Internet and democracy

After I read Morozov’s “The internet: A room of our own?” I felt a little uncomfortable about Morozov’s wording. When he referred to some group that holds different opinion with him, he uses negative words to discuss it. For example, he describes the anti-vaccination communities as “pseudoscience,” which I find quite offensive. I think we should respect anyone who has different opinion.

Besides the author’s wording, I have a few other things that I would like to talk about:

First, the internet censorship is an issue which I think quite interesting. Sometimes I can see some Chinese internet users come to Taiwanese website complaining about their government’s policy in internet censorship (Although Chinese people and Taiwanese people use different Chinese characters, we can still understand each other.) I am very curious about what aspects have internet censorship influenced Chinese people’s life beside politics. I find some scholars indicate that the censorship will influence students’ academic performance; CNN also pointed out that the censorship might lead China to brain drain (http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/03/hong.kong.students.google/index.html). I feel quite sorry about the environment Chinese students are having.

Second, I find it is hard to say whether internet has create a platform for people to have an equal chance to express opinions and to reach information, or, whether it has empowered those who already got most of the power. Nowadays, it becomes very easy to access information by internet; however, the information on the internet mostly comes from the ones who already own abundant technical resource. For example, I believe the internet users in Africa receive a lot of information from Western world; however, do Western internet users receive the same amount of information from Africa? I don’t think so. The digital divide has enable Western world to input information to the third world, including western ideology, which I think it might have a big influence in many aspects (maybe in politics or culture.)

Third, I am wondering if the freedom of using internet will lead the internet users go toward some kind of collective violence. In Taiwan, there is a Bulletin Board System called PTT which a lot of college students will express their opinion there. However, in these years, several cases indicate that some PTT users will reveal the private information of some particular person. PTT users will influence each other and gather up to dig out a person’s private life to public, even though most of the time they don’t know who that is. The manhunt thing usually turns out to influence the person’s social life in the University. In some cases the victims even consider to commit suicide to end up all the mess. I think although it is very lucky to have freedom to use internet in democratic society, still, internet users should be educated about internet ethics. Also, the government should keep up with the pace of new technology to formulate internet laws that is suitable for its country.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aflaten
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 16:10:47

    You bring up an interesting point on the so-called “balance” of information that is available on the Internet being skewed more towards a western perspective. I feel there may be some validity in such an idea in not only the content of the Web, but also the structure of it. For example, URLs for websites have to be designated using the modern Latin alphabet, regardless of whether the main users of such sites utilize that alphabet in their home languages. As such, all computer keyboards (at least that I’ve ever seen) need to contain the Latin alphabet to really be of any use online. When I lived in Japan, I bought a Macbook that had a keyboard that accommodated the basic Japanese kana (alphabet), but only as a secondary setup.

    It’s just a reminder that the “unrestricted universal information-sharing” capabilities of the Internet do, in fact, carry some restrictions in even the most fundamental of ways.

    Reply

  2. francescalyn
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 12:48:24

    I agree with your discomfort at Morozov’s wording. You articulate it much better than I could have.

    The PTT bulletin board system sounds like a much tamer version of Juicy Campus, a website that was taken down because of it’s offensive content. Juicy Campus touted itself as “free speech” but was mostly just anonymous posters bashing others.

    Reply

  3. alonewithadream
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 19:01:22

    I agree with you that the Internet has a definite tilt toward the Western world and toward those who have money for the technology. But, is this anything new? Only the rich can own a television station, a radio station that broadcasts a radius of more than a block, or own a printing press. On the Internet, publishing is free, but it’s going to take some money to get noticed.

    The idea that investigations of the PTT bulletin board lead to suicide is a scary thought. Would the people who post personal information to that site be so brazen without the anonymity of the Internet?

    Reply

  4. paulacunniffe
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 19:54:01

    Your article from CNN was very interesting. We take internet access for granted; no-one thinks twice when they google something. The fact that we use ‘google’ as a verb shows how much we use and rely on the internet. I can’t imagine not having that freedom.

    The article was also a good resource for other information, such as the Government’s reaction to Google’s decision to move to Hong Kong and I felt that gave it a good balance.

    I think it’s sad that young people are being forced to leave China because of this and I agree with the article’s theory that it will probably cause business and enterprise to move to another country too. Internet is a huge part of everyday life now.

    Reply

  5. luckymaggie
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 20:11:42

    Yes the word “pseudoscience” is sort of exaggerated… I think many people brows those pages like horoscope and fortune, blood type and personality are just for their entertainment purposes. You mention the information flow all over the world in digital age, and I agree with you that the output of those information rich countries is overwhelmingly exceed their input, while the information poor countries mainly depend on importing information. The globalization creates identical trends in many respects. For example, India has the Bollywood to compete with Hollywood; the popular music has many common features in both western and eastern countries; also, many television programs like reality shows are in the same pattern. I think these could be the evidence for such an information flow.

    Reply

  6. caseyawilson
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 21:41:33

    I must also agree with you about the rhetoric that Morozov uses throughout his article. I eventually chose to read it as more of an editorial or opinion piece than a formal article for this reason — it became much less frustrating once I did. You mention the “pseudoscience” specifically, but I also noticed smaller moments, such as when he uses “erroneously” when it wasn’t an error. The fact that he disagreed with the choice to remove the YouTube account does not automatically make it wrong, or an error. I believe he could have made a very strong argument about each of these things, but his attitude towards the subjects undercut that possibility.

    Reply

  7. clocke22
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 12:06:51

    Your point about the potential to use the Internet to violent ends (the PTT example) hones in on a really important aspect of the Internet: anonymity. On one hand, anonymity from a free speech perspective is a foundation of the First Amendment and democracy (see http://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity ), allowing radical ideas to be published without fear of immediate retalation. On the other hand, being anonmyous can also give people license to act in ways they never would in the “real,” non-virtual world, like making threats or posting embarassing pictures to a wide audience within a matter of seconds. This struggle is being played out in our legal system currently, as anonmyous posters on websites are now at the mercy of ISPs or other hosts who may or may not reveal their identities under subpoeana.

    Reply

  8. chentingchen
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 13:42:35

    I also have some concern about the “digital divide” you mentioned. I think that “digital divide” not only has the influence you mentioned, it may also expand the gap of democratization. We all know that it is hard for the people in some developing countries to have digital and information technology to access the world. Government is not democratic and people have no digital access to other world may cause that people have no knowledge about what they should be educated and can strive for. Which means, when a developing country with lower level of democratization and people have less knowledge and access to other world, the polotical and education situation may enter kind of a vicious circle (if we think “democracy” is better political situation for people.) And then the gap may get bigger and bigger.

    Reply

  9. ltn0913
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 15:22:24

    Well, freedom on the internet is not necessarily a good thing, PTT is a good example, that could make someone’s life miserable and then become a cynic or sociopath and ultimately raise a lot of social problems. But at the same time, it’s hard to say censorship is right or wrong. I was born and raised in China, I have to say that the censorship did protect youth especially those under 18 from porn, bloody and violence scenes etc., but meanwhile it did bring some inconvenience to use networking websites like Facebook, Twitter… I don’t think censorship is a effective way to block information or to keep away from different views, but it’s going to take some time to reduce it.

    Reply

  10. morganyang
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 15:56:36

    I have same point with you about the censorship in China. Not only the internet but also the TV shows and imported movies that need to be examined before been released. And it is interesting that I found Chinese students have two kind of attitudes toward the internet censorship their government demonstrates when I did the academic exchange at Peking University. Some of them just ignor the censorship, because they can take detour the censorship by going through so called “freegate”. Another opinion states that the censorship is necessary. It helps them filter some of the negative websites, for example the pornographic wesites and the websites that teach people how to kill themselves.

    Reply

  11. Mindy McAdams
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 20:43:11

    Your first link (China’s censorship could lead to a brain drain) is excellent — it really adds something new to what Morozov was writing about.

    Your remark about the information flow to and from Africa is also very good: They get a lot of news about and from the rest of the world, but most of what we learn about Africa concerns death and disease! Has the Internet helped this or just continued the same patterns?

    Your second link (Bloggers Code of Ethics) is also good. I like this list of ethics for blogging, even though it is not as concise:

    http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html

    Reply

  12. tinamomo
    Sep 02, 2010 @ 20:49:57

    You made a very important point at the beginning: “I think we should respect anyone who has a different opinion.” Democracy allows people to hear and respect different ideas even if it may not coincide with their own. Without tolerance of different opinions, it would end up as autocracy: only one set of ideas are allowed. That’s not the spirit of the Internet since one of its greatest features is user generated. Everybody has the same chance to voice their opinions.

    You also pointed out a problem when given too much freedom: the violation of privacy on the Internet. I firmly believe that “Internet ethics” will be taught at every university in the near future. When we enjoy the maximum freedom, we should also have the same level of self-decipline. Only in this way can we embrace the freedom in the cyber space.

    Reply

  13. Wendy Brunner
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 08:08:34

    Carol,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about Morozov’s use of pejorative phrases, particularly “pseudoscience” in reference to those in opposition of vaccination. Regardless of what sort of venue “Dissent” is–Morozov’s publication–in my opinion an argument is not well-founded without some sort of attribution. The arguments founding the anti-vaccination movement may well be based on weak science, but if that’s the case Morozov needs to tell us so…and according to whom. Whether one is an academic, a journalist or just a quality blogger, statements like those need at least minimal attribution. Without it, in my mind, the entire article becomes suspect. I wonder about bias, and what agenda the author is pushing.

    Furthermore, and we touched on it very briefly in class, the issue of whether the Internet provides a platform for those with limited power or further empowers those already in power brings to mind the net neutrality debate. I suspect this is something we’ll discuss more this semester–at least I hope so. Professor McAdams’ example of whether the Web is a shopping mall or a public street was a good one; the owners of the “shopping mall” may become the ones with the loudest voices online!

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  14. Trackback: Blog Post 1 Comments « Tianning's Blog
  15. Carol
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 13:02:32

    Reply

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