Internet and/or democracy

A muddled article on Spiked argues against the use of social software to increase participation in the democratic process.
Martyn Perks has a couple of plausible points, and one illogical conclusion.
He criticises a BBC-sponsored effort to spark online discussion of local issues. He thinks it’s astroturf. Online chat about the local organic food coop isn’t doing anything to help the democratic process.
And he argues against blind faith in technology. “The danger of such patronising thinking is that technology will have the final say, instead of us being smart enough to see otherwise. ”
Because internet democracy can be done badly, he argues that it shouldn’t be done at all.
“What both the mainstream politicians and the social software advocates fail to register, is that most people are unmotivated by politics because the content sucks. Innovation in networking technology is vital, but encouraging greater access to the political process isn’t going to reap the expected returns.”
“The real consequence of the discussion around social software is a cheapening of participation. Ross Mayfield, who runs a weblog devoted to discussing social software, argues: ‘as the cost for forming issue groups falls, expect similar groups and coalitions to form around otherwise less fundable issues.’ (9) For Mayfield, low-cost engagement brings more diversity to the table. But by reducing the meaning of political debate, we only reinforce the helpless feeling of being consumers first and foremost, and citizens second.”
This is a circular argument. If more people join the process and express their views, that might– gasp — change the content.
It doesn’t sound like Perks believes that citizen participation in government is a good thing. Perks isn’t arguing against internet democracy. He’s arguing against democracy itself.
(Ross Mayfield’s rebuttal is here.)

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