Expanding the Web

Vote ‘yes’ for digital democracy.

By Aaron Grierson

 

We’ve all experienced the Internet before, perhaps not in all of its glory, but let’s face it, there are some places we just shouldn’t go. Some of the websites we frequently visit are the forms and forums that allow us self-expression. This has become even more popular with the increasing interest in, or rather, increasingly publicized events. Now, these aren’t just local festivals and fairs, but major changes happening somewhere in the world that everyone can watch, read about and even comment on. The Internet allows people to do all of that in one place, only their comments are not limited to the dinner table, but on a medium the whole world can review.

In recent news, the struggle in Egypt has taken centre stage and captivated the attention of both the people and of those in power. As a result of the countless rebellions, citizens of countries such as Libya are pitted against the oppression of military tyrants. The political issue centred at this struggle is a mechanism for democracy and freedom of speech, much like the Internet. The first act by the Egyptian government, when the uprisings began, was the sudden shut-down of internet access across the country, which demonstrates the importance of the internet and the power of communication. This sent a shockwave throughout the world. Who knew that governments have so much power? After all, we pay large private companies to provide us with internet. Just as we pay for a service we request, so should people receive the accountability and quality of the government that they want.

The power that we hold is the same as that which the Egyptian people are striving for: Democracy. I doubt I am the first to use the term ‘Digital Democracy’, but it is an apt description for one major facet of the internet. Sites we all heard of, and most have used, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and millions of blogs, all facilitate the freedom of self-expression for the individual, which anyone anywhere can participate in. This is one of the pinnacles of both democracy and technology, where the discussion of global issues and interests is open to everyone. The one major problem is that there is often not enough moderation, which frequently ends up as a negative side effect on someone else. In certain cases, the consequences can be deadly: I recall reading an article that described how a girl who was bullied, even by parents online, hanged herself in her bathroom. However, the sharing of information has just as many sides to it as the Internet.

Universal freedom does come with some negatives, one of which is spam.  Spam is the little email no one ever wanted, be it a harmful ‘you have inherited money from someone you’ve never heard of’ or an advertisement for a drug that will improve your sex life. This form of spamming, not unlike many of the phone calls we may receive about winning a cruise in a competition we never entered, is not there to make us feel better.  Much of the solicitation is not only false, but being used for nefarious purposes such as: cash scams, autonomous viruses or the funding of organized crime and terrorism. If you’re interested in finding out just how widespread hate-sites are (in addition to the hate mail some of us receive) search for any racist term, idea or existing society, such as the KKK or neo Nazi’s and you will get a thorough idea after within a few minutes.

The vastness of the Internet is one of the primary characteristics that makes freedom of speech look like a bad idea. Regardless of moderation, opinions—beneficial or detrimental—get around quicker and fester. The balance lies in people’s ability to self-moderate. Both democratic governments and the Internet have these sorts of measures in place, but in both cases, these are not sure-fire measures. Much like in Egypt, other countries have revolutions or protests that can be due to the fact to, or lead to, refined democracy. The most recent example is the women’s suffrage movement. What kind of government by the people excludes half of the people from voting? One that is rather nonsensical. The Internet, being created from such a society, shows many of the same problems, and often leaves us shaking our heads.

Democracy, like the Internet, requires inclusive participation. The Internet needs us in order to continue contributing ideas and expanding, for all the people around the world, and for freedom and democracy. It is our duty to extend the borders of the Internet, and thus our minds, until it will truly be one free world.

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