Internet and democracy

I had never before crossed paths with the words “authoritarian deliberation,” but I had all too often felt their cruel effects throughout my young life.

Mom: “What do you all want for dinner?”
10-year-old me: “Pizza!”
My sister: “Chicken Parmesan!”
Dad: “Steak!”
Mom: “Actually, I kind of feel like liver and onions. It’s so good for you, and we haven’t had it for a while…”
10-year-old me: “How about fried chicken?”
My sister: “Spaghetti?”
Dad: “…Steak?”
Mom: “No, no… I think I even have everything I need for liver and onions right here. I won’t even need to go to the store!”
10-year-old me, getting desperate: “Why even cook? Why don’t I just run the 50 blocks to the store and pick up a frozen pizza? I don’t mind! Given the blistering South Florida heat, it should be fully cooked by the time I get back!”
My sister: “I’ll help him!”
Dad: “Are we having steak?”
Mom: “Alright, liver and onions it is! I’m so glad we came to a decision together!”

As such, I had no idea there was an actual name for what I just considered to be my mother’s unique brand of democratic tyranny. Nor was I aware of the more serious real-world applications of it and its ties to the Internet.

Doing a simple search in Google for “authoritarian deliberation” brings up a lot of references to China and their Internet policies. One blog referenced a webcast done in 2008 with President Jintao, in which he acknowledged the Internet as a tool that the government could utilize in listening to its people. However, as Morozov points out in the reading, the “deliberations” of any one group can easily be used as a source of false credibility for policies that the government wishes to enact without it appearing as though they are coming from itself. After all, who can say which deliberations they listen to and which they ignore? And whether these deliberations reflect the feelings of the majority? Find any group that supports your wildest claim (and its not that hard on the Internet), and you can have instant “legitimacy.” And while the idea of authoritarian deliberation seems to mark it exclusively for a certain type of government, I’ve little doubt you can find examples of it anywhere in the world.

On a similar note, I did want to touch briefly on the topic of the Internet as a “zero-sum game.” Morozov mentions this in regards to the idea that for every site devoted to social acceptance or democratic proceedings, there will be one that argues against such notions. However, I can’t help but feel they don’t really have any bearing on each other, insomuch as the fact that those who are attracted to one site would not naturally go to the other. I’ve been in a lot of classroom discussions in the last year that have talked about the influence of biased news sources. I always end up coming away feeling the same way. People tend to look up information that will correspond with and corroborate their own viewpoints. No amount of websites that express a different view will somehow magically convert their beliefs. There has to be some other sort of catalyst that pushes them to seek out information contrary to their ideologies. And that catalyst is rarely just the fact that such websites exist.

On a completely different topic… complaintremover.com. Wow. I had no idea such a thing existed, but in retrospect, how could it not? I mean, what a fantastic idea for a sleazy business! I bet this place is dying for Facebook to add a “dislike” button. Boingboing had an amusing blurb about a “client” trying to enlist their services to purge lolcats from the Internet. Truly, that would be a dark day. An Internet without lolcats is an Internet I have no desire to take part in.

Still, just to be fair, I decided to hear them out. And I’m glad I did! The amazing green-screen backdrop and rocking soundtrack did a lot to restore their legitimacy with me.

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4 Responses to Internet and democracy

  1. It’s good that you linked to a blog post by Rebecca MacKinnon (“Authoritarian Deliberation” on the Chinese Internet) — she is a well-known advocate for Internet freedom for China. Good source.

    I enjoyed watching the video you posted. HOWEVER, it’s not clear from your post where it comes from. Is it a parody? Or is it from the real Complaint Remover site (http://complaintremover.com/)? Even after I went to Daily Motion and saw that the video was uploaded by “complaintremover” (http://www.dailymotion.com/complaintremover) — well, maybe anyone could take that username and upload a video, hm?

  2. aflaten says:

    I’m glad my blundering around the Internet paid off. I had never before been to Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog. However, I did come away from it feeling a bit more positive about the effects that the Internet could have in even a restrictive environment, so I thought it would be a good link to share.

    You make a good point about the video link and the dangers of assumptions. The link does come straight from a dailymotion account from a user named “complaintremover,” so I took it as being a legitimate advert from them, especially since it doesn’t make fun of them and does list their services. It just screams of low-budget.

    For the sake of clarity, however, I did not find the link on http://complaintremover.com/. Sorry I wasn’t clear about it in the post!

  3. Sijia says:

    I also found the term “authoritarian deliberation” fascinating. Nowadays in China, we do have a lot of activities that seem pretty democratic in both private sector and goverment sector. And I believe there are plenty of people who have engaged in such activities feel that they are treated democratically. But the thing is when everything seems transparent and genuine, the main stream stay suspicious and cautious. It is maybe due to the long-time conventions and cognitions towards government that make us tend to doubt (“Why the governmentman seems so nice and everything so perfect? They must be hidding something”). And the sad thing is we don’t have/know the vehicles to really test the authenticity.

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