual’s beliefs. In addition, Moore states that with the Internet, individuals are becoming “more globally aware and more interested in international institutions.” But Moore forgets that while some are becoming more aware, a great majority, especially the younger generation, are using the Internet for social networking, watching TV shows whenever they want, and other leisure activities more so than reading newspapers and becoming informed about the world (Twenge, 87-89). Furthermore, this younger generation is much more likely to read local news that deals with them more directly than international news, which is one of the reasons why in the past few years, so many foreign bureaus of newspaper companies have been cut (Goldstein, UCBerkeley Professor). So, the Internet is less likely to have a profound effect on the democratization (using the second definition described by Hindman) of political discourse. The Internet would have a greater effect on democratization if there was some universal, accurate method of figuring out which quotes and which stories online were correct and incorrect, but since that hasn’t been created yet, as of now, the Internet has less of an effect than, at least, Moore believes.
Goldstein, Tom. 20 April, 2010. University of California, Berkeley Professor. 
Moore, James F. 2003. “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head,”Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Pg 2.
Twenge, Jean M. 2007. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Simon and Schuster. Pg 87-89.

Although the Internet provides a new and larger space for political discourse, it is not a completely revolutionary form of democracy. As Hindman argues in Voice, Equality and the Internet, the Internet is not solely considered a space of political life and is used for a variety of purposes. The “second superpower” may feel less distant and remote than participatory democracy because it allows for anyone who wants to add into the political discourse to do so but there are still a large proportion of people who do not have immediate access to computers and the Internet. As Hindman points out, “blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the elderly, the undereducated, those who live in rural areas” and other disadvantaged groups still lack in online presence and accessibility. This disproves Moore’s argument that the Internet “made up of many individual human minds.” Moore also seems to make technological determinist predictions when stating that the Internet has made global trade central to businesses and nations and has become a “media space for global dialogue.” Global trade was still a central issue to nations and businesses before the Internet and so a global dialogue already existed, although maybe not as wide. Hindman states that a key reason the Internet cannot be said to have revolutionized democracy and political participation is that “the infrastructure of the Internet is less open than many continue to assume.”  We saw in our experiment with Google that different factors affect searches, particularly advertising and hits, and filter what gets seen or not seen. Those who are already specifically interested in involved with politics will be the ones controlling and contributing to political discourse online. Those who are disinterested in politics will most likely seek out other websites and blogs and may possibly never encounter political sites and links. The Internet can introduce new ideas and opinions and a new form of political participation but it has not as of yet completely produced a “second superpower.” -Alejandra

I tend to gravitate toward Hindman’s view, though wish that Moore was closer to being correct. Specifically, one of the greatest problems with Moore’s view is that it has largely been contradicted by real world events., his example of political online organizing, has widely been acknowledged to have succumbed to cooption by the Democratic party. Rather than organize internet denizens of similar minds, Moveon now seems intent on disseminating conventional wisdom from the Democratic party and suffusing it with a popular character. Barack Obama also skillfully replicated the MoveOn model for MyBarackObama, online organizing project. While input was encouraged, it was only a way to count heads, get people to donate and co-opt ideas of popular political participation.
Likewise, Hindman points to disturbing trends in the usage of the internet. The problem is not only the digital divide, it is the architecture. The web works on a “shouts loudest” basis, where those sites which generate traffic influence other sites. Only those sites which are entrenched are seen, leaving a true democratization, where voices of all kinds can be perused, a still unachievable dream. Participation also suffers from an “Spiral of Silence” effect. Some voices and opinions are marginalized, and rarely succeed in bursting into the mainstream, while others hold a monopoly on discourse, creating an echo chamber. Really what has occurred is that the former lock on public discourse by elites has been dismantled; but rather than democratization, it has only encouraged new elites to emerge, and those elites are largely from the same class and racial groups as the previous rulers. These new elites are as vulnerable to cooption as previous ones, and indeed, are often seeking the political patronage that cooption invites. -Omar

The Sci-Fi fan in me finds Moore extremely persuasive. I have long dreamt of a Global Government with an international currency called the “Worldo”. The Global Social Movement of the second superpower would surely enable such an organization… eventually… I find Hindman’s views ultimately more persuasive, as he gives a guarded yet realistic account of “democratization” on the Internet.
Moore’s discussion of the second superpower realized through the connective capability of the Internet relies upon a mobilized, privileged coterie of internet users. His tone is excited and optimistic as he discusses the “beautiful but deeply agitated face of … the worldwide peace campaign.” (Moore, 1) Moore fails to acknowledge the pitfalls of the Internet as a medium, instead focusing on explaining situations where the “second superpower” has not necessarily had the impact it should have, as in the case of the Iraq War protests. Indeed, all his examples are actually of the liberal agenda. Does he think that the second superpower is overwhelmingly liberal, and that the rest of the world is united with Western activists regarding religious and sexual freedoms? While I find his discourse biased and unrealistic, it does appeal to me on an idealistic level.
Rather, Hindman’s introduction presents a fair case to both the increased democratization and limitations of the Internet as a political tool. He openly acknowledges the widening access to the Internet, yet tenders that with the reality that Internet users are still very privileged, white, and male.  Hindman discusses the opportunity for Internet as a new media platform, yet puts forward the downsides of the corporate monopolies of Google, Apple, and Microsoft to the Internet.  These limitations will shape the ways in which the Internet will undoubtedly have a profound effect upon the democratization of political discourse. -Nikola

Given the great capacities of the Internet, I think it will undeniably have a profound effect on the democratization of political discourse. It provides a space for people to learn from unlimited resources and create their own views that aren’t entirely influenced by a few concentrated sources of information. They can in turn share those views through blogging or forums. Moore puts a huge emphasis on the individual, and individual minds coming together (Moore 5). Social networking and websites like have allowed individuals to unite and mobilize quickly and raise money and awareness for political causes. However, I find Hindman’s argument to be more appealing, as it accounts for the ability of the internet to “amplify the political voice of ordinary citizens,” (Hindman 5), but it also points out the ways in which it continues to restrain the democratization of politics.
While computers allow people access to unlimited resources, people who don’t have access to computers and don’t know how to use them are cut off from political discourse. This is especially true for minorities and those in lower classes, whose voices are still not heard (Hindman 7). Additionally, what appears on the Internet is a product of the political patterns and ideas that are already out there. The people who get involved in politics through the Internet are those that are already involved in politics and care to take the time to engage in political discourse. Even though the Internet allows people to express their political views, the power to make real political changes still lies in the few elite people who have legal authority to make those changes and decisions. This is where the difference between those who speak and those who are heard is especially prominent. Without established credibility and authority, it is difficult to have a real say and a real voice in the political world. I recognize that this may be a dismal view to think that it is extremely difficult to realize and full implement democracy in politics, but it seems to be the reality, despite the barriers that Internet has managed to break. -Clara

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