New Media and Policy & Governance- Pt. 2

The new wave of citizen journalism, it seems, lies in our ability to not only create content, but to organize content on the web.  Instead of passively reading the top stories as decided by a major news outlet, websites such as Digg let users decide what stories are the top stories for a given day or in a given category through a voting system.  Sounds pretty democratic right?  Users as voters, sites as the regime that implements the changes voters want to see, code as the written law of the land dictating what can and cannot be done on a given site. It’s a virtual democratic utopia!  And as is the case with utopias, it doesn’t exist.  Social media sites do not often serve the democratic ideal of a majority of their users, but rather the views of a few power users or top-rated users.  BLASPHEMY! Perhaps, but then again, isn’t this exactly how democracy works?  The will of the mob selects our leaders, but it is the most powerful of these leaders who actually get changes through, and if they are even more powerful, the will of the mob has no effect in their opinion.   Social news sites are a mirror, reflecting the society we have built outside of the virtual world.  While we would hope that the virtual world can fix the errors in our real world, this is not the case.  Power, popularity and the lure of advertising dollars are too tempting for creators of these faux democratic journalism spheres.

Back in reality, the lure of millions of untapped voters is calling politicians into the virtual world to build interactive campaigns.  President Obama is one of the best examples of web and social media used for campaigning because he portrayed himself as any other person would on social media, as a person.  Users could tweet or comment directly with Pres. Obama, entering in a one-on-one dialogue with him, rather than just talking amongst themselves in an online forum devoted to Obama.  This difference is the difference between interactivity as a product,  the latter, and interactivity as a process, the former.  Clearly the process is much more attractive to potential voters and users, since they feel more connected to the candidates, and the candidates appear as more genuine,  real people.

In these two ways, it is evident that the online space is not void of politics.  It is a space, and as such, begs for governance, invites power struggles, and connects people.  There is more and more overlap between the virtual and real worlds, and our politics seem to invade the virtual space in a real way.