Рефераты. Может ли Интернет нанести вред демократии?

Может ли Интернет нанести вред демократии?

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Will the Internet Be Bad for Democracy?

Eli M. Noam

Professor and Finance and Economics

Director, Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Graduate School of Business, Columbia University

Presented at the

Heinz Nixdorf Computer Museum Forum

Paderborn, Germany

May 1999

When the media history of the 20th Century will be written, the Internet

will be seen as its major contribution. Television, telephone, and

computers will be viewed as its early precursors, merging and converging

into the new medium just as radio and film did into TV. The Internet’s

impact on culture, business, and politics will be vast, for sure. Where

will it take us? To answer that question is difficult, because the

Internet is not simply a set of interconnecting links and protocols

connecting packet switched networks, but it is also a construct of

imagination, an inkblot test into which everybody projects their desires,

fears and phantasies.

Some see enlightenment and education. Others see pornography and gambling.

Some see sharing and collaboration; others see e-commerce and profits.

Controversies abound on most aspects of the Internet. Yet when it comes to

its impact on democracy process, the answer seems unanimous.[1][1] The

Internet is good for democracy. It creates digital citizens (Wired 1997)

active in the vibrant teledemocracy (Etzioni, 1997) of the Electronic

Republic (Grossman 1995) in the Digital Nation (Katz 1992). Is there no

other side to this question? Is the answer so positively positive?

The reasons why the Internet is supposed to strengthen democracy include

the following.

1. The Internet lowers the entry barriers to political participation.

2. It strengthens political dialogue.

3. It creates community.

4. It cannot be controlled by government.

5. It increases voting participation.

6. It permits closer communication with officials.

7. It spreads democracy world-wide.

Each of the propositions in this utopian populist, view, which might be

called is questionable. But they are firmly held by the Internet founder

generation, by the industry that now operates the medium, by academics from

Negroponte (1995) to Dahl (1989), by gushy news media, and by a cross-party

set of politicians who wish to claim the future, from Gore to Gingrich,

from Bangemann to Blair.

I will argue, in contrast, that the Internet, far from helping democracy,

is a threat to it. And I am taking this view as an enthusiast, not a

critic. But precisely because the Internet is powerful and revolutionary,

it also affects, and even destroys, all traditional institutions--including-

-democracy. To deny this potential is to invite a backlash when the

ignored problems eventually emerge.[2][2]

My perspective is different from the neo-Marxist arguments about big

business controlling everything; from neo-Luddite views that low-tech is

beautiful; and from reformist fears that a politically disenfranchised

digital underclass will emerge. The latter, in particular, has been a

frequent perspective. Yet, the good news is that the present income-based

gap in Internet usage will decline in developed societies. Processing and

transmission becomes cheap, and will be anywhere, affordably. Transmission

will be cheap, and connect us to anywhere, affordably. And basic equipment

will almost be given away in return for long-term contracts and advertising


That is why what we now call basic Internet connectivity will not be a

problem. Internet connectivity will be near 100% of the households and

offices, like electricity, because the Internet will have been liberated

from the terror of the PC as its gateway, the most consumer-unfriendly

consumer product ever built since the unicycle.

Already, more than half of communications traffic is data rather than

voice, which means that it involves fast machines rather than slow people.

These machines will be everywhere. Cars will be chatting with highways.

Suitcases will complain to airlines. Electronic books will download from

publishers. Front doors will check in with police departments. Pacemakers

will talk to hospitals. Television sets will connect to video servers.

For that reason, my skepticism about the Internet as a pro-democracy force

is not based on its uneven distribution. It is more systemic. The problem

is that most analysts commit a so-called error of composition. That is,

they confuse micro behavior with macro results. They think that if

something is helpful to an individual, it is also helpful to society at

large, when everybody uses it.

Suppose we would have asked, a century ago, whether the automobile would

reduce pollution. The answer would have been easy and positive: no horses,

no waste on the roads, no smell, no use of agricultural land to grow oats.

But we now recognize that in the aggregate, mass motorization has been bad

for the environment. It created emissions, dispersed the population, and

put more demand on land.

The second error is that of inference. Just because the Internet is good

for democracy in places like North Korea, Iran, or Sudan does not mean that

it is better for Germany, Denmark, or the United States. Just because

three TV channels offer more diversity of information than one does not

mean that 30,000 are better than 300.

So here are several reasons why the Internet will not be good for

democracy, corresponding to the pro-democracy arguments described above.

. The Internet Will Make Politics More Expensive and Raise Entry


The hope has been that online public space will be an electronic version of

a New England or Swiss town meeting, open and ongoing. The Internet would

permit easy and cheap political participation and political campaigns. But

is that true?

Easy entry exists indeed for an Internet based on narrowband transmission,

which is largely text-based. But the emerging broadband Internet will

permit fancy video and multimedia messages and information resources.

Inevitably, audience expectations will rise. When everyone can speak, who

will be listened to? If the history of mass media means anything, it will

not be everyone. It cannot be everyone. Nor will the wisest or those with

the most compelling case or cause be heard, but the best produced, the

slickest, and the best promoted. And that is expensive.

Secondly, because of the increasing glut and clutter of information, those

with messages will have to devise strategies to draw attention. Political

attention, just like commercial one, will have to be created. Ideology,

self-interest, and public spirit are some factors. But in many cases,

attention needs to be bought, by providing entertainment, gifts, games,

lotteries, coupons, etc, That, too, is expensive. The basic cost of

information is rarely the problem in politics; it’s the packaging. It is

not difficult or expensive to produce and distribute handbills or to make

phone calls, or to speak at public events. But it is costly to communicate

to vast audiences in an effective way, because that requires large

advertising and PR budgets.

Thirdly, effective politics on the Internet will require elaborate and

costly data collection. The reason is that Internet media operate

differently from traditional mass media. They will not broadcast to all

but instead to specifically targeted individuals. Instead of the broad

stroke of political TV messages, “netcasted” politics will be customized to

be most effective. This requires extensive information about individuals’

interests and preferences. Data banks then become a key to political

effectiveness. Who would own and operate them? In some cases the

political parties. But they could not maintain control over the data banks

where a primary exist that is open to many candidates. There is also a

privacy problem, when semi-official political parties store information

about the views, fears, and habits of millions of individuals. For both of

those reasons the ability of parties to collect such data will be limited.

Other political data banks will be operated by advocacy and interest

groups. They would then donate to candidate’s data instead of money. The

importance of such data banks would further weaken campaign finance laws

and further strengthen interest group pluralism over traditional political


But in particular, political data banks will maintained through what is now

known as political consultants. They will establish permanent and

proprietary permanent data banks and become still bigger players in the

political environment and operate increasingly as ideology-free for –profit


Even if the use of the Internet makes some political activity cheaper, it

does so for everyone, which means that all organization will increase their

activities rather than spend less on them.[3][1] If some aspects of

campaigning become cheaper, they would not usually spend less, but instead

do more.

Thus, any effectiveness of early adopters will soon be matched by their

rivals and will simply lead to an accelerated, expensive, and mutually

canceling political arms-race of investment in action techniques and new--

media marketing technologies.

The early users of the Internet experienced a gain in their effectiveness,

and now they incorrectly extrapolate this to society at large. While such

gain is trumpeted as the empowerment of the individual over Big Government

and Big Business, much of it has simply been a relative strengthening of

individuals and groups with computer and online skills (who usually have

significantly about-average income and education) and a relative weakening

of those without such resources. Government did not become more responsive

due to online users; it just became more responsive to them.

• The Internet will make reasoned and political dialog

more difficult.

True, the Internet is a more active and interactive medium than TV. But is

its use in politics a promise or a reality?

Just because the quantity of information increase does not mean that its

quality rises. To the contrary. As the Internet leads to more information

clutter, it will become necessary for any message to get louder. Political

information becomes distorted, shrill, and simplistic.

One of the characteristics of the Internet is disintermediation, the

Internet is in business as well as in politics. In politics, it leads to

the decline of traditional news media and their screening techniques. The

acceleration of the news cycle by necessity leads to less careful checking,

while competition leads to more sensationalism. Issues get attention if

they are visually arresting and easily understood. This leads to media

events, to the 15 min of fame, to the sound bite, to infotainment. The

Internet also permits anonymity, which leads to the creation of, and to

last minute political ambush. The Internet lends itself to dirty politics

more than the more accountable TV.

While the self-image of the tolerant digital citizen persists, an empirical

study of the content of several political usenet groups found much

intolerant behavior: domineering by a few; rude “flaming”; and reliance on

unsupported assertions. (Davis, 1999) Another investigation finds no

evidence that computer-mediated communication is necessarily democratic or

participatory (Streck, 1998).

• The Internet disconnects as much as it connects

Democracy has historically been based on community. Traditionally, such

communities were territorial — electoral districts, states, and towns.

Community, to communicate — the terms are related: community is shaped by

the ability of its members to communicate with each other. If the

underlying communications system changes, the communities are affected. As

one connects in new ways, one also disconnects the old ways. As the

Internet links with new and far-away people, it also reduces relations with

neighbors and neighborhoods.

The long-term impact of cheap and convenient communications is a further

geographic dispersal of the population, and thus greater physical

isolation. At the same time, the enormous increase in the number of

information channels leads to an individualization of mass media, and to

fragmentation. Suddenly, critics of the “lowest common denominator”

programming, of TV now get nostalgic for the “electronic hearth” around

which society huddled. They discovered the integrative role of mass media.

On the other hand, the Internet also creates electronically linked new

types of community. But these are different from traditional communities.

They have less of the averaging that characterizes physical communities–-

throwing together the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Instead,

these new communities are more stratified along some common dimension, such

as business, politics, or hobbies. These groups will therefore tend to be

issue - driven, more narrow, more narrow-minded, and sometimes more

extreme, as like-minded people reinforce each other’s views.

Furthermore, many of these communities will be owned by someone. They are

like a shopping mall, a gated community, with private rights to expel, to

promote, and to censor. The creation of community has been perhaps the

main assets of Internet portals such as AOL. It is unlikely that they will

dilute the value of these assets by relinquishing control.

If it is easy to join such virtual communities, it also becomes easy to

leave, in a civic sense, one’s physical community. Community becomes a

browning experience.

• Information does not necessarily weaken the state.

Can Internet reduce totalitarianism? Of course. Tyranny and mind control

becomes harder. But Internet romantics tend to underestimate the ability

of governments to control the Internet, to restrict it, and to indeed use

it as an instrument of surveillance. How quickly we forget. Only a few

years ago, the image of information technology was Big Brother and mind

control. That was extreme, of course, but the surveillance potential

clearly exists. Cookies can monitor usage. Wireless applications create

locational fixes. Identification requirements permit the creation of

composites of peoples’ public and private activities and interests.

Newsgroups can (and are) monitored by those with stakes in an issue.

A free access to information is helpful to democracy. But the value of

information to democracy tends to get overblown. It may be a necessary

condition, but not a sufficient one.

Civil war situations are not typically based on a lack of information. Yet

there is an undying belief that if people “only knew”, eg. by logging

online, they would become more tolerant of each other. That is wishful and

optimistic hope, but is it based on history? Hitler came to power in a

republic where political information and communication were plentiful.

Democracy requires stability, and stability requires a bit of inertia. The

most stable democracies are characterized by a certain slowness of change.

Examples are Switzerland and England. The US operates on the basis of a

210-year old Constitution. Hence the acceleration of politics made the

Internet is a two-edged sword.

The Internet and its tools accelerate information flows, no question about

it. But same tools are also available to any other group, party, and

coalition. Their equilibrium does not change, except temporarily in favor

of early adopters. All it may accomplish in the aggregate is a more hectic

rather than a more thoughtful process.

• Electronic voting does not strengthen democracy

The Internet enables electronic voting and hence may increase voter

turnout. But it also changes democracy from a representative model to one

of direct democracy.

Direct democracy puts a premium on resources of mobilization, favoring

money and organization. It disintermediates elected representatives. It

favors sensationalized issues over “boring” ones. Almost by definition, it

limits the ability to make unpopular decisions. It makes harder the

building of political coalition (Noam, 1980, 1981). The arguments against

direct democracy were made perhaps most eloquently in the classic arguments

for the adoption of the US Constitution, by James Madison in the Federalist

Papers #10.

Electronic voting is not simply the same as traditional voting without the

inconvenience of waiting in line. When voting becomes like channel

clicking on remote, it is left with little of the civic engagement of

voting. When voting becomes indistinguishable from a poll, polling and

voting merge. With the greater ease and anonymity of voting, a market for

votes is unavoidable. Participation declines if people know the expected

result too early, or where the legitimacy of the entire election is in

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