We are now, irrespective of regimes or the general public, living in the information society with the unprecedented power that the Internet engenders. Thanks to its extraordinary influences, there have been drastic changes in various facets of life, especially in political realm. When people are displeased with their governments, the internet is a valuable tool for attaining news, discussing ideas and coordinating protests regardless of geographical distance (DuPont 2011). Hence it might be claimed that the Internet is more helpful for citizens to pressure their governments.
However, in this essay I will argue that states can even take much more advantages of positive and negative consequences of the internet, and the exclusive privilege that only states possess: authority and legitimacy to monitor almost all activities and information of their citizens. Firstly, governments manage online resources more efficiently than the general public do. Civic communities consider the Internet as a huge ocean of most up-to-date news for them to track no matter where they are and where the events occur.
For instance, via Techweek (http://techweek.org) or Internet Society (http://isoc. org), Egyptians all over the world can follow the status of net services, the Egyptian government’s censorship and responses of people towards this blockage. Nevertheless, this kind of online participation is difficult to create difference or transformation (E. Katz and Rice 2002). According to UCLA study, while “45. 6% of Internet users feel that the Internet helps people to better understand politics, only 29. 3% of users feel that Internet use leads to people having greater political power” (E.Katz and Rice 2002, p. 107).
In Columbia, the facebook protest against the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been accused of meddling in Colombia’s domestic affairs, just attracted a few thousand people turning up on streets while the initial aim number had been up to fifty million people to rally worldwide (Morozov 2009). One more problem when people seek information on the Internet is “the distracting noise of the Internet – the gossip, pornography, and conspiracy theory (Morozov 2009)”.
Because of free flow of information, netizens can access whatever they are keen on, including nonsense or rubbish snippets, which results in sex or violence abuse and distraction from the embryo of protests. This can lead to two situations. The first one is that governments will use these abuses as an excuse to censor or even shut down net services, for example, prior to the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Protest, the Chinese government circulated new filtering software called Green Dam Youth Escort which was said to prevent people from reaching pornographic or violent websites (Anger in China over web censorship 2009).
Behind the ostensible purpose of this software, however, implies the surveillance that the authority imposed on dissidents. The second situation is that governments will offer more webpages with the same content on condition that people will not be involved in political affairs (Morozov 2009). The ditto usage of the Internet would be described as the usage of religion in Karl Marx’s theory, which is claimed that the oppressors take advantage of religion to make people feel less suffering from being poor and exploited, and thereby distracting them from agitating for better working and living through protests (Marx n.
d. ). In other words, the internet now is utilized as “a new opium for the masses (Morozov 2009). ” On the other side of the coin, governments use the Internet effectively through a variety of governing activities, including dissemination, communication and transaction (Cordoba-Pachon and Arias 2010). For the first purpose, the states can provide their people with necessary information as well as announcements about education, traffic transportation, and many other civil services.
For the communication purpose, governments do not only one-way distribute information but also receive feedbacks from their people by means of e-voting system, commenting system on policy implementation, and so on. Likewise, Internet helps transactions proceed conveniently, “facilities include payment of taxes, renewal of liscences or acquisition of permits and certificates (Cordoba-Pachon and Arias 2010, p. 6). ” In short, thanks to the Internet, governments are able to reduce administrative costs for citizens and increase transparency as well as liability (Cordoba-Pachon and Arias 2010), and vice versa, citizens will build up their trust and confidence in governments’ apparatus.
Consequently, it is easier for governments to exert disciplinary power on their people. Secondly, governments exploit drawbacks within the usage of Internet among public citizens to supervise their people. On the word of Clay Shirky (2009), “because civic life is not just created by the actions of individuals, but by that actions of groups […] Internet connectivity will reshape that civic life, changing the ways members of the public interact with one another.
” To a certain extent, he is right since there are considerable numbers of citizens who congregate in online communities to devise and discuss ideas about protests against their governments. These online communities embrace like-minded members who share the same interests and perspectives (Cammaerts 2008). This trend may lead to self-direction, which means we choose to hear or participate in only what we like, and to fragmentation, which means there are no honest debates or any attempts to produce balanced articles or reach consensus across different views and values in the society (Deuze 2006).
Compared with real communities, these virtual communities or online communities have loose ties, fragile trust and superficial responsibilities because they just get in touch with one another through virtual spaces and have little chance to open their mind towards diverse aspects of life. Online forums are exemplars for this phenomenon, which have attracted thousands of netizens to go online and share their experiences, thoughts and feelings about various subjects in their daily life.
These virtual communities are ideal places for participants to exchange pleasantries, argue and emotionally support in fields in which they have interest; however, conducting these activities is quite easy because it does not require large sums of money, personal risk or tremendous courage in the face of danger. If people want to prepare for important and serious bussiness, the network structure might make the internet less useful.
Unlike hierarchy, this structure of the internet does not have a central authority that can formulate coherent strategies, unify diverse ideas and arbitrate quarrels, which results in “the fragility of communities and their susceptibility to disruption (Rheingold 1993). ” Self – direction, fragmentation and absence of leadership cause difficulties for protests to happen. In contrast, governments can make use of these shortcomings to control citizens. They would be able to “neutralise online discussions before they translate into offline action (Morozov, 2009).
” This neutralisation makes citizens visible to states, which helps detect those who are different (the ones who intend to oppose the regimes) from the rest of the society and oppress them. For instance, in the series of flash mobs in Belarus, thanks to information that protesters circulated in By-mob, the online community where plans of activities were disseminated, the authorities were able to identify the “different” ones, interrogating, imprisoning and battering them (Morozov 2009).
The structure of By-mob is similar to that of other online forums, so that it coud not provide discipline and strategy, members of this community did not have enough strong-tie connections, reliability and bravery to turn the online protests into offline ones. Last but not least, governments are special actors that can exercise authority or dominance on their people, especially through the internet. The dissidents who have no obstructions in gathering information, exchanging ideas on social network sites or forums will proceed to the final step: coordinating – organizing political protests.
The Facebook protest in Egypt and the Twitter protest in Tunisia (DuPont, 2011) are exemplified for this apex. However, with its authority and legitimacy, governments of those countries have shut down the Internet after a period of surveillance and data mining. In a broader picture, the more modern ICTs are, the more intrusive the society is. To be a part of the society, we have to give up some privacy (L. Mills, 2008). In line with “hierarchical observation” of Foucault, “there were the minor techniques of multiple and intersecting observations, of eyes that must see without being seen (1979, p. 171)” or we can call this system the panopticon in which the governments can see what their citizens are doing without their knowing of being watched or scrutinized at any particular time.
There are various methods that governments use to monitor their people, among which is data mining. It is the ability to merge information from different sources or database (L. Mills, 2008). From here states are able to know everything about citizens owing to synthesising and analysing “enormous sums of information – bank records, phone records, real estate records, tax returs, travel itineraries, and more (L. Mills, 2008, p. 49).
” By compiling all information of people, then putting them into a few specific categories, governments can turn their citizens into visible individuals for the sake of controlling and correcting bad or deviated behaviors by means of punishment, such as imprisonment, assault and battery. This mechanism follows Foucault’s normalization and subsequent individualization process: “the power of normalization imposes homogeneity; but it individualizes by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialties and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another (1979, p. 184).
” In the past, people used euphemisms, grumbling, folktales and other oral as well as written forms of disguise along with anonymity to express their dissatisfaction with their rulers because they were afraid of reprisal and punishment (Scott, 1990), meaning they were invisible to the regime. Nevertheless, nowadays when people delete something online, those stuffs can be dug up in the course of data mining and sometimes come back to haunt them despite their unintentional “bad” thoughts since files they once created on the computer or the Internet are still stored somewhere even after pressing the delete key.
Governments employ data of their citizens for a variety of purposes: maintaining social order (control social problems like terrorist threats, drug trafficking, money laundering, child pornography), formulating and modifying policies that serve or suppress their citizens. In conclusion, it has been contended that the general public becomes more engaged in political realm thanks to the advent of modern technology, especially the Internet, through activities requiring a true democracy from their totalitarian governments, such as seeking online information, exchanging ideas on social network sites and organizing protests.
Yet the Internet still wields some fundamental defects on those users, for example, the overwhelming information, distraction from reality, over-individualization, disintegration and more importantly, the governments possess supreme control – the authority and legitimacy – that can exert disciplinary power on their citizens. Therefore, it is true that the Internet is more beneficial to governments to monitor their citizens than to their citizens to operate it to pressure governments.
However, if governments utilize the Internet to serve their people much more than to maintain their power, the general public will be more willing and volunteer to collaborate with governments and undertake their civil responsibilities, and the Internet will do no more harm to anyone of us.
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