Internet can be a big benefit for democracy

San Francisco Chronicle


Why is the Internet such a powerful platform for democratic activity? Fundamentally, the Internet's technical architecture facilitates participation and connection. Unlike the concentrated mass media of the past century (newspapers, movies, radio, television), the Internet is uniquely decentralized, abundant and user-controlled. Production and distribution of content are inexpensive. Barriers to entry are low. Anyone with a computer (and increasing millions with mobile phones) can speak in the public forum, access a world of information and organize.

Equally important, in the early days of the Internet, policymakers, advocates, companies and coalitions built a policy architecture to steer the technology toward democratic ends. These policy choices embodied the principles of openness, innovation, interconnection, nondiscrimination, user control, freedom of expression, privacy and trust. It is this symbiosis of technology and policy that produced a platform on which individuals across the globe exercise their democratic muscles.

However, this framework is not guaranteed. Technologies can change. Features being built into the servers at the core of the network could facilitate censorship. Monitoring software deployed in the name of copyright protection or cybersecurity could be exploited to maintain political control.