Thursday, 7 June 2012

Can New Media Enrich Democracy?

New Media has given a platform for people to enrich democracy through sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Blogs. It allows a new kind of public sphere as people are now 'expected' to have a say. There is now a plurality of voices and new media is now communicated from various platforms and people, making our media 'many-to-many' as opposed to 'one-to-many'. There are many theorists such as Michael Wesch, Henry Jenkins and David Gauntlett who provide a utopian view that believe new media has in fact enriched democracy. But has it really given us so called 'normal' citizens a more democratic set of tools?

Habermas believes that democracy depends on a public which is informed, aware and which issues the debates of today. He doesn't think that new media has enriched democracy as he believes that the mass media and globalisation has reduced the effectiveness of the public sphere and there is now a reduction in plurality of voices due to this.

However, some say democracy is stronger today. The arrival of Web 2.0 has strengthened the public sphere.  Before sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which were formed around 2005, the public sphere was said to be weaker, this was because of the mass media such as newspapers, radio and TV, who were the "Media-Gods" according to David Gauntlett. The so called "Media-Gods" used to feed us their information which we often took without realising some news corporations may be biased. We were only hearing 'one' voice which created a lack of plurality. we weren't aware of debating to such extent as we do today as we were distracted and trained as consumers so we wouldn't question what we were seeing. Also, in the past the "Media-Gods" would only select a few topics to inform the world about and set a news agenda usually reinforcing hegemonic values. It is only recently that we have been provided with the 'bigger' picture.

Nowadays, things are different. Citizen journalism - a collection of news and analysis by the public in the forms of mobile phones, blogs etc. - has become an alternative source of gaining knowledge and news. It is easier to load your Twitter feed than to access the BBC site through your mobile. An example of this is 'My Tram Experience' - an amateur shot video by a woman on the tram secretly filming a middle aged white woman being racist towards other passengers of different ethnicity while she held her young child in her lap. This video was shot on a mobile phone by a passenger who happened to be travelling on a tram for the first time. She uploaded the video onto YouTube and within hours the video had been viewed and shared onto Facebook and Twitter thousands of times. The question is would we have been able to witness the racist woman on public transport had there not been YouTube and a convergent device? No, because of the rise of Web 2.0, we are now providing the news through new media as it allows us to post what and when we want. John Hartley now describes media as 'many-to-many' as opposed to 'one-to-many'. We are now promoting democracy through new media as we can now have a say and provide real debate with easy access. The woman from the video was arrested and charged for her actions. This would not have been possible in the past as an amateur video would not have been able to gain such publicity. It is now evident that the online world is now 'part' of the world and has a 'role'. However, although it can be argued that we are now providing the news, it has to be mentioned that the power of mass media is still there as news corporations such as The Sun posted the video onto their website which gained the attention of readers who could not access Twitter and Facebook.

New media has certainly enabled democracy as many campaigns and petitions are being held online. This shows how new media has enriched democracy as this wouldn't have been able to have happened before, as people would have to go round with a clipboard asking people to physically sign their petition which would only ever work on a small scale. New media allows us to petition worldwide through the click of a button. A recent video names 'Kony 2012' is cyber activism at its finest. 'Kony 2012' has received over 90 million views on YouTube in the space of just over a week. The video is about Joseph Kony's army in Uganda which is abducting and raping children and the video shows how we can actively help to 'Stop Kony'. The is evident of new media enriching democracy as the petition has now reached millions of signatures with the ease of clicking a button. However, is our democracy really there? It can be argued that one click on our mouse won't do anything to help the situation. The campaign has been referred to as 'slacktivism' by dystopian Morozov. The word is a combination of 'slacker' and 'activism' which describes how people feel like they have been helping by sharing the video when in reality they haven't done much. So is our democracy really there? Clay Shirky certainly seemed to think so as he publicly tweeted at the time saying 'I'm just going to put this here, so it's time-stamped: I bet they catch Kony in the next three months. Will follow up either way.'. So who's view is the correct one, Morozov's dystopian view or Shirky's utopian view? However, since the release of the video there has been a numerous amount of articles claiming that the charity organisation who produced 'Kony 2012' aren't in fact as amazing as they make out to be. The video is said to miss out key points and some argue that the video is a sign of propaganda. This shows that although we do have the option to post and debate whatever we want, the quality of information may be poor as we aren't verified news corporations.

It is certainly evident that New media has enriched democracy as before there was no such thing as citizen journalism and YouTube. Also, new relationships have been formed between new media and mainstream media which show that the mainstream media still have the major power, but utopian thinkers may argue that it is slowly coming down to us. It is obvious that new media has become more democratic as web 3.0, which Morozov describes as 'nastier than its predecessors'  is said to be bringing about surveillance as governments may see the rise of democracy as a threat.

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