Ok, so now we have the Internet, this new technology that’s open to all, allowing everyman expression. That sounds great!
The notion of democracy is based on issues of representation and participation. For any democracy to be strong it needs the masses to be politically active, engage in public debate and be able to express their views and concerns.
The web is an open medium that allows the average man a voice louder and more far-reaching than any other. The gate-keeping mechanisms that come with traditional journalism can be bypassed with great ease.
It’s really simple; you start up a blog about cyber-politics and publish your own work…for free. No printing units, no media houses, no distributors, just you the masses and your opinion.
The connectivity and interactivity of its users allows for networks to be created between users with the same views, interests and concerns.
In my third year politics class, our lecturer went on about how the details of where South African parties get their funding for political campaigns was hidden and near impossible to get a hold of. Clearly he never Google searched “who funds South African politics”.
With the Internet information that was previously, near impossible to get a hold of is now just a couple of clicks away. From who funds local political parties to questioning why the ANC Youth League still exists, it’s all on the net, available to every user.
However this is in no way an answer to the question of political apathy or weak democracies. The Internet is open medium only to those who have Internet access and who are computer literate. A quick glance at local statistics, clearly shows that South Africa is far from celebrating the effectiveness, or even just the birth of cyber-democracy and cyber-politics.
Although Internet use increased from 5.5% in 2000 to 9.9% in 2005, these figures are extremely low. This becomes increasingly apparent when looking at the United Kingdom’s 55% and the United States’ 71% figures. The third world simply does not have the capacity to compete.
South Africa’s illiteracy rate is just alarming. Between six and eight million adults are not functionally literate, never mind computer literate. Statistics show that “65% of whites over 20 years old and 40% of Indians have a high school or higher qualification, this figure is only 14% among blacks and 17% among the coloured population”.
The digital divide speaks heavily to the issues of Internet access and use and to education levels. This means that even in the advent of this great cyber-democracy, those who were marginalised by the politics of the apartheid regime are still marginalised by the politics of this new virtual-democracy.
If democracy is about the majority, then we can only really speak of cyber-democracy when the masses can at the very least send an e-mail with a basic attachment.