I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the relationship between new media, politics and democratization. Previous posts in this blog shows us numeral examples of how new media has been a powerful tool to spread awareness about inequalities, and in some examples to mobilise resistance. And while I am trying to be cautious not to be too tech-negative in debates regarding new media and political activism, I think that for us to strive towards a more holistic analysis, there are a few factors that we need to shed more light upon. Are new media and ICT platforms actually contributing to a stronger democracy?
The various kinds of ICT platforms that are available today for a growing number of people globally offer a space where citizens have a broader impact on shaping the media landscape than ever before. Like my co-author of this blog Sara put it in one of her previous posts: “we no longer have to run after the media; the media is us”. Basically anyone that has access to various kinds of ICT platforms can spread their words and agendas, and sometimes these agendas turn into viral political action and activism. In a time of shrinking space for democracy and human rights, online platforms could very well be a place where some of that space is being taken back by citizens globally. People having the access to shape the media landscape themselves through online platforms also offers a stronger agency and a climate where we can take matters into our own hands, in some ways. For example, social media played a crucial part in mobilising global awareness about the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests and the cause behind them. The protest was described as the “longest-running protest in modern American history”, yet the absence of traditional mainstream media was unmistakable, and has even been called a “media blackout”. In this case, social media and the protestors and water defenders taking matters into their own hands and updating the world on what was going on in North Dakota, was crucial for attracting global attention.
This is the price we are currently paying if we want equal access to ICT platforms. It is not something that should take away from the fact that these platforms indeed has the potential to strengthen democracy world wide, but nevertheless it is a factor that needs to be taken seriously. As users of these platforms, we all need to keep reminding ourselves and others that it is our shared responsibility to actively work towards preventing online forces that are threatening the growth of a stronger democracy.
The idea that the growing access to new media and ICT for people globally is a contributing factor when it comes to democratisation and social change processes is something that I would agree with, but in these discussions, we also need to consider the risks that come with this growth. Think about it – the more people that have access to ICT platforms to spread awareness about injustice and inequality, there are always going to be groups with equal access to these platforms, but that are spreading different agendas that are actually working against democratisation and equality. In the report “Blogs and Bullets – New Media in Contentious Politics”, it is argued that while the Internet very well might function in a way that is generating positive connections, there is also a trend pointing at the fact that people online sometimes seek out bias-confirming information, which can turn into a real threat when it comes to spreading of fake news and hateful agendas.
Sean Aday; Henry Farrell; Marc Lynch; John Sides; John Kelly; Ethan Zuckerman; “Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics” Available at https://www.usip.org/publications/2010/09/blogs-and-bullets-new-media-contentious-politics