Web 2.0: Hope, or Hopeless?

by corruptionandcoverups

Web 2.0 means different things to many different people — as does the Internet itself — however, in the context of this blog, Web 2.0 encompasses the Internet facilities, domains, and the spaces online which allow: information sharing, collaboration, interaction, and inter-operability. The most famous examples of Web 2.0 are social networking sites such as Facebook, blogs (such as this one), and video sharing sites such as YouTube. Yet, the vast access to information, the opportunity to voice dissent, and spread discontent via Web 2.0 has not necessarily had the desired outcomes that some cyber utopians have dreamed of, in my blog I will critically analyse certain key aspects of Web 2.0.

Many would assume that increased access to information would leave greater trust in the political establishment, and the political process in general; one could argue that it would naturally lead to increased participation through the use of online media and blogs, however, studies and academics have shown this to not always be the case (Bimber, 2001; Kaid, 2002). One reason for this is that the Internet facilities of Web 2.0 also tend to reflect the real world biases and inequalities, such as: class, elitism, arrogance, and gender. (Hill and Hughes, 1998). However, the main reason for the lack of direct increase of participation, or trust in politics, is that much of the new information and access is actually being geared towards entertainment purposes, which are difficult to compete with, i.e. video sharing sites, online television, pornography etc. (Althaus and Tewksbury, 2000; Shah, 2001). On top of this, access is by no means an equal playing field, as economic and political elites also have access to such means, which allows them greater ability to: “[S]hape the public agenda, and the ability for these elites to communicate directly with the electorate” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:235). All of these issues lead to a more pessimistic (or realistic) conclusion, as Zizi Paracharissi states:

“[G]reater access to information and communication channels does not ensure increases in civic engagement… Online political conversations can be easily dominated by elites as offline ones. Access to information does not guarantee that information will be assessed. Similarly, access to information does not render an electorate more active of efficacious” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:235).

The idea that Web 2.0 would reign in a new era of direct democracy and vast political participation, has been weakened by these studies and multiple others. This is because individuals are more likely to access interest group, non-partisan websites whilst online (Cornfield, 2003); preferring also to access major media outlets and television shows for current affairs information, analysis, reporting, and informing, rather than obtaining and reading internet based news (Kohut, 2003). Web 2.0, when examined with critical analysis, has not been able to fundamentally change the systemic political processes as:

“Availability of information alone is unable to sustain and encourage civic engagement. Those connected enjoy participating in online polls and circulating political jokes and cartoons, but are not drawn to conventional formats of political content online (such as news releases and endorsements)” (Chadwick & Howard, 2010:239).

This means that although Web 2.0 can bring benefits and improvements, in terms of information access and community/civic/public/local organisations and activities; is does not necessarily promote such things or encourage such participation, rather; it facilitates people who already do carry out said activities and gives those organisations a chance to grow. However, ideas such as direct democracy, and mass participation via Web 2.0 are still utopian pipe-dreams — dreams that I doubt the elites will ever share themselves…

Bibliography: 

Althaus, S. L. and Tewksbury, D., ‘Patterns of internet and traditional media use in a networked community’, Political Communication, 17, (21-45), 2000.

Bimber, B., ‘Information and political engagement in America’, Political Research Quarterly, 54, (53-67), 2001.

Chadwick, A. and Howard, N. P., ‘The Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics’, Routledge, 2010.

Cornfield, M. and Rainie, L., ‘The Impact of the Internet on Politics’, Washington DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2003.

Hill, K. A. and Hughes, J. E., ‘Cyberpolitics: Citizen activism in the age of the internet’, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Kohut, A., ‘Perceptions of partisan bias seen as growing – especially by Democrats’, Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2003.

Kaid, L. L., ‘Political Advertising and Information Seeking’, Journal of Advertising, 31, (27-35), 2002.

Shah, D., Kwak, N. and Holbert, R., ‘Connecting and disconnecting with civic life’, Political Communication, 18, (141-62), 2001.

What about 2.0?

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