Technology and Politics in Context

By Michael J. Jensen and Eva Anduiza

Digital media have greatly expanded the repertoires and channels of political participation, communication, and information. Below, Michael J. Jensen and Eva Anduiza argue that internet use may continue to play a particularly important role as it enables individuals to connect to a variety of communication flows that serve as alternative sources of information, organisation, and value structures.

For the last twenty years, we have been told that the internet is going to revolutionise every aspect of human affairs – politics, business, medicine, education, family life, etc. This argument takes the form that human life is organised through communication; therefore, if the prevailing means of communication in a society change, there are likely to be consequences in each of these fields of activity.

The analysis of this field is complex for four reasons. First, varied political activities connect persons to politics in distinct ways which belie generalisation across all forms of political engagement. Second, the diversity of digital spaces in which online political activity takes place make it at least as diverse as offline participation. Third, the boundaries between concepts such as information-seeking, communication, political discussion, and political participation have become more difficult to distinguish online. Digital media position information consumers with the capacity to be equally information producers and transmitters. In many non-democratic regimes, even information-seeking is a transgressive political act. Finally, there are a great deal of interdependencies between concrete political contexts and the transformative capacities of online political engagement.

Digital media have greatly expanded the repertoires and channels of political participation, communication, and information. The digital interfaces provided by email, blogging platforms, and online social networking sites simplify and facilitate creation and diffusion of political messages as well as political recruitment. Digital media enable the formation of ad hoc, flexible networks of political organisation and communication outside of traditional civil society networks and media centers. The digital platform positions individuals with the capacity to network with others and engage politics on their own terms rather than the often hierarchical institutionalised spaces of conventional partisan politics.

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