Politics could be defined very broadly as the adjustment efforts of humans attempting to coexist in an interdependent relationship. In defining a political system, we refer it to a system which is a persistent pattern of human relationships that involves, to a significant extent, power, rule, or authority. Politics concerns about the process in which a government outcomes or decisions on public affairs is made. The course of action or behavior people conduct to influence in the process of negotiation, bargaining and compromising for a political outcome is what we refer as political participation.
There are numerous reasons behind one’s participation in politics which may include hoping to achieve one’s aim, running for the office and even simply out of admiration or attraction to a certain political figure which he identify himself to. The motives behind political participation are diverse and numerous and so are the methods and ways people take part in political affairs. A citizen may join a political party, exercise his right to voting in an election, run for the government office, make monetary contribution, attend a political meeting or even join a protest and demonstration.
Traditionally, mail and mass media play a key role in the dissemination of political information and commentaries which propel most political participation of the mass public. Nonetheless, we can observe that, starting from the begin of 21st century, with the rapid emergence of the Internet, the ways and pattern of political participation seem to be in a continuing dynamic change. It is beyond doubt that the use of Internet in politics draws a considerable amount of attention by politicians, governments and activists, with the proof of recent examples like the Obama online presidential election campaign and the Twitter Revolution in Iran.
In this paper, I will endeavor to examine the effect of Internet on political participation and its implication with reference to several recent internet-politics incidents. Innovative channels of political participation online Characterized by its feature of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Computer-mediated communication (CMC), the Internet provides a wide platform for diverse and free political participation which was unprecedented before the emergence of Internet.
It provides citizen with easy and quick access to political information and commentaries on numerous websites or newsgroups which benefit from the hyper-links of the worldwide web. For the majority, the online chatroom and forum are the places where they exchange information and idea and carry out discussion on current issues and public affairs. The HK Golden Forum in Hong Kong and the Tian Ya Online Community in mainland are some of the prominent virtual forums in which people enjoy freedom of speech and heated debate of political issues happens.
Online political participation does not stop here. In recent years, the increasing worldwide popularity and uprising usage of social networking website such as Facebook and Twitter bring a huge impact to the pattern of political activities. It may not be an exaggeration to say the social networking platform help revolutionize the format of participation and the political landscape with the famous Obama election campaign and Twitter Revolution.
Not only are politicians and activists are chasing with the wave of e-politics, the governments, with a comprehensive understanding of the widespread influence of Internet, are also seizing this opportunity to promote e-democracy, increase its efficiency and establish legitimacy through E-engagement and online delivery of public services. We shall not underestimate the potential significance and power of the Internet in political science study.
Significance and impact of the Internet on the changing pattern of political participation The impact that the Internet changes or even “revolutionizes” the pattern of political participation and ecology of politics sphere denies any negligence. First of all, it basically enlarges the public sphere in which the members of public take part in discussing and exchanging ideas. Public sphere is “a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment. In a modern society, it is seen as a theater where political participation is enacted through the medium of talk and a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed. It is argued that the Internet greatly altered the public spheres and scholars termed the phenomenon as the Public Sphere 2. 0 in the sense that contrary to the traditional mass media, the Internet is open for interactive exchanges and for a wide plurality of voices. The feature of anonymity of identity perhaps best explains the revolutionizing nature of political participation on internet.
Without revealing one’s true identity, the threat of getting traced and exposure to public condemn are lacking and people are willing to freely express their opinion with fear or any shyness. This in effect facilitates the public’s participation of political affairs and encourages the aggregation and exchange of idea without interference. In restructuring of public spheres on the Net, it is as well suggested that the Internet creates an opportunity to remove the old mass media as “distorting” mediators in processes of political communication and decision making.
Now that citizens are able to search, select and interpret political information all by themselves and communicate opinions among each other, the intermediary role of journalists, politicians and even representatives would be made redundant. A new kind of politics is predicted to be formed and its impact is to be further investigated. It is undeniable that the effect of lowering cost of communication and association through Internet succeeds in advancing and promoting wider and more active political participation.
The Internet transcend national boundary, eliminate the communication barrier of different languages and make real-time dissemination of information and intellectual exchange possible. All these contribute to the prospering of opinion exchange and civil education of democracy worldwide. Individual participation is possible and recognized on Internet and the formation of an online civic society hinges on the participation and contribution of every “netizen”. The influence of Internet is also observed in the government sector as well as n political parties.
We are not unfamiliar with the use of Internet by some politicians like Barack Obama. In the US 2008 presidential election campaign against John McCain, Obama launched an eye-catching and impressive Internet campaign to rally support and promote his political idea and resolution to reform and revive US political and economic situation. He posted videos and news of his daily update and speeches to his personal website, Youtube, Myspace as well as Facebook page.
The Internet Campaign succeeded in keeping close contact with supporters and reaching the new generation who is most familiar with and into the Internet. E-government, on the other hand, aims at creating a comfortable, transparent and cheap interaction between government and citizens. It simplifies processes and makes access to government information and public policy data more easy and convenient. It help the government reach its aim of promoting e-Engagement which is to enhance and strengthen communication with citizens and incorporate citizen’s opinion into public policy formation.
Another remarkable feature of Internet politics is its potentially formidable power in mobilizing the mass public for a particular political act. Not long ago, in the first half of 2010, during the controversies over the Express Rail Link incident, Facebook and other online forum play a key role in mobilizing political protests at that period. With the help of these means, the anti-government activists succeeded to rally a large group of people to protest in front of the Legislative Council Building on the night the financial bill was passed.
It aroused much attention and concern from the HKSAR government. A demonstration of the mobilization power of Internet – The Twitter Revolution Twitter Revolution in Iran (or the Green Revolution of Iran) happened after the Iran presidential election in 2009. After the election, all three opposition leaders claimed that the votes were manipulated and the election was rigged and one candidate even announced that “he won’t surrender to this manipulation”.
A series of protests followed and the opposition side was gradually suppressed by the government with the lock-down and control of information and mass media. To break through the suppression of government, people make wise use of social networking tools to organize many of the 2009 Iran election protests. Online sites have been uploading amateur pictures and video, and Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have been places for protesters to gather and exchange information.
It is shown that the Internet, especially social networking and communication tools is well capable of mobilizing and brining people’s power together and should be viewed as a key area for the future political development. Challenges faced ahead – internet censorship and filtering The Internet can be used for good, as well as for the bad, as a tool of manipulation of the state, a control measure of unfavourable opinions of dissidents. The Central Government, in this aspect, is endeavouring to implement censorship on the Internet and block out all unfavourable comments to the Communist Party.
The implementation of Golden Shield Project and installment of Green Dam Youth Escort are the best illustration of how the government seeks to wipe out dissidents’ view and opinion off the Net and to maintain the “stability and harmony of the state”, as usually quoted by Chinese government official. Recently, Google, an international prominent search engine website, was forced to withdraw from the mainland market for it refused to comply with the Chinese government’s self-censorship request. Even more outrageous and disappointing is the 50 Cent Party commonly seen in every online forum in mainland.
The members of 50 Cent Party are those Internet Commentators hired by the government to post comments favorable towards the government policies to skew the public opinion on various Internet message boards, from each they will get 50 Cent for reward. Netizens in China are now, with the lauch of “Internet Revolution” followed by the famous Internet Revolution Declaration, struggling with get around the official control. Perhaps as stated in the Declaration, the colour revolution in China is destined to be the Internet Revolution.
From Twitter Revolution, Obama presidential election campaign to the Chinese Internet Revolution, it is clearly observed that the Internet has altered or even revolutionized the public sphere and the ways and patterns of political participation. Internet, as a medium of communication and dissemination of information, is a passive organ and whether it will do good or bad to our society and political development, remains a big question mark and it depends on the person who is in control of it. A tool for manipulation of idea or a revolution of freedom of speech? The question is left for the history to tell.
January 9, 2018
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