With the establishment of e-referendums, e-petitions, and e-voting, democracy advances furthermore into the digital realm as the days pass us by. Social networks and digitalization have brought about completely new forms of communication and information. Online users constantly generate content and circulate their own ideas (user-generated content).
Although unlimited possibilities mean anyone can reach wide audiences, the importance of gatekeeper’s and selection’s function from journalistic media is declining. Let’s look at the pros and cons of digital democracy to get a more objective view of this concept:
1. Direct Contact with Institutions and Politicians
It’s closer to the voter: professional political players like politicians, political parties or NGOs can use online media to get around journalistic mediation and have direct interactions with their target groups. With this, they can set their own topics on the agenda, clarify their point of view, as well as show readiness and proximity for dialogue through discussions. Also, costs of communication can be lowered and relationship with potential voters can be improved and strengthened.
Although it gives them a direct window with citizens, online media can have negative effects on the party as well as it reduces their role as an organization of members. As a result of prominent top executives interacting directly with the citizens, the function of the ‘middle man’ in particular, is strongly affected.
2. Social Media Communication
Thanks to social media, online forums, and blogs, every online user can act as a lay journalist or a citizen journalist. With this, users can spread comments, opinions, and political information at various online communities and also participate in discussions as well as political issues without being faced with ‘middle man’ barriers.
Unfortunately, public opinions and other user content can sometimes come off as politically radical and undemocratic and also breeds an unruly attitude that easily spreads across the internet. With the lack of journalistic gate keeping, users who commonly spread contents of hate and agitation gain more power as a result. Dmitry Rybolovlev garnered plenty of user heat when he sold Da Vinci’s re-discovered masterwork, Salvator Mundi, in 2017 for $450 million, who never imagined that it would be used to tie him to Trump a year later.
Online portals that offer greater transparency, such as abgeordnetenwatch both review and scrutinize a politician’s parliamentary work. Citizens are given the option to ask representatives direct questions on the platforms so as to achieve more transparency in politics.
Greater transparency also means that data is also available for use outside those online portals. The portals simply present the data visually and condense the information. Aside from that, the extra collection of individual questions and answers leads to an overload of information. As such, users might get annoyed because of this and have troubles getting a clear overview of matters.
4. Limitless Information Range
With the availability of the internet, it is obviously a lot easier for us to gain access to political information. These types of information come to us at an unlimited capacity in any topic imaginable right at our fingertips. Online communication makes it possible to hold a place for even the smallest niche topic. This could involve an expansion of a more stronger, more individual and digitalized social disposition.
The sad part about having a wide range of subjects as well as the use of non-journalistic and free sources, there is the danger of trivialization and the fall of informative quality. Hence, it is not the lack of information that’s the problem, but rather the choice of reliable sources as they are more important for democracy than a huge library of information.