Politics and technology

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The combination of politics and technology covers concepts, mechanisms, personalities, efforts, and social movements including but not necessarily limited to the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

A growing body of scholarship has begun to explore how Internet technologies are influencing political communication and participation, especially in terms of what is known as the public sphere.

One of the most influential and transformational information and communication technologies is the mobile phone or smartphone, which can include: talk, text messaging, Internet and Web access, electronic mail, faxing, pictures, video, and a wide variety of apps. Mobile devices are proving to increase political participation and are now even being portrayed as a voting gadget in even the least developed countries. Increased availability of this technology and subsequent access to the public sphere has enhanced the ability of individuals and groups to bring attention to and organize around specialized issues.[1]

More recently, social media has emerged to become one of the main areas of influence for politics, where millions of users are able to learn about politicians' policies and statements, interact with political leaders, organize, and voice their own opinions on political matters.[2]

The digital public sphere[edit]

The idea of the public sphere has generally come to be understood as the open social spaces and public spaces in which private citizens interact and share information and ideas relevant to the society. These can include, for example, town halls, public squares, markets, coffee shops, or what ancient Greeks called agoras. Many scholars have argued that these spaces are vitally important for creating and maintaining an active and informed public in a democratic society.[3]

In Jürgen Habermas' book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere – An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, he defines the public sphere as "a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed."[4] In principle, the public sphere should be open to all citizens, and free from influence from governments or private businesses. Habermas goes on to argue that:

"A portion of the public sphere is constituted in every conversation in which private persons come together to form a public. They are then acting neither as business or professional people conducting their private affairs, nor as legal consociates subject to the legal regulations of a state bureaucracy and obligated to obedience. Citizens act as a public when they deal with matters of general interest without being subject to coercion; thus with the guarantee that they may assemble and unite freely, and express and publicize their opinions freely."[4]

Howard Rheingold argues that, "There is an intimate connection between informal conversations, the kind that take place in communities... and the ability of large social groups to govern themselves without monarchs or dictators.”[5] Rheingold and others[6] have also gone on to argue that virtual spaces created through the Internet and related information and communications technologies have led to the emergence of a new type of digital public sphere. Some scholars have conceptualized this alternately as a virtual public sphere[7] or a networked public sphere,[8][9] while still others have similarly described what they call a networked society[10][11] or networked publics.[12] Essentially, these new virtual spaces can be used in much the same way as traditional, offline spaces; that is, as a "free space"[13] to discuss and debate ideas of public importance. Just as the public sphere is a combination of "every conversation in which private persons come together to form a public"[4] the digital public sphere also comprises all forms of new media, such as chat rooms, website comment sections, and social media, in which private citizens engage in discourse as a public. Virtual spaces may overlap or interact with offline spaces as well, forming what has been called "hybrid networks".[14]

Many scholars argue that social media affords increasing opportunities for political discourse and mobilization within the digital public sphere.[15] Research has shown that increased use of social media correlates with increases in certain types of political engagement and participation.[16][17] The digital public sphere thus has the potential to enliven democratic culture[18] and enhance the ability of citizens to challenge the political and economic power of governments and corporations[15] such as through online protests, activism campaigns, and social movements.[11][19] Other scholars have also highlighted, alongside economic globalization, the role of Internet technologies to reach across national borders to contribute to a growing transnational public sphere.[20][21]


Social exclusion[edit]

The traditional, offline public sphere has been criticized for not being as inclusive in practice as it is in theory.[22] For example, Feminist scholars like Nancy Fraser have argued that the public sphere has historically not been as open or accessible to disadvantaged or marginalized groups in a society, such as women or people of color; therefore, such groups are forced to form their own separate public spheres, which she refers to as a counter-public or subaltern counter public.[23]

Some scholars contend that online spaces are more open and thus may help to increase inclusive political participation from marginalized groups.[24] In particular, anonymous online spaces should allow all individuals to speak with an equal voice to others.[25] However, other have pointed out that many contemporary online spaces are not anonymous, such as Facebook. Avatars and social media profiles often portray an individual's offline identity, which can lead to practices of online discrimination and exclusion which mirror offline inequalities.[26] Now, more and more historically disadvantaged or marginalized groups are also using Internet technology to carve out new online spaces for their own "networked counterpublics" such as through the use of hashtags like #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter.[27][28]

The digital divide[edit]

Another factor which affects access to the digital public sphere is the digital divide, which refers to how people from less developed countries tend to have less access to information and communications technologies compared to those from more developed countries. For example, the most developed regions of the world, such as North America and Western Europe, have the highest Internet penetration rates at over 80% each, while the least developed countries such as in Africa and South Asia have less than 30% each.[29] On the other hand, the reduced cost and increasing availability of mobile devices such as smartphones throughout less developed regions is helping to reduce this disparity at an exponential rate. In just two years, between 2013 and 2015, the number of Internet users in developing nations has risen by 9%, according to the Pew Research Center.[30] Other research has shown, though, that even within more developed countries like the United States, the digital divide continues to persist between upper and lower socioeconomic classes[31] and between different education levels.[32] Furthermore, scholars like Mark Warschauer argue that it is not just access to technology that matters, but the knowledge of how to put that technology to use in meaningful ways.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Creeber, Glen. Digital Cultures: [understanding New Media]. Maidenhead: Open Univ., 2009. Print.
  2. ^ Parmelee, John; Bichard, Shannon (2012). Politics and the Twitter revolution : how tweets influence the relationship between political leaders and the public. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 1. ISBN 9780739165010.
  3. ^ Evans, Sara M.; Boyte, Harry C. (1992). Free spaces : the sources of democratic change in America (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226222578. OCLC 24669015.
  4. ^ a b c Jürgen, Habermas (1962). The structural transformation of the public sphere : an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Cambridge, Mass. ISBN 978-0262081801. OCLC 18327374.
  5. ^ Howard., Rheingold, (2000). The virtual community : homesteading on the electronic frontier (Rev. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262681216. OCLC 44162557.
  6. ^ Dahlgren, Peter (2006). "The Internet, Public Spheres, and Political Communication: Dispersion and Deliberation". Political Communication. 22 (2): 147–162. doi:10.1080/10584600590933160.
  7. ^ Papacharissi, Zizi (2002). "The virtual sphere". New Media & Society. 4 (1): 9–27. doi:10.1177/14614440222226244. ISSN 1461-4448.
  8. ^ Shirky, Clay (2011). "The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change". Foreign Affairs. 90 (1): 28–41. JSTOR 25800379.
  9. ^ Zeynep, Tufekci (2017). Twitter and tear gas : the power and fragility of networked protest. New Haven. ISBN 9780300215120. OCLC 961312425.
  10. ^ Castells, Manuel (2013). Communication power (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191510434. OCLC 855022865.
  11. ^ a b Castells, Manuel (2015). Networks of outrage and hope: social movements in the Internet age (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity. ISBN 9780745662855. OCLC 795757037.
  12. ^ Varnelis, Kazys (2008). Networked Publics. Annenberg Center for Communication (University of Southern California). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262285483. OCLC 283798198.
  13. ^ Pippa, Norris (2002). Democratic phoenix : reinventing political activism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521811774. OCLC 48943689.
  14. ^ Lim, Merlyna (2015). "A CyberUrban Space Odyssey: The Spatiality of Contemporary Social Movements". New Geographies. 7: 117–123.
  15. ^ a b Loader, Brian D.; Mercea, Dan (2011). "Networking Democracy? Social media innovations and participatory politics". Information, Communication & Society. 14 (6): 757–769. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2011.592648.
  16. ^ Boulianne, Shelly (2015). "Social media use and participation: a meta-analysis of current research". Information, Communication & Society. 18 (5): 524–538. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2015.1008542.
  17. ^ Kahne, Joseph; Bowyer, Benjamin (2018). "The Political Significance of Social Media Activity and Social Networks". Political Communication. 35 (3): 470–493. doi:10.1080/10584609.2018.1426662.
  18. ^ David., Bollier, (2008). Viral spiral : how the commoners built a digital republic of their own. New York: New Press. ISBN 978-1595583963. OCLC 227016731.
  19. ^ Earl, Jennifer; Kimport, Katrina (2011). Digitally enabled social change : activism in the Internet age. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262015103. OCLC 639573767.
  20. ^ Guidry, John; Kennedy, Michael; Zald, Mayer, eds. (2000). Globalizations and Social Movements. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.11707. ISBN 9780472097210.
  21. ^ Piper, Nicola; Uhlin, Anders (2004). Transnational activism in Asia : problems of power and democracy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415315135. OCLC 51817597.
  22. ^ Calhoun, Craig J., ed. (1992). Habermas and the public sphere. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262031837. OCLC 23650367.
  23. ^ Fraser, Nancy (1990). "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy". Social Text (25/26): 56–80. doi:10.2307/466240. JSTOR 466240.
  24. ^ Schlosberg, David; Dryzek, John S. (2002). "Digital Democracy: Authentic or Virtual?". Organization & Environment. 15 (3): 332–335. JSTOR 26162195.
  25. ^ Deseriis, M. (2013). "Is Anonymous a New Form of Luddism?: A Comparative Analysis of Industrial Machine Breaking, Computer Hacking, and Related Rhetorical Strategies". Radical History Review. 2013 (117): 33–48. doi:10.1215/01636545-2210437. ISSN 0163-6545.
  26. ^ Lisa, Nakamura (2008). Digitizing race : visual cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816653775. OCLC 214085023.
  27. ^ Jackson, Sarah J.; Foucault Welles, Brooke (2015). "Hijacking #myNYPD: Social Media Dissent and Networked Counterpublics". Journal of Communication. 65 (6): 932–952. doi:10.1111/jcom.12185. ISSN 0021-9916.
  28. ^ Jackson, Sarah J.; Foucault Welles, Brooke (2016). "#Ferguson is everywhere: initiators in emerging counterpublic networks". Information, Communication & Society. 19 (3): 397–418. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2015.1106571.
  29. ^ "Global regional internet penetration rate 2017 | Statistic". Statista. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  30. ^ "Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies". Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. 2016-02-22. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  31. ^ Tomer, Adie; Kane, Joseph (2015). "Broadband adoption rates and gaps in U.S. metropolitan areas". Brookings. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  32. ^ "11% of Americans don't use the internet. Who are they?". Pew Research Center. 2018-03-05. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  33. ^ Mark., Warschauer, (2003). Technology and social inclusion : rethinking the digital divide. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262232241. OCLC 50028800.