Access to information is essential for any democracy. In this context, the media’s function is to provide a realistic picture of what the situation really is in order to help the people make informed choices, to force the politicians to be accountable to the people and to raise political questions.
The Internet and Authoritarian Governments
However, in authoritarian governments, access to information is one of many things the people do not have. The leaders control all aspects of the media and thus present a picture of the situation that favors them. A good example is North Korea where the leaders project a glorified picture of their “beloved leader” through massive ceremonies, while people are starving to death due to corruption and total mismanagement of the economy. While the people live in poverty, the leaders live in luxury.
Since the leaders in such societies have an iron grip on the media, democratic voices must resort to alternatives and this is where internet and the social media come in. A classic example is the demonstrations in the Middle East and especially in Egypt. The invitation to demonstrations and the necessity to participate were spread via Facebook, Twitter and Internet. The result was a million people in Tahrir Square. Many political organizations came together in a united force by being able to coordinate their efforts through these media. The government tried to shut down the various media one by one, but creative people with a knowledge of how the new media work managed to get around these shutdowns, the result being that information continued to flow and the demonstrations continued. Internet proved to be an essential political tool in confronting dictatorial governments and helping democratic movements.
The Internet and Democracies
However, internets’ value is not limited to dictatorial governments and societies which are victims of these governments. It is just as useful in democratic societies. Access to information is also important in these societies. Keeping politicians accountable to the people is important in all societies and just because a society is democratic does not mean that politicians always do what is best for the people. Recent exposures by Wikileaks provide an excellent example of this. Leaks have revealed war crimes committed by U.S. soldiers, greed and mismanagement by Danish bankers and questionable political dealings and have provided a behind the scenes view of how diplomacy really works.
Before internet, consumers was primarily dependent on information from the producer of a product they considered buying. However today, consumers can access information about products through consumer groups who analyze and evaluate products. Anyone considering buying a product, especially an expensive one, should get an objective view of the product through other consumers’ evaluation. Consumer groups also publish information about labor practices of producers and have forced producers to change practices including improving working conditions and raising wages in developing countries. No longer can company executives hide behind information provided by their public relations department. With the help of internet, the public knows about the company’s products and their practices. The latter is particularly important for workers in developing countries who have limited power and access to the general public. Thus internet is changing our world and helping to make it more democratic.
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