On the 6th of December 2008 in Athens a teenager was shot dead by a police officer. Immediate chaos followed starting in Athens the same night, spreading fast across Greece with protests and demonstrations and occupations of universities resulting in riots, fights between angry protesters and the police whilst in support and solidarity to the Greeks demonstrations and protests took place in numerous cities across the globe(reuters.com,2008). In a relatively short time a respectable number of people where mobilized and on the streets fighting for something: a better world, a fairer government or perhaps a more democratic society?
The riots in Athens were reported on “traditional” media all over the world, mainly causing the audiences fear and panic. At the same time, at a different world, a virtual alternative one, different messages were sent: those of solidarity, truth and “fighting for your rights” ones. As there was a completely different approach between the two, really it is interesting to assess which one made people to believe that there can be a change? Today, in retrospect, it is said that it were the blogs, and alternative news sites that provided this stimulus.
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In this essay drawing inspiration from the events of last year, in which I was not only an observer but also an active participant, I will try to assess the effect of the blogosphere on peoples minds and ideas, and evidently argue that blogs do make a difference in how people understand a democratic citizenship, and how they act accordingly, which is not necessarily the commonly accepted forms of acting. As mentioned before alternative news media sites played an important role in this particular instance, as they do in numerous cases, and most importantly the blogs. I believe that not only do these new forms of providing information enhance democratic citizenship, but through a different way of getting informed and getting active, maybe those protesters had it right, maybe a better world is possible!?
I see the multifolded effect of such media enhancing the notion of being a good or active citizen. There is a bottom-up way of communicating, there is a coverage of topics not reported by traditional media, there is a different approach in supporting the ideas in order to achieve transparency and prove non-bias, both autonomous or collaborative blogs support deliberation, there is new immediate way of circulation and flow of information.
A new way of communication
Ever since the development of the Web 2.0 communication platforms on the internet are facilitated and certainly everything has become more interactive and user-friendly. Consequently, this together with the increase of the number of net-users has generated a new form of expression, the blogs. Blogs are as Walker (2003) suggests :
A weblog, or blog, is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first ...The style is typically personal and informal...Each entry in a weblog tends to link to further information. Weblog authors also link to other weblogs that have dealt with similar topics, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics...Weblogs also generally include a blogroll, which is a list of links to other weblogs the author recommend, and many weblogs allow readers to enter their own comments to individual posts...(Walker, 2003)
From Walkers definition we understand that a blog is a tool that enables a net user to express views, provide supporting information via linking and most importantly to inter-act by commenting on a post. Apart from the interactivity provided by blogs, one of their other important features is that of linking. Therefore, if we think of the Internet as a ‘Network of networks' (Owen,1999,p.222) one could argue that all the blogs put together consist a network of links. Indeed, Bruns(2005) defines the blogosphere as:
...the overall community of blogs and bloggers, which is interlinked through a large number or cross-references between individual blog entries...(Bruns, 2005, p. 182)
Funny as it may be, blogs put together constitute a sphere. Maybe it is possible that this new-age sphere has several things in common with the public sphere? According to Habermas, the public sphere is :
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
A domain of our social life where such a thing as a public opinion can be formed [where] citizens...deal with matters of general interest withouth being subject to coercion...[to] express and publicize their views (Habermas 1997, cited in McKee,2004,p.4)
Comparing the two definitions of spheres, and having in mind the distinct features of blogs allows us to think of the internet and the blogosphere as a deliberation space: anyone can own a blog and post his/her ideas, provide stimulus if you will, everyone else can read it and comment on it and this creates an on going discussion and exchange of views and information.
Before the rise of the WWW (World Wide Web) this stimulus was provided by traditional media, be it press, radio or television. Nowadays, the rise of user friendly software online gives room for both professional and amateur journalists to publish news and commentary. This generates a clash between the two : there is an ongoing “battle” for the delivery of news. On the one side, professional journalists criticize bloggers for being amateurs, the other side of amateur journalists fight for the free circulation of information, where news is considered truthful reporting, unbounded to interests. Maybe the truth is somewhere is the middle, but the democratizing effect of the internet is not this. What Bownman and Willis (2003) added to a quote of Liebling(1960) more accurately explains this battle : “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one' now millions do” (cited in an essay of Bruns in Paterson and Domingo, 2008, p.172)
Raising the topics: finding and delivering news
The unfortunate death of the teenager happened on Saturday the 6th of December 2008, around 9.00 in the evening. At 9.18 the first informative post was published on indymedia Athens saying that a boy was shot (Athens Indymedia,2008). At 9.38 a comment on the above mentioned post appeared informing that the first conflict between citizens and the police took place (Athens Indymedia, 2008a) whilst new posts kept appearing all night giving updates on the situation. Perhaps the location of the incident was unfortunate for the police, for the government and for the media as it took place in an area of central Athens, Eksarheia, known as the anarchist meeting point, which of course triggered reactions as soon as the incident took place. What is important to understand here is that citizens were immediately informed and mobilized to act via means of online media, and in particular indymedia an alternative collaborative news weblog. I will refer to the case of media later.
At the same time, traditional media were limited to simple reports of the situation, practicing mostly ‘helicopter journalism' or as a blogger put it more accurately when commenting on what was going on in Athens ‘reporting the finger instead of the moon' (Plagal, 2008). Although they were giving constant updates of the situation, they were limited to “stiff” reporting. Indeed, such a difference in the way great events are covered is not a first in the media area. Stuart Allan in his book Online News (2006) offers a rather insightful explanation of the role of blogging in news delivery today. He uses the example of the Tsunami tragedy in 2004 and distinguishes the difference of the event coverage between traditional media and citizen journalism. He argues that the true story was delivered by bloggers and users of the online community, essentially people on holidays, who remained calm and who reported on the true situation supplementing their texts with relevant footage and pictures of their own. He believes they were acting as on the spot reporters. At the same time, traditional media were constrained and limited to ‘helicopter journalism', reporting from a distance what they saw. He continues with putting emphasis on the importance of this ‘bottom up coverage' explaining that it was these scenes documented by amateurs that were then circulated via email or mobile phones around the world and later picked up by news corporations that really influenced the audience on the crisis. It was the “bloggers reports [that] provided a degree of depth and immediacy that mattered” (Allan, 2006, p.9) In the case of December '08 in Athens, the situation was the same, amateurs were the ones who first delivered both information and relevant footage- which then of course was circulated in the traditional media.
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Furthermore, Allan believes that people will look for ‘different angles in a news story' (Allan,2006, p3) and the move into a new era of news on demand, describes exactly this trend: that people will look for the news that will satisfy them personally. In doing so, they will not necessarily focus on ‘elite' media websites but the internet gives them the opportunity to put their hands on any information they can get. This is what in the end enhances the democratizing effect of the internet: the flow of information is not limited in particular topics, but there is something for everyone in the web.
This plethora of information and topics for discussion on the internet and the blogosphere has set a challenge that traditional/mainstream media need to meet. Whilst in the past traditional media had the advantage of printing what they thought was important, and whatever fitted their print (or their time ‘on air'), nowadays due to the emergence of the Internet, this advantage is more like their disadvantage as people turn to other resources for information and keeping up to date and at this cyber world there is no limit. As McCullagh says “Newspapers and television are constrained by limitations of time and space, but the Net is not”(McCullagh, 2002,p.110)
The way in which traditional media cope with their limitations of space and time, and possibly other restraints, is through policies of gatekeeping:
...referes to the regime of control over what content is allowed to emerge from the production processes in print and broadcast media;...the controllers (journalists, editors, owners) control the gates though which content is released to their audiences (Bruns, 2005, p.11)
Bruns (2005) later explains that in the production process, there are two gates to be kept. First, there is the input gate, meaning that controllers make a first choice on what should go through the production process. Then, there is the output gate, where the choice of what is actually printed is made. This selection process itself sets a problem in the free flow of information. However, the problem goes further than that. In trying to meet the challenges set by the development of new technologies and the Internet, media corporations have employed inter-activity in order to engage their audiences, by asking them to submit their views or commentary to the reports published. Bruns (2005) sees a warp in this process, because he detects gatekeeping in this as well: in newspapers ‘letters to the editor are accepted or rejected for publication' (Bruns, 2005, p.12) and continues saying that such practices are even tighter in broadcasting, even in shows when audience participation is encouraged.
In other words, although one of the roles of the media is to provide information to the public and contribute to democracy, through the process of gatekeeping this is simply not happening, because audiences do not have full access to information and the information they do have access to is decided my mechanism beyond their power.
However, now that the Internet removes those limitations and media corporations continue implementing their processes of gatekeeping forgetting however, that there are numerous users in that sphere, bloggers or amateur journalists who seek to express their views in every possible way. What they are trying to do is to ‘offer a corrective, an alternative interpretation of the day's events' (Bruns 2008, in Paterson and Doming 2008 p.177)These technologies enable users to not only comment and contradict, but also to bring up topics that are not discussed in mainstream media, because sometimes ‘journalists are restrained by systematic mechanisms that keep out some news' (Gans cited in Bruns, 2005 p12) Therefore, bloggers step up and cover the deficit of professional news-reporting. For instance, activist organizations use blogs to update users on their actions, projects, goals, this kind of information is rarely reported and if by any chance it is reported , it is because it is found to be “newsworthy” because of the extreme kind of actions activist groups tend to employ.(needs citation??)
This is why all topics on the media agenda of Greece during the week following the 6th of December were put aside. Protests, demonstrations, occupations of universities are not a new thing in Greece, however, this one was different in certain aspects. Given the length of the demonstrations and riots, the time universities were occupied but also- and most importantly- the amount of people on the streets, I understand that the dead teenager did not only trigger anger for the unfairness and misconception of duty on behalf on the police, it was not a cause, it was an excuse for a number of issues to be raised in regard to Greek society and Greek politics. Indeed, it was very interesting how people began commenting on what was reported on the news in Greece, talking especially about the style or reporting, but also spotting out false information. At the Athens Indymedia website a post was published on Sunday morning, the day after the incident, entitled “Mass Media and Assassination” commenting on how the media treated this particular event(Athens Indymedia, 2008b). In the view of Bruns one of the aims of a blogger is to
‘round out industrial news and other sources by adding the backstory and providing further related (and often contradicting) information enabling readers to better assess for themselves and by themselves the quality and veracity of mainstream news stories, press releases, reports produced by government and ... NGOs... (Bruns,2008 in Paterson and Domingo 2008 p177)
This signifies, and in respect to the gate keeping practices, that today bloggers are not interested in news reporting but are rather interested in gatewatching: defined as the ‘observation of the output pages of news publications and other sources in order to identify important material as it becomes available'(Bruns,2005,p.17) What is important as far as gatewatching is concerned is that people then can publish their stories with hyperlink to a broad variety of sources providing further information than that given by publication. Here Bruns (Bruns,2008 in Paterson and Domingo 2008) introduces us into a different model of news production. We are then introduced into a new input process , where these reports are handed in, either at a blog or a collaborative newsite, where every user is allowed to submit content. Followed, there is a second output process where publishing (in most cases instant publishing) takes place and in a few number of cases collaborative editing. What is however, the most significant aspect of it all is the stage of production that follows after, the response part of the gatewatching news process, which is open to all users, provokes discussion and in other words is inter-active.
Indeed, in the above mentioned post (Athens Indymedia, 2008b) there were a lot of comments generated, commenting- sometimes in a rather disrespectful manner- on the traditional news coverage of the event and sometimes even asking readers to take action, by calling to tv channels for example, in order to get the true story through (Athens Indymedia, 2008b). TVXS, translated in “TV Without Boarders” is an online news site dedicated to ‘promote ideas of democracy, protection of the environment, greater social justice and active participation in the commons' (TVXS.gr,2009a). The latter also reported on the coverage of the events of major TV stations of Greece with a post entitled “Athens is Burning, the channels are silent” describing the various programmes on television which was not the genuine reporting of the events also followed by disapproving user comments (TVXS.gr, 2008).
Haas(2005) refers to linking , by saying that interactivity and the process of linking to other websites and sources of information and commenting on them is one of the most important features of blogs. Kelly(2008) in his analysis of linking states that blogs normally do not offer links to other blogs but most of the time to other sources of information. Furthermore, he states that normally the links provided tend to serve the interest of the blogger. Benkler ( 2006) however has a different view on thing: hyprlinks can be provided for ‘inspiration or in disagreement'(Benkler, 2006, p.218).This works in favour of a democratic citizenship because it involves a free, uncensored flow of information. On the Internet there is a “see for yourself' (Benkler,2006, p.218) culture which means that all readers have access to documentation, a feature that was not able in printed press and one just had to blindly trust the journalist on his report.
‘Hypertext allows writers to summarize and contextualize complex stories with links out to numerous primary sources. Most importantly, the link provides a transparency that is impossible with paper...'( Blood 2003 cited in Bruns, 2005)
This feature of the blogs contributes to the democratic nature of the Internet by offering to the readers/citizens transparency and the opportunity to judge for themselves what is pure and what is not. One of course, should be careful, because we should not only take into consideration whats out there in this virtual sphere, but one should be critical when reading it.
Apart from linking another significant feature of online media is the fact that it allows users to comment. Therefore, the blogosphere is not only full of user generated content, is also full of user generated comment! The possibility for someone to leave their comment under a blog post is crucial because it promotes participation, interactivity and provokes a debate and exchange of views and arguments: this is exactly how the democratic effect of the internet is expressed.
Benkler (2006) in his book The Wealth of Networks claims that the transformations brought about by the Internet and its networks and most importantly the elimination of cost of entry and the broad audiences, have enabled the individuals to be ‘active participants in the public sphere are opposed to passive readers, listeners, or viewers' (Benkler, 2006, p.212). He insists that if we take a closer look to the formats of blogs we will see a pattern not that far from journalism, in the sense that something can be posted anytime, or based on a system, every day, every week etc. On commenting Benkler believes that the final result of the process of posting and allowing readers to comment is a ‘weighted conversation' (Benkler, 2006,p.217) This ‘weighted conversation' in my view is important because it not only engages producers and audiences in a discourse but also it gives not particularly active readers a stimulus, some brain-food.
However, even in the case of this free dialogue that could be implemented through blogs, there is always the option of gatekeeping. The author of the blog, either it is one person or a group, has the power to moderate the comments. This could work in favour or against democratic citizenship. A blogger that is ready to inter-act with the readers contributes much more to the concept of citizenship than one that chooses to publish comments that support his ideas for example or in extreme circumstances someone who does not allow comments at all.
Kelly (2005) in his study of blogs and choice of linking recognizes a tendency of the blogosphere to formulate clusters of interest, a sort of communities.
...pockets of network density around things people care about for one reason or another.There comprise informational communities in which ideas and information spread quickly.The preferences that lead clusters of bloggers to link to one another...leads these clusters to link preferentially to other things, such as particular media sources or NGOs (Kelly, 2005, p.7)
As Kelly(2005) explains this can cause implications because it leads the attention of the readers to certain information according the their interests. Although this can be described as undemocratic, as it does not provide full clarity, but only information needed to prove a point, in certain cases it can be revolutionary. I argue this because in Athens 2008, the actions of people were generated by blogs and other online media. Clusters were formed linking to each other. For example, the blog entitled ‘ÎšÎ±Ï„Î¬Î»Î·ÏˆÎ· Î‘Î£ÎŸÎ•Î•' was the blog of the occupation at the Athens University of Economics and Business.This blog provided links to other blogs of occupations in their blogroll list creating a network of blogs serving the purpose of informing of what was going on in each place and at the same time inviting people to submit views and comments (ÎšÎ±Ï„Î±Î»Î·ÏˆÎ· Î‘Î£ÎŸÎ•Î•, 2008). I believe this enabled people to see how strong this wave of change was, and empowered this online community to continue its actions. The Clusters did not only involve blogs, but also a twitter was set up (#griots) and I suspect other social networking sites had their part in it as well. On Facebook.com for instance, there were live status updates giving links to other websites and asking people to change their profile picture to the black ribbon, designed especially for the dead teenager (Plagal at flickr.com, 2008). What I am trying to say here is that although the formulation of clusters can have a negative effect and minimize the democratic potential of the Internet, under certain circumstances communities can be empowered, citizens can be ‘activated' and engage themselves in acts of citizenship
This of course raises the question whether activist engagement constitutes a correct way of expressing citizenship in a democratic way, but I believe this is not of much importance for this essay. What is important to keep in mind is that via means of blogs and other online new media people were mobilized and tried, not only as people but also as citizens, to do something to address the issues, that have been long awaited to be addressed (issues of education, health and justice) and were finally put on the Agenda of the government.
Effecting the world:Indymedia
These riots that lasted approximately 3 weeks of course did not only capture the focus nationally but also internationally. News reports were published/transmitted informing on the situation in Greece. BBC News was repoting “Fresh riots erupt in Greek cities” (BBC News,2008), Reuters were saying “Greece rocked by second day of anti-police riots”(Reuters, 2008). Whilst international media corporations, followed the same policy as the greek ones, to report not the cause but the damage, the greek protesters, leftists and anarchists, found supporters all over the world. In my view, the online media were those who played the most important role to this, and especially Indymedia, which I see as a hybrid and peculiar case of online newsite and weblog.
Indymedia is a network of IMCs, Indipendent Media Centres, reporting globally and openly. I refer to the case of Indymedia as peculiar because its format is one of kind: it can not be categorized. Many academics refer to indymedia as an open sourcing online news website, where everyone can post anything, collaboratively in way but at the same time it very much resembles a blog. Indymedia is engaged to reporting independent news or alternative news and was created during the demonstrations in Seattle during the World Trade Organizations meeting in 1999.It employed open publishing software and it invited everybody who witnessed a news-story to to post news, comments and/or related video footage. Nowadays, its network spreads to various countries across the globe.
What is so strange about Indymedia is its format. A number of academics refer to it as an online newsite because it is practising gatekeeping practices and sometimes resembles the process taking place in an editorial room. However, according to Atton (2004) such practices are not entirely accurate. Atton provides an analysis as far as the Indymedia network is concerned and informs us that although editing techniques do take place, it is in an entirely different way to those of the media. As he explains, at the indymedia website any post removed from the publish page is placed into a category entitled “hidden posts”. Therefore, the editing does take place but it is in order to prevent the content and not with the utter scope of shutting voice. Indymedia is working towards delivering independent news, and the kind of editing exercised is based on removing and relocating when something does not agree with the statues and orders of the particular website. Also, the editing is a non centralized as every IMC centre is run by a small collective non-hierarchical group.
Another reason why I consider Indymedia to be closer to a collective blog than an online news-site, apart from the lack of gatekeeping form of editing, is the fact that it is an open community where post are arranged in a chronologically reversed order and of course the fact that it allows commenting and posting by any user.As Blood explains cited in Bruns(2005) this arranging of posts from newer to older is what distinguishes a blog from a page. Therefore, if one was to define indymedia somehow, it could fall under the category of an open collaborative blog.
The editorial control normally practiced at Indymedia is the minimum possible. However, this almost non-editorial process is not without challenges. Firstly, Bruns (2005) explains, in cases of law conflict posts will and should be removed. Secondly, open publishing and speed publishing clashes with the constraints of the size of a webpage. Bruns (2005 p.92) whilst explaining Arninson, says that the more posts about news are reported, the less time they stay in the front “cover” of the webpage before they disappear so new posts can take their place, it is a different kind of spamming. What it comes down to is that, whilst the format adopted by indymedia increases participation and potentially information of the public, in cases of great events that need effective and continuous reporting, readers do not have enough time to engage and contemplate on the news (Arninsons in Bruns, 2005) Indymedia as a network has tried to combat this problem by trying to find a format of control after publishing.
Indymedia functions in a way much like a news aggregator by combining all the news from all the IMCs of the globe.This function of Indymedia is important because it can connect the local and the global. Something that happens in one place can spread its effect to various places in the world. In the case of the riots in Athens through the blogs and the online communities but also Indymedia (Athens Indymedia,2008c), there were protests to numerous places in the world (Stasinopoulos,2008).We understand now that through new media technologies provided by the organization of the internet collective action is facilitated and this could be proof that something local can have a global effect. Perhaps governments in other countries, France for instance, saw these riots in Greece as a premonition of what could happen to other countries(TVXS.GR, 2008b)
Theorizing this concept of events locally producing effects globally, Deuze(2006) sees a connection. He describes the way of function of indymedia considering that it is a collaborative blog or “any IMC site functions as a so-called “group weblog” “ (Deuze, 2006,p.65) He also aptly compares blogs, by citing Katz, to pirate radio stations of the 70s as they broadcast personal opinions and views. Deuze recongizes three characteristics in the format of Indymedia: ‘individualization, postnationalism, globalization'(Deuze, 2005,p.65) which the IMC sites use to ‘ at once connecting local issues and communities global ones' (Deuze, 2005,p.65) meaning that disperse groups in a geographical sense are tied together via the IMCs. Moreover, whilst describing participation via blogs, he talks by citing Wellman that there is a glocalizing effect. Defining this glocalization as ‘the combination of intense local and extensive global interaction'(Wellman,2002, cited in Deuze 2005,p.68) In other words, individuals in different parts of the world can participate and inter-act when events happen in a local level. It could be this is only the case when their interests are to be affected, however, as the new technologies are faster and easier to interact it is possible that people just want to participate more in events that do not directly affect them.
CONCLUSION: Democratic Citizenship and Blogs
The notion of democratic citizenship is a concept popularly discussed and one that has a myriad of forms and meaning. As explained in the book of Coleman and Blumler (2009) there are three ways in which such concept can be understood. To begin with there is the legal-judicial concept which ‘refers to one's official membership of a political community (usually a nation-state) and its compulsory laws, regulations and customs' (Coleman, Blumler, p.4) As the authors explain, this form of citizenship involves being a ‘proper' citizen of state or country with all the responsibilities that come with being a holder of this states passport or ID card. It is in other words based on the idea of being a citizen to the ‘eyes' of the law, an idea that you belong to a community based on bureaucracy and holding these papers brings with It certain responsibilities. I find this concept a bit out of dated as nowadays, we live in a globalized society. For example, I am a holder of a Greek ID card and passport, but should I wish to drive, a European Drivers license will be provided to me. I am constrained as a Greek citizen to obey not only the rules an regulations of Greece, but also those embedded in greek legislation via the European Union, which makes me contemplate on my citizenship: is it Greek, European or both? As boundaries and borders are removed, can the idea of a citizen be tightly related to the idea of the nation-state?
Closely related to this concept of citizenship is the political citizenship. Extending further from paper-based citizenship, it involves being a member of a political community and ‘exerting democratic influence upon fellow citizens as well as the political state'(Coleman and Blumler, 2009, p. 4) As Coleman and Blumler explain this form of citizenship emphasizes participation in three distinct forms of participation: information-gathering, deliberation and active efforts. These forms of participation aim into promoting democracy via means of knowing, discussing and taking action. The third form of citizenship is involved with building communities through promoting feelings of belonging and solidarity especially in the case of state-nations (Coleman and Blumler, p.144).However, I do not wish to argue here that these are the only concepts of citizenship.Indeed, there are various other concepts and in an increasingly inter-related societies citizenship and especially democratic citizenship can have various meanings depending in my view on how each individual feels as a citizen and acts like one.
The idea of inter-related societies is that something that happens in a particular place can have effects on another- not much different than the well-known butterfly effect. For example, a decision made by the European Commission will evidently effect every person in the European Union. This means that increased importance is put on how we formulate policies that eventually will put or remove constraints in our lives. Drawing from the example of health care described by Coleman and Blumler (2009,p. 7) the number of social actors nowadays has increased and a multi-vocal approach to policy-formulation and decision-making should be in order and this is why deliberation is of great importance. Moreover, in creating spaces for deliberation does the internet, and especially the blogosphere, provide the potential of creating the perfect space for deliberation, a sort of public sphere where everybody interacts and optimum answers to questions are found?
Deliberation nowadays is essentially important as the space for public discussion is broadened. Coleman and Blumler(2009) explain that ‘freedom to speak, assemble and publish, and for opposition to the government of the day to organise without fear of intimidation' (Coleman and Blumler, p. 15) is one of the fine main characteristics of a democracy at the most basic level. As they explain, the degree to which this process exists in societies depends on the form of democratic governance exercised in the country: elite-dominated democracies control such actions whereas in more participation based democracies policy-making based on deliberation and freedom of speech is valued (Coleman and Blumler, 2009,p.15). Further explaining the role of deliberation in democracy, and presenting views of different theories, the two authors explain that public discussion is important to reaching solutions. Firstly because views expressed which provoke people to contemplate on their arguments and think critically what is best. Secondly, the myriad of opinions on a matter ranging in approach and expertise can allow views to be expressed that perhaps the elites could not consider. Thirdly, citizens are empowered as they are included in the process and their actions shift away from simply exercising their right to vote, their feeling of citizenship thus is empowered (Coleman and Blumler, 2009).
One should not however only praise the positive effects of deliberation. As Coleman and Blumler (2009) there are practical problems to overcome for an effective deliberation process. Firstly, there is the problem of scale: can all the citizens of a community (it can be a city, a country or a region of countries) come together to deliberate? In other words, ‘barriers of distance, time and scale'(Coleman and Blumler, p. 19) Secondly, the problem of intellectual ability of people to discuss such matters, everyday citizens do not have the knowledge to comment and debate on matters of importance, which consequently effect their lives. This raises issues of education and information. Thirdly, scientists would argue that given the pursuit of interests is so strong and evident in societies, people do not search or critically think what is the right choice or point of view, but prefer to simply follow the trends. Finally, issues are raised as far as the differences in cultural backgrounds are concerned (Coleman and Blumler, 2009 pp.19-26)
In my view, what it comes down to is whether or not the internet and the blogs can overcome these barriers and work towards creating an inclusive public sphere.
Democracy, deliberation and the blogosphere
The point of this essay is that the blogosphere is politically relevant because it provides opportunities for citizens to become active via knowing and participating in the inter-active environment of the Internet. A lot of academics have emphasized the democratizing effect of the Internet. Haas (2005) explains that the significance of the blogs lays in the fact that they have the capacity to provide independent news and transform the passive news consumers into active news producers and it challenges the narrow range of topics covered by traditional media whilst at the same time allows readers to compare and contrast by comparing truth claims via hyperlinks(Haas, 2005). Deuze(2006) emphasizes on participation when talking about the effect of blogs on democracy and supports the idea that it enhances the possibility of individuals to rebuild structures of sociability and it transforms citizenry to a rights-based monitorial and voluntarist one by voicing their views and concerns and claiming a place in the society. McCullagh(2002) also refers to the internet as a democratizing power by allowing wider access, potentially, universality and democracy of content. As outlined above in this essay Benkler(2009) and Bruns(2005) are two supporters of the democratizing effect of the internet.
Criticism on the Democratic effect of the Internet
Benkler lists successfully a series of criticism made by academics on the democratic effects the internet can have. Firstly, there is the overload of information, this is a quite sensible argument. If everybody speaks, then we come across a great deal of information which expresses different opinions and different views, which might not lead to a truly fruitful deliberation process. Secondly, as mentioned by Benkler(2006),a point raised originally by Noam, there is going to be a difficulty to get the message across. As money has an important power on traditional media, in an ever expanding sphere like that of the blogosphere, one will be able to speak, but will anybody listen? Thirdly, the ‘fragmentation of attention and discourse' (Sunstein explained in Benkler,2006, 234) refers to the ability users have to personalize their news, which means that they will receive information written by like-minded people. A consequence to this, according to Sunstein (as refered to in Benkler, 2006) will be the polarization of the audiences due to the fact that they will only inter-act with people with whom they share the same views. A different kind of criticism was also made, regarding the possibility of centralization and concentration. This approach, as explained by Benkler(2006) has to do with the fact that few blogs get the most attention, or the most hits in the internet language, and there are other that do not have any visitors. This raises an important issue when considering the blogosphere or the new media in general as a new public sphere, because this situation has a lot of similarities with traditional media and the sphere as we knew it perhaps 10 years ago. Another concern mentioned by Benkler is that blogs on the internet cannot compete with the conglomerates of mass media that consequently publish what works for the best interest of their funders, because they are not that well funded and will never be that big in size or scale. Moreover, there is the case of censorship that a lot of authoritarian regimes employ as well as the problem of the digital divide. The latter refers to the question of who can access the internet in matters of social terms as well as in matters of educational terms. This is a major issues because it implies that society groups are not equally represented.
When I first started researching for this essay, I thought of the Internet and the blogosphere as a new arena where people can interact, and potentially form a new public sphere. At the end of this paper, I have second thoughts. The virtual world although it is promising for it bring lots of advantages to the increase of participation in the commons, it brings a number of disadvantages as well, as outlined above. I consider two being the main problems. Firstly, there are many voices online, but how many are too many? Secondly, are individuals truly expressing their own opinion or are they just re-cycling opinions of the elites as done in the offline world? Consequently, we should wonder if it changes the way people think that much.
New technologies always bring about change. The importance of these technologies lies in how they engage people. The television brought about a new way of communication one sided, from transmitter to receiver. The telephone was a two way communications method. The internet is multi-way: one can be a receiver or a producer, a journalist or an editor. As all technologies produce new changes, estimating these changes is hard.
As far as December 2008 in Athens is concerned, the blogs and Indymedia had a lot to do with it.Matthew Tsimitakis used to work in one of the most popular newspapers in Greece, Kathimerini.He is no longer employed by this newspaper, although he did publish an article on how blogs enforced the movement in Greece entitled “Are bloggers a movement?” (Tsimitakis, 2007)In this article he explains how a lot of protests and activist activities, rallies organized for the protection of the environment for instance, are organized online by netizens(online citizens).So if it happened then, surely it could have happened again in December 2008 Taking into consideration that this article was published in 2007, it is clear that the power of blogs was important, is and possibly will be. In retrospect, Kathimerini, published an research done on the views of people as far as the riots in December were conserned. According to this article, half of the greek citizens believe what happened last year was indeed a social revolt, whilst 45%of those questioned believe that it was a massive phenomenon. Only a few believe that protesters started the riots and 71% believe that today the social circumstances are in favor of such rebellion happening again (Mavris, 2009) Last year, an increasing number of people were on the streets everyday, 2000 people the first day to 20000 the third day, being highschool or university student, proletarians or teachers(Libcom.org,2009). Thinking of the riots as a social rebellion means that there are issues in Greece that need solution. One year after, 6th of December 2009, the rally in the memory of the teenager gather 10000 participants. Evidently, those issues are still to be addressed.
However, what is important here is that we see people that want a change and are claiming it.
Indymedia Athens was a key factor on reporting the situation on the streets of Athens in December 2008, much like the first IMC in Seattle did. A year later, Indymedia Athens announce a pre-approval policy for the website in order to avoid spamming of posts(Athens Indymedia, 2009?). Perhaps this tactic is in order for the website to word better, but it involves constrains in the freedom of expression. Consequently, too many voices can create problems.
In conclusion, although a new medium of communications will always produce new data for understanding citizenship and being an active citizen, as we move into a new era of communications we should think of the revolutionary effects of the internet and the weblogs in a mediocre way.One should not over estimate their power but not underestimate it either. Most importantly, one should keep in mind that it is also in the nature of a person how and why he will chose to act as a citizen in any way and what his personal stimulus will be. The blogosphere is politically relevant in the same way that other media are, it's power still remains to be see.
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