Experiments in Internet and Democracy

express opinions and inform and persuade their governments in ways as modern as
the media available to them. The same holds true for governments when they express
opinions and inform and persuade the public. Thus, over the last decade, the
dialogue between a citizenry and its elected representatives has increasingly been

comes the imminent expansion of the top-level domain space – with a thousand
extensions soon to be added to the 22 commonly used today, such as .COM, .NET,
and .ORG. Will political discourse migrate into this new Internet space?

A recent Washington Post article
indicated that new gTLDs could become a new battleground for American politics
– at least Republican politics. The Republican Party applied for .GOP, but the
Democrats didn’t apply for their gTLD equivalent. Score one for the

In 2002, Congress passed and the
President signed the E-Government Act, which made it easier for the federal government
to communicate with the public electronically and for the public to locate the federal
information and services it needs. More recently, the Obama Administration
established We the People, an online opportunity for citizens to start
petitions about subjects of concern to them. If a petition gets a certain
number of signatures, the Administration promises to review it and respond.

studies have focused on the impact of the Internet and often they reach contradictory
conclusions. According to The Internet
and Politics: Citizens, Voters and Activists (Democratization Studies)
any studies are “exuberant in its hopes for a betterment of society” and  “saw the new digital technologies as key to
the renewal of direct democracy and citizen empowerment.” The hope was that new
public forums and easier access to information would result in a more engaged
public, which in turn would result in a better governmental system.

recently passed the Finnish Citizen’s Initiative, which allows citizens to
draft legislation that then must be debated by Parliament. The crowdsourcing that
s this possible is generated using technology that costs just $2,000 a year. The
outcome of this experiment remains to be seen. “It takes a lot of time and
testing how the things should work. But there is no reason to consider that the
democratic system we now have is the ideal model,” said Joonas Pekkanen, a
democracy campaigner in Finland.

studies on the impact of the Internet found that some people think new online
technologies can replace current institutions and democratic functions. And
still other studies found that some people believe the Internet can be
dangerous to democracy, “reducing the possibility for collective action,”  “eroding social capital and community ties,”
and “reduc[ing] both the quality of political debate an discourse…and the
accountability of the government” (The
Internet and Politics

The Wall Street Journal recently examined some government efforts to increase
digital communications. A
2010 experiment in participatory democracy led the United Kingdom to launch a
website asking the public to nominate laws it wanted repealed. A campaign demanding
the repeal of the second law of thermodynamics forced the website to close.

Internet and Politics
tell of yet another conclusion about the affect of
the Internet, that it “was neither the agent of the glorious revolution nor
apocalypse now, but a reinforcer of the status quo.”

One thing is for sure: Just
as it is important for businesses to experiment with new platforms and online
innovations, it is important for governments and democratic systems to
experiment as well. Those political parties, activists, and interest groups
that use the new top-level domain space (think .ECO, .GREEN, .AARP) could be at
the forefront of a new online platform.

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