How The Internet Affects Democracy
Democracy is a form of government that allows the public to hold political power by electing representatives. The UK and the US are prime examples of democracies, as both nations have equality and political freedom. However, for democracy to work, transparency is key.
In many respects, the internet has led to a more engaged democratic audience that’s happy to participate in politics to maintain law and order. Find out how the internet now affects democracy.
While many people will turn to their smartphones or computers to shop online or read the latest news, others are using various platforms to participate in democracy. Anyone with an internet connection can express their political beliefs online. For example, they could publish an article, broadcast insightful audio, leave a comment in a forum, post a tweet or create a video that features their opinion on a political party, a new law, or the latest budget.
A prime example of the power of information sharing is Change.org, which is an online petition website that aims to secure enough signatures from the public for the creation of new laws or to secure justice. Many of the popular online campaigns have led to various victories in recent years, such as adding women onto UK banknotes, saving free school meals, and the introduction of the Alan Turing law.
The Ability to Make Informed Decisions
Many world-famous politicians have adopted something akin to a poker strategy to place themselves in a position of power in recent years. According to the New York Times, European governments adopted poker-table communication during the Greek debt crisis, as they publicly aired what they wanted to improve during their negotiations in Brussels.
The publication of these talks enabled the public to learn more about the strategies many world leaders are adopting, which can help people see through their tactics and make a more informed decision. Social media platforms also serve as outlets for users to air their opinions, learn from others, and become more active in their political affiliations. Consequently, their views, or the sharing of articles online, have the power to influence a social media user’s followers and, depending on their privacy settings, the public.
Freedom of Speech
The ability to share information with the masses has, of course, positively impacted freedom of speech, which is fundamental to democracy. Knowledge is power, and easy access to articles, videos, social media posts and government data is helping people from all walks of life to form strong opinions on governments, political parties, legislation, and election processes. Freedom of speech can, therefore, impact laws, leaders, and people’s behaviours.
It’s essential to note that there is a big difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. For example, according to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression.” However, this freedom will be “subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions, and penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary for a democratic society.”
While everyone has a right to air their views, UK law is clear on outlawing hate speech. For example, Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 states it is a legal offence for a person or group to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that could cause, or potentially cause harassment, distress or alarm to another person.
It is, for this reason, why trolling individuals or groups on the internet is now a criminal offence. For instance, the Crown Prosecution Service can prosecute internet users who attempt to harass others or create doctored images or derogatory hashtags.
Free Media Supporting Democracy
Access to free media has always supported democracy in the UK, and the internet makes access to data and facts more accessible than ever. Informative articles, statistics, and global data are helping people from all walks of life to make more informed decisions when it comes to not only their opinions on the government but also about travel and healthcare. The publication of data online is also forcing the government to become more transparent and accountable, which helps to support UK democracy.
Free access to articles online can also help internet users to view politics in a different light. For instance, this article from War on the Rocks recently compared politics to a game of Texas Holdem, which is a form of poker. For instance, some players – or countries – will fold when pressured, while others might take higher risks to win. So, those who want to understand how democracy and global power works should play live or online poker, such as Texas Holdem or Omaha hi-lo. By doing so, they could understand how nations can either expand or preserve their influence and the tactics they undertake, such as aggressive or passive play.
The Dangers of Online Communication
It is essential to be aware that while the internet is providing people with more freedom of speech, online communication is not without its dangers, as various platforms could potentially violate a user’s privacy. Data protection is, therefore, setting new standards for the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, as companies now must justify why they retain a person’s data. So, while the internet is empowering people to use their voice and express their opinions, it is essential to be aware of the dangers of doing so online. By improving data protection and making platforms more transparent, internet users will have more confidence in the forums, which can lead to them embracing the world wide web for information exchange.
There is no doubt that the internet provides its users with a louder, firmer voice, and it is enabling members of the public to take an active role in politics. After all, the platforms can help individuals and groups to inspire change, alter opinions, and vocalise flaws in governments, laws, or political parties. Plus, easy access to latest news allows people from all walks of life to view national and geopolitics from different perspectives, which can increase their interest in democracy.