October 17, 2002
When the Internet was still in vogue, many political commentators thought that that it would completely restructure politics. They predicted that voter participation would rise, the populace would become more informed, and the influence of money would be diminished. However, researchers find none of these things occurred, and argue that the Internet may hurt democracy. They say that predictions of better politics in the online world failed because people assumed problems resulted from poor communication or lack of information. However, these problems have deeper roots:
- Information, even before the Internet, was cheap to obtain.
- Thus, making information even easier to obtain was not going to entice more people to pay attention to politics.
- Moreover, by distracting people with more "interesting" information, the Internet might even make it harder to educate people about politics.
- Since the Internet will not make Americans more interested in politics, it will not diminish the need or the cost of reaching voters who do not wish to be reached.
Observers say the Internet might weaken democracy in three key ways:
- It will speed up politics even further, forcing leaders to make hasty decisions without sufficient information.
- Also, it will undermine federalism, by making it impossible for representatives to distinguish between constituents and activists.
- Finally, by letting people live in isolation and away from neighbors, it will weaken local communities and their channels of power.
On the other hand some experts believe these threats to be largely benign. They observe that while the Internet did not revolutionize politics, it did revolutionize the bureaucracy and administrative activities performed by government.
Source: Yuval Levin, "Politics after the Internet," Public Interest, Number 149, Fall 2002.
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