Is The Web Really An Engine Of Democracy?

Point and counterpoint views of the Internet's ability to empower us


| April 15, 2004


Columnist and progressive convert Arianna Huffington has the hots for powerbrokers -- those who use the power of the Internet, that is. As the mainstream media makes a habit of giving a worthy story its 20-second sound bite before moving on to the next eye catcher, Huffington touts the role of the news pariahs known as bloggers. She writes, 'Bloggers are armed with a far more effective piece of access than a White House press credential: passion. When bloggers decide that something matters, they chomp down hard and refuse to let go. They're the pit bulls of reporting.'

Bloggers like Atrios, Kos, Josh Micah Marshall, Kausfiles, Kevin Drum, and Wonkette played an instrumental role in exposing former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott as a rabid racist and eventually getting him canned by using their weblogs to draw attention to controversial interviews he gave 20 years ago. Twenty years ago means prehistoric, or irrelevant, to the mainstream news media, by the way.

Unfortunately, as The New Republic's Joshua Kurlantzick experienced in Laos, not everyone with access to the Internet can use it for good causes. Despite the strikingly modern feel of some cyber cafes in developing countries (new PCs, Madonna strutting her stuff on a nearby television screen, kids logging on to MTV.com) the freedom of expression that we're accustomed to in the west isn't always an option. 'When I attempted to access the Web pages of exile groups opposed to the authoritarian Vientiane regime [in Laos], I received an error message saying the pages were not accessible,' writes Kurlantzick, concluding that the Internet isn't necessarily the powerful force for democracy that we make it out to be. Kurlantzick continues: 'For years, a significant subset of the democratization industry -- that network of political scientists, think tanks, and policymakers -- has placed its bets (and, in many cases, its money) on the Web's potential to spread liberal ideas in illiberal parts of the world.' Not so, he says. 'In fact, in some repressive countries the spread of the Internet actually may be helping dictatorships remain in power.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

Go there>>A Mash Note to the Blogosphere

Go there too>>The Web Won't Topple Tyranny

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