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Berner Oberland News
Freitag, 21. November 1997
Mastergrade Society, Science and Technology in Europe (ESST)
(September 1996 - October 1997)
Can "computer shocks" activate democracy?
Got the Norwegian voters mobilised by the Internet? A practical and theoretical reflection on the "activating" democratic abilities of the Internet
firstname.lastname@example.org October 6, 1997
Table of Content
1. Introduction 1
2. Democracy , a challenged concept 4
2.1 "Activity", a central aspect of democracy 6
2.2 "Activating" as a practical solution 7
2.3 A technological detour... 10
2.4 ...to the political impact of computer-networks 12
2.5 Interactivity, keyword for active citizens on the Net? 17
2.6 How active is interactivity? 18
3 Political "actions" on the Internet 20
3.1 The different "communication" tools 22
3.2 "Diffusing" Internet services 24
3.3 "Mobilising" Internet services 25
3.4 Services who activate citizens 27
4. Got the Norwegian voters "activated"? 30
4.1 Campaigning on the Internet 32
4.2 Non-partisan Internet campaigns 36
4.3 More "diffusing" rather than "activating"? 37
5. Concluding remarks 41
6. Bibliography 44
7. Appendix 48
Technological development in the eyes of many is congruent with the development in the Information Technology (IT) sector. Politicians and top people in the economic sector consider IT, especially the appearing of computer-networks such as the Internet, as the big possibility for the future. In that way Information- and Communication Technology (ICT) has jumped right into the centre of attention of the business sector. Everybody simply has to invest in IT and ICT.
But it also has been recognised that computer-networks as a technology will have an huge effect on the shape and the development of societies. Many are captured in the believe that the impact of ICT on economics, culture and society in general will be by fare more enormous than the impact of previously applied and "social constructed" technologies.
If computer-networks apparently have such an tremendous impact on society, the question, if political and democratic processes also will change through the almost explosively expansion of this technology, seems obvious.
Democracy and democratic processes carried out by the means of new technology is nothing new. Already the communication technology telephone has attracted the supporters of "Teledemocracy". Their idea has been, for an example, use the telephone for voting in direct democratic referendums.
As a technology computer-networks have some communicating qualities and attributes that makes them especially well fitted to carry out political processes. On computer-networks as the Internet, for example, it is possible to transmit big quantities of information and to communicate cheap and quick and over all geographical boundaries.
Internet, as the most rapid expanding computer-networks, therefore has attracted, many of those who will try to reform democratic processes. Restructuring and improvement of existing democratic processes through computer-networks is for many researchers and political activists central.
The view presented in this paper is slightly different. I also recognise that computer-networks have special communicating abilities. However, it is my aim to look on this communication qualities of computer-networks regarding one of the basic and most important presupposition for a functioning democracy: active participation and mobilisation. The subject of this paper is it therefore to look into the "doors of possibilities" the Internet opens for activating democratic processes. Besides a theoretical approach it is also the aim of this paper to seize how to which degree the Internet already at present time contributes to such activating, participating and mobilising democratic processes. This overlook will be done by looking at the Internet in general and by a closer look to the Norwegian electoral campaign form autumn 1997.
"Scene one": Sunday April 27 in the little Swiss town of Hundwil. Several thousand men and women are gathered in the town square. With the government of the Kanton Appenzell Ausserhoden (one of the 26 states of the Swiss federation) in the front of them they have to make important political decisions. Everybody (finally also women) can speak up and vote. This direct democratic decision instrument is called "Landsgemeinde" and is often used as the most clear cut example for the how Swiss citizens can influence political decisions by voting.
Scene two: "Ola Normann" (fictional name) is sitting behind a computer with a modem connection. Through the Internet he (it could be a she as well) is gathering political information about all the political parties in Norway
On one of the party Web sites he sees a link to a discussion site and decides to have a look there. One of the contributions he sees there is very much against his political opinion and he writes an answer right away. Still shaking his head Normann travels further through the virtual world of the Norwegian parties. On another Web site he sees a link for downloading a report he knows his wife is interested in.
Afterwards he finds a link to an electoral Web page of a newspaper. By going there Normann finds a scheme where he can answer questions and a program gives him an indication which party he should vote for.
On the main page of the Internet newspaper there is also a link to a Norwegian search program. Normann decides to find out what societal and political Web pages he can find on Norwegian servers. He gets a list and sees that there are also a couple of links to foreign Web addresses. One antifascist site (cited in USA) catches his interest and he goes there. On the antifascist site is a link to a Newsgroup where fascism and how to fight against it is discussed. To get messages and information he leaves his e-mail address. Normann finds this site quite important and he sends an e-mail to a friend to inform him about it.
At first glance these two "scenes" do not appear to have much in common. What has an Internet user, surfing before the Norwegian general election, to do with the Swiss direct democracy which has been there for several hundred years?
In my opinion there are at least some important similarities. Admittedly, the direct form of democracy practised in the "Landsgemeinde" in the Swiss town of Hundwil is vanishing . On Sunday, 28 September the people decided on the town square of Hundwil to abolish the "Landsgemeinde". That means there are only three Kantons left with this traditional direct democratic instrument. In future democracy will be practised more and more by voting at the ballot box.
However, this system and the traditional "Landsgemeinde" share an essential factor. Because the citizens have to go the ballot and decide about propositions which have been put to the vote, there is no way to avoid the discussion of political subjects and active participation.
Active participation is also the case in the scene with the Norwegian Internet user.. A citizen takes action, by using the Internet to collect political information and discuss. And by doing so, he turns into an active, participating citizen.
At this point the "ancient" direct democratic system and politics carried out by the help of modern computer-networks meet each other. Citizens are getting active and are participating. Participation and active citizens are the cornerstone for every functioning democracy. By getting mobilised through a constant pressure towards a political discussion, the basic claim of a democratic system is constantly maintained.
Representative democracy is the democratic concept which is most applied in the Western democracies. It has one fundamental disadvantage when it comes to participation and activation and the mentioned claim for a constant active discussion.
Because the political influence of the citizen has been reduced to voting every four or five years, much of the debate is given up to the political elite which has been elected. Political information, moreover, is available to citizens mainly through mass-media like newspapers and television, where he or she to a high degree is "reduced" to a receiver of "one-way" information.
In the terms of the way we communicate, computer-networks such as the Internet represent a fundamental change. Suddenly a citizen is not only a receiver but can also be a sender, or even a broadcaster on the basis of a "two-way"-communication.
This changes also affects the role of participant and spectators in the political arena drastically. In my opinion the fundamental question which has to be answered therefore is whether this kind of communication through the new computer-networks can activate and mobilise citizens politically. This question then, is the main subject which I will try to explore in this paper.
More practically will the problem be reduced to the questions if there are signs of political activation to spot by looking at the political processes on the Internet and if Norwegian voter showed signs of political activation during the electoral campaign on the Internet.
"Eine neue Zeitmaschine für die Demokratie" (Swiss paper "Neue Zürcher
Zeitung" 26th of April 1997), "Datademokrati - eller teletyranni" (Dagens
Nyheter, Sweden, 18th of march 1995, "Digital demokrati" (Göteborgs-Posten,
Sweden, 2nd 3. 1997). These headlines express either the enthusiasm for or the fear of the impact computer-networks such as the Internet have on democratic developement.
However, in the ongoing discussion, both points of view can been sought out.
For example, the attitude of those who are more positive to the democratic abilities of computer-networks is that the Internet may point to a way out of the authority fixation within the traditional view of democracy.
The Internet is above all a decentralised communication system. Its technological structure includes low-cost reproduction, instantaneous spreading of Information and radical decentralisation. Mark Poster, a researcher at the Irvine University of California underlines the new possibilities for interaction and new relations between participants. He poses the question, of whether "new politics" is to be formed on the Internet.
The answer probably should be yes because he mentions that one of the new aspects of the Internet is that authority as we have known it will change. "The nature of authority has shifted from embodiment in lineages in the Middle Ages to instrumentally rational mandates from voters in the modern era. In each case a certain aura becomes fetishally attached to authority holders. The Internet seems to discourage the endowment of individuals with inflated status." (Poster 1995: 9)
Ziauddin Sardar has a more sceptical point of view. The electronic world of Cyberspace, according to Sardar, is by no means forms new community or even a political "public sphere". "Real communities are shaped by a sense of belonging to a place, by a geographical location, by shared values, by common struggles and by tradition and history of location - not by joining a group of people with common interests" (Sardar 1996: 29). In the world of Cyberspace one feels therefore no responsibility.
Sardar doubts therefore strongly that Cyberspace is the "panacea" for solving the problems of representative democracy. Communication technology makes the feedback from citizen to the politicians easier. But Sardar argues that it is not the lack of feedback but the lack of faith which is the problem of democracy. "Would electronic democracy make politicians more upright, more moral, more conscientious more responsible?"(...) "What electronic democracy offers is more of the same: more instantaneously mushrooming pressure groups more fragmented politics, more corrupt public life (Sardar 1996: 32).
A question one necessarily has to ask after looking into two such widely differing viewpoints is, does the Internet really have the technology and political attributes that could produce more active and more participatory politics in real life?
Such political activity on the Internet is often almost automatically connected with the term interactivity. Is interactivity really active participation on computer-networks is therefore a question one also has to touch upon.
Many citizens and political activists believe in democratic processes on the
Internet - in "Cyberdemocracy" - without looking more deeply into the technological and political possibilities. In their eyes computer-networks are changing the shape of the world in which we are living, so accordingly they are also changing democracy. But is representative democracy really in such a bad state that it is even necessary to use technology to assist?
I would like to present some of the viewpoints on that problem in chapter 2 of this paper.
As I mentioned, active participation of the citizens, is in my opinion, a central aspect of democratic processes on the Internet.
In chapter 2, therefore I will also argue for why active participation is such an important aspect of democracy. Doing so will not prevent us from dealing with
the problems of representative democracy. The frame of this paper does not allow us to go to far into this huge circle of problems. But the subject has to be touched, because for many who are pursuing this question of participation and direct democracy, this is where the solution lies.
In the second part of the same chapter I will try to explore the term "interactivity". In interactivity the active participating citizen meets communication technology: activation and participation applied to computer-networks such as the Internet are therefore to a high degree connected to interactivity.
The assumption that computer-networks such as the Internet can be an element in activating citizens who have been "sedated" by representative democracy, has, of course, to be proven in "real" life. In chapter 3 I will therefore give an impression of how political processes on the Internet are already carried out, which "communicational" tools are being used and how "activating" these processes could be.
I will continue this in task in the following chapter 4. On September 15, 1997 the Norwegian voters had to elect a new parliament (Storting). In the pure representative structure of the Norwegian democracy the parties for the first time also campaigned on the Internet. All the parties represented in the parliament in the period 1993 - 1997 had an electoral campaign on the Internet. Did this Internet campaign of the Norwegian parties in fact have some activating and mobilising influence on Norwegian voters? This is the question I would like to have a closer look at in this chapter 4.
2. Democracy, a challenged concept
The democracy based on a parliamentary system and political parties is a product of the last century. The roots of democracy on the other hand go back to Athens in 500 BC. In the ancient Greek society a power-struggle between the aristocratic families of Kleisthenes and Peisistratus was going on. Kleisthenes made the tactical move to allow citizens on political decisions. In that way he could gather a majority of the citizens to participate and overcome the opponent family. At the same time this new form of government was born, the democracy. Because the very limited possibilities to participate (women, immigrants and slaves were excluded) its is hard to talk about real democracy.
But the humanistic ideas of the ancient Greeks several hundred years later became the bases for the constitutions of Italian city states. With the ideas of the Greeks in mind the citizens of Italian towns like Genoa and Siena wrote constitutions while they struggled against the power of Kings and the pope.
The real breakthrough for democracy came with the peace of Westfalen in 1648. The
connections between the feudal aristocracy and the church were broken and the territorial, sovereign state was established as the new form of power. Not only was the territorial, and sovereign state necessary in the transformation process of the agrarian society of the Middle Ages to an industrial society, together with the political ideas of John Locke, Jean-Jaques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes it also established the starting-point for modern parliamentary democracy and the party-system.
This representative form of the democracy got its breakthrough as at this time by answering the problem of adapting basic ideas of democracy- , equality and participation, to the size of these new national states.
Even if the representative system was more spread in states like Switzerland, Italy and several states of the USA, citizens still had forms of more direct participation
through the right of the initiative and the referendum.
"Die Entwicklung der Staaten nach 1648 war eine zeitgemässe Antwort auf die wirtschaftliche, technische, aber auch ideengeschichtliche und philosphische Entwicklung und ermöglichte der Demokratie durch Innovation den Sprung aus der Antike in die Moderne". (Kaufmann 1995: 23).
This concept of parliamentary democracy is still the one which is carried out most in practice. Those nations with democratic rule depend on one or another variant of this concept.
It is a commonly thought that this concept of parliamentary democracy struggles increasingly with problems. Citizens are protesting and the confidence in politicians and the political system is weakened. Citizens look more and more at politics as a game for vested interests and their influence on political decisions which have effects on their daily life is decreasing..
An example of this distrust of Europeans against the political system and their
politicians is the scepticism toward the ratification of the Maastrich-treaty and the following referenda (in some of the EU-countries) in which the citizens almost voted down the treaty.
In Denmark the people really did reject the Maastrich-treaty June 1992 and accepted
a year later a special Danish treaty with four important exceptions (such as for example the exclusion of Denmark from the common military policy and the common currency).
After the first rejection at the ballot the Danish political elite was forced to start an intensive debate around Maastrich to persuade Danish men and women. In fact
an intensive discussion about the Maastrich-treaty started which also ended in a
new political group, the movement for the 7th of June (the date of the first referendum)
However, opinion polls after the second Maastrich referendum show that Denmark
is one of the few EU-nations where Maastrich has a quite high degree of acceptance
among the citizens.
I mention this example for two reasons: Integration is maybe the most obvious
political subject where the limits of parliamentary democracy become visible. It shows at the same time, as in Denmark, that an active process of discussion
and debate can lead to democratic decisions which are much more "anchored" among
the citizens of a country.
It is not the aim of this paper to discuss in depth the problems and challenges representative parliamentary democracy is facing. However, more and
more political scientists, opinion leaders and citizens are arguing that more direct could contribute to solving the problems representative democracy is facing. Because more direct democracy also means more active citizens I would like to show in the following section briefly how some writers see the problems and solutions of representative democracy.
2.1 "Activity", a central aspect of democracy
There are several ways to analyse and define democracy. There is no absolutely
valid definition, but if one explores the concept of democracy, then aspects such as
peoples` sovereignty, equality, participation, rule of the majority, limitation
and control of power, separation of power, constitutional rights, general elections,
public sphere, competition of opinions and pluralism have to be included.
Following such a definition it is possible to point out different models of democracy
such as social, liberal, direct, representative, associational, participatory, representative (Hagtvet, Lafferty 1994).
The models refer, for example to the way citizens make basic
decisions and how decisions are limited. Holden (1988) distinguishes in liberal
democracies, for example the relationships between citizens and governments: the government can be an agent of the citizens or a hostile body to them. "Democratic
government is limited government and liberty is necessarily maintained by democracy". (Holder 1988:20)
But it is also a possible to look at democracy from a different angle, such as these
structure- and decision oriented theories do: democracy as an activity.
Society as a dynamic process exists through and for a mutual exchange of ideas and
convictions. Through this it should be possible to have a discussion where
everybody can contribute and receive ideas regarding what make a good society
and finally take part in the way society is shaped. " In such a such a discussion
lies also the core of democracy. This is the core of political and constitutional liberty
in a democratic system." (Barker cited in Hagtvet, Lafferty)
The idea of the "thought of society" already concerned Aristotle . The "thought of
society" is in his opinion the product of the discussion and struggle between many
different ideas and the compromises following this process.
In other words; democracy is the intensive debate and the struggle to find and compromises and not the formal structure. The final political solution is in this line of thinking not the important thing for as democratic system. "Central in democracy is the process of choice not the choice which finally is made". (Barker).
This is also important if one analyses the political effects of computer-networks.
Much of the attention of politicians and political scientists is aimed at how
democratic processes and decisions-making processes are changed. That is
important. In the next chapter I will try to give some illustrating ideas how that could
happen. But couldnít computer-networks, especially the Internet, develop into an
important instrument in one of the central aspects of democracy, an "activating
2.2 "Activating" as a practical solution
As I mentioned, "activating" citizens through a more direct democracy is considered a solution to the problems representative democracy is facing.
The problems facing Western representative democracy might be summarised as follows. Representative democratic systems have to tackle two problems
at the same time: An internal challenge because a political professional elite has
taken more and more democratic participation out of the hands of individual
citizens, and the national state, until recently the only arena of democracy , is challenged from outside. Not only are more and more decisions taken out of the hand of citizens, but also out of the hands of national governments, and handed over to international regimes or even companies. Thus, even more power is taken from a individual citizen.
The Swiss author Bruno Kaufmann calls this challenge to democracy "den dobble
utmaningen" (the double challenge). In his opinion the present democratic system is
weakened on local, regional and national level, while at the same time there are no existing democratic forms between national states (Kaufmann 1997: 65)
Or as David Held observes: there cannot be an account of the modern democratic
state any longer without an examination of the global system and there cannot be an examination of the global system without an account of the democratic state. The way
forward is to the endogenous and exogenous frameworks (Held 1995: 27).
A way out of this predicament is given to us by the Swiss political scientist and
specialist for direct democracy, Andreas Gross. He draws the attention to the
most basic claims of democracy:
From the standpoint of an individual citizen democracy means as a member of a
collective one should have a voice in decisions that affect the same collective.
Out from the collective view should the forum, where official decision-processes
are carried out, like the representative parliament, act in accordance with the
will of the majority of the citizens.
Knowing that a political decision process that accomplishes both of these demands is
almost impossible, Gross calls this demand therefore utopian. "Diese zwei Ansprüche sind letztlich Utopien, d.h. absolut für alle und alles nie ganz zu verwirklichen (Gross 1996: 39)
In that way he is not pleading for direct democracy as the solution to all problems
of democracy. But because direct democracy also leaves sovereignty to citizens
between the elections, the direct democratic system is "less imperfect" than a purely representative system.
According to Gross:
- In a direct democracy one has to understand politics as a collective learning-process. Everybody is learning and has the ability to discuss what should be learned. Politics like this is the antithesis of the politics of orders and obedience..
- The legitimisation process in a direct democracy is a public communication process.
An initiative for a change to a law is not a question to the people (plebiscite), it is a question from the people. It is in that way also an invitation to the ruling class to justify themselves on a political question.
- The acting individual is bearing part of a direct democracy. Citizen have more rights to take hold in political decision processes. (Gross 1996: 40/41).
In this conception of politics, participation and activation of each citizen is a central element in this conception of democracy. Gross is admitting that a
process from representative to more direct democracy means always a separation
of power. "Wenn Bürger das wollen, dann müssen sie etwas dafür tun. Billiger geht es nicht. Oder anders gesagt: In der Geschichte der Demokratie kann man zeigen, dass Demokratisierung immer nur als Furcht einer Bewegung von unten, als Konsequenz von Bürgerengagement passiert oder eben nicht". (Gross: 1996: 46)
Those who hold power never hand it over voluntarily..
That means again that democratisation not can happen in a top-down manner. It has to happen from and through active citizens.
Writers like Gross give us two substantial reminders. Firstly, direct democracy
is not a perfect political decision-making instrument. However, combined with a parliamentary system it may produces political decisions which have a higher degree of acceptance in the society they affect. Secondly, this process of more participation has to come from citizens themselves. Nobody can expect a "ruling class of politicians" to give power away voluntarily.
Brian D. Loader connects activation and computer-networks together.
Information- and communication technology (ICT), such as the computer-network Internet, is in his opinion an instrument that eases the individual political activation and participation. Bound to a post-modern view of politics belongs the perception that step by step political ideologies are being removed and that mass political parties are on the retreat , especially among young people.
"The globalising qualities of the Internet are thus responsible for producing new
formulations of governance at the local level which are expressed through the notions of enhanced participatory democratic activity and economic regeneration on the one hand, and the re-emergence of local identities on the other" (Loader 1997: 9).
Although Loader underlines the activating qualities of computer-networks, he also
questions if this interactive communication between millions of people is creating a computer-mediated public sphere.
Computer-network technologies are increasingly used in public and political
communication and in political debates. But Paul Frissen, a professor of Public Administration at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands, reminds us that this development of ICT cannot b seen as separate from political developments in West European countries. Such signs of political change are: increased deregulation with less detailed intervention, creating independent agencies (private or public) to implant public policies, privatisation, increasing acceptance for societal self-steering (governing by distance), governmental and
societal actors going together to network and finally an increasing use of ICT to organise government and public administration. (Frissen 1997: 116).
It is thus not only through increasing the possibilities of debate and
information exchange that computer-networks changing the style of traditional politics.
Frissen spots a transformation even in the way politics are carried out. Thus the more educated citizens have the capacity for self-organising , the more politicians have to take those movements into account. The approach is slowly changing from a traditional top-down steering model toward a bottom-up approach. "Politics is developing more and more into a sort of `broker`-politics, in which governments play a more organising and procedural role. It is admitted that effective policies presuppose participation and commitment of societal actors. (...) "smart" societies can no longer be governed in the paternalistic style of the welfare state. (Frissen 1997: 118).
This neo-coporatist tendency directs, according to Frissen, toward a changing of the political the style in direction where the outcome of policy-making is not most central but the democratic structures and procedures of decision-making.
Societies change in a post-modern direction and gets thus more
more fragmented and multi-centred. Frissen argues therefore that politics is more about "styles" than about content (Frissen 1997: 124) " `smart` societies cannot be excluded from the decision-making process." Computer-networks can play an essential role in the activating process of "smart" citizens.
The change of the society into a post-modern pattern has, according Alvin Toffler
(1983), consequences which he calls a post-modern fragmentation and
"demassification". A more and more complex society requires more internal
communication. This dynamic produced the information revolution while at the same time mass-production began to break up. Demassification and fragmentation are occurring in production, consumption, energy use and family structure as well as in communications (Nguyen, Alexander 1996: 110).
But what impact has this demassification on politics? It may be reasonable to assume that the political discourse becomes affected by the a technology which is transparent and which produces bodiless information. Thus, much of what we thought we knew about mediated political realities is quickly becoming wrong. Today, even the truth value of logic, as traditionally conceived , has begun to dissolve (Nguyen, Alexander 1996: 111).
Representative democracy is bound to geographical communities and the assumption
that the individuals who live in this space have concrete identities and interests that can be easily realisable. Demassification combined with a not linear development in societies but rather chaotic, leads according to Nguyen/Alexander, to a loss of the "normal". The loss of the normal destroys the possibility of collective action based on the democratic aggregation of interests. No doubt we will always call whatever is replacing liberal democracy a form of democracy, perhaps democratic cooporatism. (Nguyen, Alexander 1996: 122).
They express fear that with this development the liberal democracy which
is rooted in human everyday-life is withering.
Until now I have presented some viewpoints about activation as a general democratic quality, why it cold an important factor in democratic reform process and how some writers evaluate the change of political style by computer-networks. Before looking into the possible impact of computer-networks to political could have I would like to give impression how the computer-network technology itself is finding its way in modern society.
2 .3. A technological detour to...
The Internet was developed for military purposes. The US-military wished to have an independent communication system which would also function in the event case of a nuclear attack. Universities later took over this computer-network which at this time was called the ARPANET (Defence Advanced Projects Agency Net) and used it to exchange research information and communicate on a much easier way than before. The network became later the name Internet . The step from an almost exclusively university network to a world-wide popular computer-network happened with
the development of software, which made it possible to handle the Internet easily on a graphic base. Now almost anybody could "surf" (orientate) on the Internet with the help of the "mouse" and by the middle of the nineties the Internet had developed to "the world-wide computer-network".
Before one can analyse the effects digital computer-networks such as the
Internet might have on political processes and the possibilities they might provide it may be useful to see how this technology is "implemented". If the Internet has "democratic" qualities, how is this technology meeting the people?
Ralph Schroeder points out two extreme sociological approaches to technology:
technological determinism and social or cultural constructivism. The former overlooks the social contexts in which technology becomes embedded, whereas the latter attemps to reduce technological advancement to social or cultural forces. (Schroeder 1997: 98).
This latter perspective is also to be found in the sociology of science, which interprets the development of science and technology. This branch of sociology argues that science is not only a "cool" search for facts. If you want to understand scientific activity you also have to look at the social surroundings to understand its output. Scientific results are in other words, "social constructed". (Elvebakk, Grönning 1997: 6).
This perspective can also be used to understand the growth of information technology
and explosive spreading of world-wide computer-networks. The expanding of computer-networks is not only understandable in a deterministic way, where the Internet is somehow seen as a multiplicity of data-machines. The growing network also has to be understand as a product of the actors` values and considerations.
The French social anthropologist Bruno Latour emphasises that one has to look at technological development as a negotiation-process between the cultural field and the technological field. Technological development is "smoothest" if this negotiation-process leads to symmetrical alliances between the cultural and the technological field. (Latour 1987).
This building of alliances is called by Latour an actor-network-theory. It implies that the success of a new technology is very much dependent on how strong the alliances are that the actors of the cultural and the technological field are able to build during the introducing-process.
If one extends Latours cultural field to the political field we can say that is a negotiation-process between the political and the technological sphere is going on. According to Latour, the kind of political role these technological networks play depends very much on how symmetrical the alliances are between the technological and the political fields.
In such a case the actors from both fields to communicate and negotiate together
"What characterises the success of the Internet may therefore just as well be that the
players around the Internet have been very good at communicating a couples of attractive or challenging visions for the possibilities offered by the network, rather than the "superior" technological properties of the Internet."(Hetland 1997: 1)
With this view in mind it is perhaps easier to accept the assumption that
computer-networks are introduced not only because some computer-manufacturers
and "Bill Gates" find the time is right to connect computers to a network. Computer-networks also to a high degree a socially constructed and negotiated technology.
If we want to look more closely at how ICT and democracy act together it is important to keep this understanding of technological development in mind.
When we aim to look at the technology of the Internet we are facing some serious
Computer-networks such as the Internet are significant in that all the
informationís text, pictures, tones, videosequences are split up into elementary pieces. According to the Swiss sociologist Hans Geser is this splitting of information into data bits establishes new fundamental bases:
-Communications that were carried out before in separate media worlds (private
correspondence, group-discussions, books, official statements) are suddenly in the same medium.
-With no time or space limits computer-networks give all the actors the possibility to
take different positions, as recipient, sender and discussion partner.
-A form of virtual reality is created which is open to interactive manipulation which can thus compete to a certain degree with reality. (Geser 1996: 3).
Based on the above Geser proposes to use three analytical dimensions to analyse the Internet. 1.) The actual empirical reality, 2.) the actual functional potential and 3.) the functional potential in the future.
Those three dimensions remind us that the Internet as a media technology is in the initial stages of development. Conclusions regarding the activating potential
of the Internet must therefore be tentative. Only when this technology has developed a stronger alliance with politics and has become much more widespread will it be possible to conclude more accurately.
On the other hand some communication characteristics of computer-networks like the "many-to-many" and the "two-way" ability basically do not change. It is therefore probably possible to outline some democratic activating abilities of computer-networks such as the Internet already have today. It should be possible to do this in an inductive manner..
2.4. ... the political impact of computer-networks
As we said activating and participation is one way of looking at the use of computer-networks in a democratic process. But there are more and more political
scientists and activists who are fascinated by the Internet technology in a more
deterministic manner. They look at computer-network technology simply as way to break out of the circle of problems who challenge Western democracies.
The democratic process on the Internet already has its own name, "Cyberdemocracy". In Cyberdemocracy the terms "Cyberspace" and "Democracy" are melted together. Cyberdemocracy is now almost always used when the democratic concept meets the Internet in one or an other way.
Before looking closer at the significance digital computer-networks could have for democratic processes, it is important to point out that the Internet is not the first
communication technology for which a political and democratic role was intended.
Even the father of modern telecommunication himself, Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone (1876) had a political use in mind for his invention. His intention was that witch such a "communication box" in every house it would be easier to spread governmental information.
And there is little doubt that the telephone is now the "two-way" communication
technology which is most widely distributed world-wide. In this way the telephone plays an important role in political communication. But not only that. Since the telephone is so widespread several authors have used it as a tool to organise democracy in a new way. They often call their projects "Teledemocracy".
An example of such an idea is the Danish Marcus Schmidt`s project "MiniDanmark". He proposes a electronic Upper House by using the push-button telephone as the central communication instrument. Schmidt`s idea is to pull out every (by lot) every year 70 000 electors from the total 4.000.000 Danish electors to an electronic "Upper House".
The members of this electronic Upper House get information, newspapers and a security code and have to vote on political issues by means of a push-button telephone together with the "normal" parliament (Folketing). Through his "MiniDanmark" Schmidtn hopes to get through political decisions which accord much more with the opinion of the people and thus increase the influence of the people (Schmidt 1993 : 159).
The Norwegian POT-Telecemocracy (by using computer-networks, not in democratic participation of the citizens) goes a step further.
The POT-project (POT = Politicians` channel in the telecommunications network) developed from information technology used by the Research and Development branch of the Norwegian telephone company Telenor in one Norwegian community. It was the aim of the project use information technology to ease the communication between the community administration and the politicians. Thus the focus was not on citizen participation
Ytterstad, Akselsen, Svendsen and Watson conclude that the POT led to an improvement in the communication flow between politicians and the administration. Finally, it is interesting to observe that the POT project has brought the politicians closer together as a group. Whether this is due to the handling of the challenges represented by the technology or due the achievements from the use of the technology is open to question. (Ytterstad, Akselsen, Svendsen and Watson 1996: Conclusion).
To a wider audience the Internet rose from nothing into the spotlight like a rising
sports star. Several years ago "nobody" but scientists knew about it but suddenly
"the Net" was here and "everybody" in Western industrialised countries had to have a connection. One of the important steps that extended the Internet from being simply a work-instrument for scientists and universities was the development of the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) 1992. This program language made it possible to link together graphic and textual documents. With so-called links one can fit in a document text, pictures, videosequences and even sound. As the commercial Internet-providers say: The world is only a mouse click away. HTML made it possible to create the World Wide Web (WWW). WWW conducted the Internet multi-media properties and thus turned the Internet into a "mass" medium with faster growth than any other form of electronic consumer goods in history (Hetland 1997: 6).
The use of computer-networks such as the Internet is increasing rapidly. With this phrase almost every article about the Internet starts. Just to give some numbers: In the USA 15 percent of the population is using electronic mail (e-mail) regularly. In Canada 30 percent of all households have a personal computer (PC) and ten percent are connected by modem to the Internet (Dagens Nyheter, 11.9. 1997). The Scandinavian countries traditionally have a well developed telecommunication sector. It is not surprising therefore, that in this part of the world the number of Internet users is high. According to a report by Norsk Gallup 24 percent of the Norwegians have access to the Internet at home, at the job or elsewhere (Futsæter 1997: 21)
With this extreme growth, several thousand computers are getting connected to the Internet every day. At the same time the recognition is growing that parliamentary democracy is undergoing a crisis toward the end of this century. The problems of
representative democracy are often explained by the increasing alienation of politicians and voters. Nothing seems more obvious than to resynthesize them
through the communication technology of the Internet.
It is not surprising either that an explosively growing communication
technology such as the Internet attracts all those who seriously pose questions regarding present democratic structures. At first glance it seems so obvious. A computer-network where everybody can communicate cheaply and quickly must in one way or another benefit the democratic reconstruction- process.
"As the alienation of the voters increases, technology has increasingly been touted as a magical cure for this pressing political problem " (Barbrook 1995: 1) According to
Barbrook techno-utopians hopes to overcome the gulf between the electorate
and their representatives by connecting them together electronically, or by just bypassing the politicians completely.
Is the Internet a "magical cure" to the challenges democracy is facing? In what way
are computer-networks like the Internet different from "normal" possibilities of citizens to participate in democratic processes (discuss, vote, write letters and make telephone calls to politicians). In other words what is there the "magical element" of the Internet?
One person who tries to give an answer to that question is the already mentioned Swiss sociologist Hans Geser. He argues that computer-networks help to get rid of some obstacles that until now have been in the way of developing a democratic public sphere (Geser 1996: 4). The lead of "one-to-many" communication technologies began with the printing of books and went on with media like mass-newspapers, Radio and later TV. (This development went by the way almost hand in hand the development of modern parliamentary democracy).
But to make contact between recipient and sender was at the same time based on
technologies which stayed for a long time in a relatively embryonic state. The same thing can be said about "many to many" communications (like a letter of a group to many receivers).
This pattern of communication technology increased the possibilities for parties and organisation to organise their work and build alliances. TV and the concentration process in mass media increased thus the capacity of official bodies to get trough the official view.
This development of the Modern mass media which was eliminating made public debate concerned the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas deeply. According
to him a deep canyon had opened between the "official" public sphere of the "traditional" media and the bureaucracy (which put the citizen more and more in the role of a pure recipient) and the pure private sphere.
"Der Kommunikationszusammenhang eines räsonierenden Publikums von Privatleuten ist zerissen; die aus ihm eins hervorgehende öffentliche Meinung ist teils in informelle Meinungen von Privatleuten ohne Publikum dekomponiert, teils zu formellen Meinungen der publizistisch wirksamen Institutionen konzentriert." (Habermas 1990: 356)
But paradoxically, while it is only with difficulty that the participating active citizen can enter the arena of open democratic reasoning, the number of educated, political interested and motivated people has increased due the developing of the welfare state..
For these politically interested people computer-networks could offer an instrument for reciprocal information exchange and the possibility of offering a statement, not only to a national, but also to a global public sphere. Networks could have the possibility of building a bridge over this canyon between the "official" and the private sphere. "Only with computer-networks does the idea of maximum public and maximal interactive ability become a tangible reality" (Geser 1996: 7).
Three "aspects" may state the supplement of computer-networks to the public debate in a public sphere. The same elements may also ease the participation of citizens in democratic processes.
- Through computer-networks it is possible to move cheaply , quickly and reliably any quantity of information or data over any geographical distance whatever.
-No matter where you are, what time it is or in what situation your are in: : it is
possible to act on a computer-networks.
-Discussions and information on the Internet are basically public. There is no formal threshold which hinders people from acting in this public arena.
This view of a possibility the reconsideration of the communication situation is quite idealistic. Writers like Dave Carter are more suspicious about how far the information super highway of the Internet gives such power back into the in hand of the citizens. "There is a serious danger, however, that this ignores the realities of power which support an "information aristocracy" rather than a "digital democracy"
(Carter 1997: 137).
However, in the view of Ziauddin Sardar, the biggest danger in the developing of computer-networks is not in a digital aristocracy but in a new form of digital colonisation. Western nations, especially the USA, are way ahead in developing computer-network technology and in the use of Cyberspace. Therefore, Sardar goes so far as to compare the development of Cyberspace as the new conquest by the West. "Brute military force was used to be the means of western nations to conquer the world, now military forces are combined with communication technology. With Cyberspace, cultures are `bulldozed` away in a new way. When mental and cultural territories are exhausted, the West moves on to conquer the reality of other people. The end of modernity ushers in the all-embracing totality of postmodernism. (Sardar 1996: 16)
There are others who pierce holes in the hopes for new ways for democracy through
the computer-networks. Vivian Sobchack calls warns against connecting the hope for a more liberal, progressive and democratic society to the use of new technologies. Rather than make up an impossible future in which technology does all the political work that properly - and presently - is the province of human beings, we should dismantle utopic scenarios surrounding technology to reveal the deep ambivalence, contradictions and conflationís within them. (Sobchack 1996: 88)
She is suspicious of the idea that computer-networks have an influence on the public
sphere. Electronic networks arenít a new solution to the inherent contradictions of democratic capitalism. Furthermore, these conflicts and contradictions construct not a unified "public sphere", but a plurality of competitive "public spheres" in which individual and institutional "terminal identities" may dynamically situate themselves and have several and often conflicting self-interests. (Sobchack 1996: 83)
Is therefore no new form of democracy appearing through computer-networks but
only the old inequalities reinforced? Will the information society end up as a new "Klassengesellschaft with "information haves and information have-nots" rather than more and more democratic society?
A little more optimistic is the view toward "Teledemocracy" of F. Christopher Arterton after his investigation of thirteen experiments of teledemocracy. While
supporters of "Teledemocracy" see in computer-networks the promise of more democratic participation, Arterton is more sceptical. Electronics can only increase the quality of democracy a little and only marginally level out the inequalities of participation. The use of communication technology to promote the notion of teledemocracy offers us only a slight improvement over the widely recognised difficulties that characterise our present institutions. (...) Teledemocracy offers us improvements in democracy, not a major transformation nor a final fulfilment (Arterton 1987: 204).
Or do computer-networks serve the ones already in power rather than the democratic means? Michael Schudson fears exactly that and describes direct teledemocracy as quite dangerous. The new forms of political communication will come increasingly to serve the government, which will have no constraint to act after the problems the discussion (on the Net) is about.
Ross Perrot`s nation-wide town meetings are according to Schudson stating a second
problem. The aim of Perrot is not to enhance the voting or the communication with the citizen but replace the Congress with the direct plebiscitary decision-making. This takes up an old dream, or nightmare, of what democracy might be if we only had the
technical capacity to register popular moods, morals, or preferences instantaneously
(Schudson 1992: 3)
The Finnish computer scientist Valdimir Koumirov brings us back on the track toward a more optimistic perception of democracy trough computer-networks.
One of the problems of representative democracy is that the citizens are more and more subordinates who are "governed" while at the same time political leaders" are loosing the "touch" with the citizens. People want to have more power and control to conduct their own life as they want. The ubiquitous information networks of the future will be a readily available tool by which people can empower themselves, but only if they grasp the opportunity (Koumirov 1997: conclusion). He also argues that teledemocracy should not replace the present form of representative government and that teledemocracy is mainly another form of political participation.
Views as the one of Koumirov view can and should be connected with the view of political scientists like Gross: The central elements of all democratic reform-processes are participation and activation.
I would like argue that computer-networks through their interactive capability
already have some such qualities almost "built in". I will therefore try in the next section to outline what interactivity on computer-networks means and how it could be used to improve democracy.
2.5. Interactivity, keyword for active citizen on the Internet?
When I state that technology will play an important role in the development of democracy I am by far not the only one. The American democracy theorist Robert Dahl wrote even before the "explosion" of the Internet that telecommunications technologies could play an important role in making possible an "advanced democratic country" where policy is attached to the judgements of the "demos". However, Dahl is quite unsure how technology will play this role. (Dahl 1989: 33)
In the following chapters I will try to give an idea of how politics are already carried out on computer-networks. As already mentioned I will also focus on "activation" and participation as principal democratic values . In computer-networks "activation" is tightly connected with the term "interactivity".
Using existing theories of political participation Bruce Bimber (1996) proposes a division of the participating capacity on the Net into four models or approaches : a rational model, a socio-economic model, a sociological model and a mobilisation model.
The rational model central assumption is that political participation is undertaken
under considerations of utility maximisation. According to Bimber , since there are no
on-line voting processes at the moment, the cost effective gathering of political information in this way would constitute the central element of this approach of participate on the Net (Bimber 1996: 7)
The socio-economic model (SES model) takes into consideration the socio-economic
status and demographic characteristics of the political participants on
computer-networks. One interesting question this approach raises for example is whether political actors on the Net have a socio-economic background such as professional or education factors for acting on the Net.
Bimber admits that the sociological model is the most diffuse approach to participation on the Internet. This category looks, for example at socialisation or norm-following for participation on the Net. The sociological model is diffuse because it is based upon the general assumption that the Net will have effects on participation (like the TV some years ago) and single effects are therefore difficult to deduce.
The mobilisation model is on the other hand fruitful. The effects computer-networks have on participation are increasing because "mobilisers" like politicians, parties,
interest groups and activists use the Net for political processes. "As a communication
medium the Net is likely to increase the effectiveness of mobilisation through social, political, or economic networks. The Net should allow more efficient and rapid mobilisation of this kind (Bimber 1996: 9).
With this models in mind it should be possible to outline if there could be gradation of the interactive space in more and less activating services.
2.6. How active is interactivity?
I regard the rational and mobilisation approaches as especially useful in my attempt
to describe the activating and participating potential of computer-networks.
If one stresses active participation on computer-networks as possibly a qualitative
democratic or even a direct democratic element, this implies that this process is more than a "consuming" process. Indeed, the element which connects with participation on the Internet is interactivity.
But what is interactivity and why is it that it is so important to democratic processes on computer-networks?
As Jens F. Jensen points out, interactivity has become what one calls a "buzzword".
(Jensen 1996: 2). The word is "buzzing" around, "everybody" discussing new electronic media is using it but few give deeper thought to what it really means. Jensen explores the term interactivity in sociology, computer-science and media.
Interactivity has its origin in the term "interaction" which means mutual influence. In sociology the model of interaction refers to a relationship between people whose
behaviour and actions somehow influence each other in a given situation .
Summarised one can state that interaction refers to a mutual influence of human beings through communication.
In the new media such as computer-networks the term "interaction" has altered to
"interactivity". As Jensen points out the new media are different because of their special interactive characteristics. But what he asks are those "interactive " characteristics that make computer-networks different from traditional media? (Jensen 1997: 10).
In order to give an explanation he proposes three principal ways of looking at it:
Interactivity as a prototype, interactivity as criterion and finally interactivity as a content.
If one looks at interactivity as a prototype, face-to-face communication is the ideal
model for interactivity. But videoconferences and on-line media of example show
some of the same characteristics: Information is controlled by provider and user.
This implies a mutual influence and goes close to the sociological interaction
Interactivity as a criterion refers more to how a user can control the flow of information provided by new media. For example, e-mail as a communication service is ansynchronous (sender and receiver do not communicate at the same time). In this respect this service is interactive to a lower degree than synchronous (real-time) chat service.
More fruitful might be to look at interactivity as content with a higher or lower
degree of interactivity. Jensen cites Everet M. Rogers who defines interactivity as a
capability of new communications-systems to talk back to the user. Moreover, he
proposes two separate communication technologies with a low degree of interactivity such as radio or TV, and technologies with a high degree of interactivity, such as on-line bulletin board..
Scheizaf Rafaeli (1988) takes this kind of definition further. He bases the degree of
interactivity on three progressive steps. 1. "Two-way" communication where information flows in both directions, 2. reactive communication, where one message reacts to a previous one 3.. And finally full interactivity where a message has to react to a lot of previous messages. Basically Rafaelis definition is based
on a degree of responsiveness, that is the degree to which a medium is capable of reacting (responding) to a user.
Jensen and Rafeli`s discussion on interactivity, however does not leave us with a final conclusion as to what interactivity is.
But one can probably state that interactivity on computer-networks means that a "two-way" act of communication is going on. In the process of this communication the actors re influenced through the messages which are communicated.
However, there are different degrees of influence. If the receiver has to react to several previous messages such as in a discussion group on the Internet, one can assume the degree of this influence is higher that if the receiver just gathers
a message in a "one-way"-communication act. "Two-way"-communication processes on the Internet, in other word contain a higher degree of interactivity. Moreover, interactive processes at a higher level also lead to a higher level of "activity" in democratic processes on the Internet.
But does this assumption have any corresponding with that what is really going on the Internet? In the following two chapters I will try to give an answer to that question. First in a overview of political process on the Internet in general in the following chapter. This chapter also includes an attempt to "categorise" the occurrence on the Internet. Afterwards I will try to narrow the angle and will try to describe the Norwegian electoral campaign an I will try to elaborate how "activating" it has been.
3. Political "actions" on the Internet
To get hold on the actual reality of Cyberspace is difficult. The Internet is not
a static actual place. Thousands of Web sites are appearing every day
and some are vanishing at the same time . To give an overview of political sites and services on the Internet at any time is therefore almost an impossible task.
Nevertheless, it is probably possible to give an impression of what political sites and services one can find on the Internet. One fact we have to recognise is that the Internet is not a single medium but rather several different media. (December 1996, cited in Hetland 1996: 61). Not only has does the Internet have multi media abilities through the World Wide Web (WWW) it also allows the transmission of text, images, audio- and even videosequences.
But the Internet as a communication technology also uses all four types of modi to connect people: "one-to-one", "one-to-many", "many-to-many" and "many-to-one". At the same time the Internet is also divided according to the manner information between the sender and the receiver is "stored": synchronous or asynchronous.
Synchronous communication means that the receiver has to take the transmitted information at the point of transmitting. On the other hand , when a receiver receives the information at a later point in time- for example, when someone reads a newspaper - the transmitting is asynchronous.
Modi of communication on the Internet:
from one from many
To one Telephone vote, opinion poll
To many Newspaper, broadcast electronic mailing list
The telephone is a typical "one-to-one" communication technology. In addition to the sender and receiver being connected in real-time, the telephone is also synchronous.
Radio and television connect people at their receiving location with one transmitting , and also indirectly with people at many other receiving locations doing all this in real-time (synchronous) as the telephone.
Communication over computer-networks on the other hand connects people at many sending locations with people at many receiving locations and doing that synchronously and asynchronously.
In other words: computer-networks, such as the Internet combine the quality "one-to-one" communication with the broadcast ability of "one-to-many" media.
"Each party is a sender, a receiver and a broadcaster" (Bonchek, 1995: 5)
Even if the Internet opens for all those ways of communication there are significant differences in the interactive quality of the communication. As I tried to point out earlier the interactive quality increases as more of the flow of communication has to react to a previous message or even interact (react to several previous messages).
According to this definition a "one-to-one" communication like the telephone or a discussion site on the Internet has a higher interactive quality as a "one-to-many" connection such as TV broadcast or a Internet site where information can only be received "one"- way.
As the aim of my paper is to look at how the Internet can be politically activating, I would like to propose a rough division between more "diffusing" services and the more "mobilising" sites on the Internet.
1. "Diffusing". Diffusing services have a tendency towards "one-way"-communication and to the "one-to-many" modus of communication. Political information is transmitted one way: there is a low degree of interactivity.
2. "Mobilising" services not only offer the gathering political information but also invite to "two-way"-communication" in the form of discussion groups or even political "on-line"-chat The degree of interactivity is usually higher on these sites.
To generate a categorisation is seldom without problems. To categorise the dynamic and "anarchical" Internet is of course not free of such problems either.
For my categorisation I see mainly two difficulties. When I state that "activating" sites have a higher degree of "activation" I assume that those sites have a higher effect on the user than "consuming" sites. Meanwhile it is a common accepted stipulation that it is difficult to measure such effects on media users.
The second difficulty is connected with the character of the Internet. On the one a site is only one part of the Internet. One can, for example, start a political action with the help of e-mail without using the WWW and going to a Web site. On the other hand a simple "consuming" site can get people "activated" and start, for example, a boycott. Therefore I haven chosen name the different offers rather "services" than "sites".
If I insist on retaining this categorisation it is because I look at it as a frame of help for getting an impression of how politics are carried out on the Internet. Before giving some examples of politics on the Internet and trying to look at how "activating" the electoral Internet campaign of the Norwegian parties has been, I would like to describe which practical "tools" a politically interested user has at his or her disposal on the Internet
3.1 The different "communication" tools
The sites on the World Wide Web (WWW) are perhaps most obvious places
that politics can make an appearance on the Internet. Any individual or political group is able to post information and opinions through a site on the Net. With the help of "graphical connections" (links) it is even possible to "hook" up a visitor of a site with relevant information anywhere on the Internet.
This information does not have to pass through a "filter", or an organised traditional communication system, like, for instance, a newspaper.
This information has only to cross over a low threshold and is then available to a local, regional, national and global "audience". This low-cost possibility for spreading information is used by political groups of all kinds.
Non-traditional or single-issue-groups gain especially from the powerful search instruments such as, for example, Altavista or Yahoo. A Web site of a political group can be simple and the issue far away from the mainstream: With the help of search-instruments this political group becomes "visible", as visible and accessible as any big and established pressure group on the Internet.
The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is an easy way to receive files with most of the Web browses. A political group can for instance take up a subject on the Web site. When you want to get a complete speech or a complete report, the organisation can offer a link to an FTP site to down load the document.
One of the most important and useful instruments for political participation on the Internet is electronic mail (e-mail). Its importance stems from the fact it that is accessible through most computer- and software applications and that it is possible to move any kind of information through the Internet, text, files, pictures even audio- and videosequences, using e-mail.
Automated mailing list (list servers) is an instrument which political organisations and activist groups like to use. E-Mail addressed to a distinct e-mail address gets automatically readressed and sent to a list the organisation has set up.
For an organisation it is a cheap and quick way to keep it member-structure informed.
At the same time list servers are also a very well suited instrument for political
participation. One can sign up to a mailing list of a subject he or she is interested in.
Then it is possible to start a dialogue or get e-mail addresses and ideas from people interested in the same subject from around the world.
A problem with e-mail is it that it is not completely secure. It is possible to
intercept e-mail or send a message with a fake sender identification.
Newsgroups on the Internet are discussion forums. People meet on the Net to discuss
a certain subject. Newsgroups are seldom controlled, that means nobody is really
responsible for the content. However, some of the 20 000 Newsgroups
(as already mentioned, that change from day to day) are misused for the spreading of illegal material like pornographic pictures and stories. To establish a certain level of control therefore some of the Newsgroups are controlled by name-calling.
BBS and Conferencing:
Like on a normal pin-board on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) everybody can leave a message and read the messages of the other users. The BBS`s are often controlled by name-calling or a "BBS-master".
Discussions about distinct themes are carried out also by means of BBS`s. Not all
BBS`s are connected trough the Internet. There are many BBS-systems which are organised locally, by direct modem connection.
Conferencing systems are quite similar to BBSs. But the are organised around a specific topic more in the way that a "physical" conference is held. The discussion about a theme is often led by a mediator.
Because BBS-software is cheap and widely available BBS`s are often used in a political context. That is not the case for Conferencing systems and they are therefore less usual.
BBS`s and Conferencing systems are also available on commercial on-line Services like CompuServe or the Microsoft Network. Political organisations like those services because they think they can reach their intended target-group.
Because of their more controlled and private character, BBS`s are well-fitted for the development of political pressure groups.
On Internet Relay Chat (IRC) people meet to discuss on-line (synchronous) topics of the most different character. Like Newsgroups they are not especially well-controlled and they can also be misused for illegal subjects. But meeting at Internet chat forum can also be a cheap and easy way for a political organisation to get attention about itself or a special subject.
An on-line chat, a real-time discussion about a political subject, is highly interactive and political activating because people are communicating synchronously, "one-to-one". But unlike the telephone, in this public discussion a third person can get activated. Internet chat also includes the "one-to-many" communication modus.
The same can be said for conferencing systems. Even the discussions there are not as public as Internet chat.
Discussions on BBS`s and Newsgroups are in this respect also interactive and activating to a high degree, even if their modus is asynchronous. The "many-to-many" communication modus of these is intensified by the possibility of using of mail-servers and mail-lists.
The e-mail is considered basically as just an instrument to make this mentioned communication over Internet possible. However, its political activating ability lies in the fact that a person has to work at he or she thoughts before communicating.
As mentioned before can Web site can be a link-"menu" to all the mentioned interactive communication possibilities on the Internet. It can therefore be misleading to put Web sites in a more "one-way"-communication "diffusing" category. Even so, I would like to maintain this categorisation because quite a lot of political sites are based on the mediation of information in the "one-way", "on-to-many" manner.
3.2. "Diffusing " services
Almost all governments use "diffusing " Web sites to transmit information to the nations citizens. An overview of the worlds governments on the Internet (http://www.gksoft.co/govt/en/world.html) shows that of the total 193 sovereign nations of the world 183 governments have information on the Internet. The Web sites differ of course a lot. While some countries like Belarus only have one entry and a file-size of two kB laid out, Germany has 623 entries and 81 kB.
The governmental Web sites differ not only in size but also in design. The Web site of the Norwegian government (http://odin.dep.no/) not only gives links to departments. publications, international organisations and media, on the site of each department is a link to the e-mail address, where a citizen can contact each department of the government.
The Swiss government (http://www.admin.ch/ ) does not go that far. On a "diffusing" Web site the Swiss government lays out information without an interactive element. Even the ministry of communications (Bundesamt für
Kommunikation: http://www.admin.ch/bakom) - which by the way is cited physically on the "Zukunftsstrasse" ("future street") does not even have a link to an e-mail address.
However, as many other governments the Swiss and the Norwegian try to give "neutral" information to their citizens on diffusing Internet services.
The Web site of the North Korean government (http://www.Kcna.co.jp) is an extreme contrast to that. For the North Korean government the Central News Agency distributes propaganda rather than "neutral" information. The Web site is probably not so much addressed to the people of North Korea as to the world opinion. It is not surprising that in almost every article headline one can read the names Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il.
Even with exceptions like North Korea the general impression is that governments use the Internet to supply citizens with "neutral" information in a "one-way" communication manner and that they are generally less interested in activating citizens through an interactive dialogue.
Very often this is also valid for Web sites of the parliaments of the world. An overview (http://www.universal.nl/users/derksen/parlemen/home.htm) shows that about 50 national parliaments have Web sites on the Internet. In the most cases, like in Switzerland or in Norway, the Web site of the parliament is a part of the official site of the government. Web sites like for example the Austrian (http://www.parlinkom.gov.at) or the one from Singapore (http://www.gov.sg/parliament/) confirm the impression that also parliaments generally look at "diffusing " Web services as the instrument to inform their electors.
But there are also exceptions, like the site of the German parliament, "Bundestag" (http://www.bundestag.de). This site offers lots of rational information and links. But
in addition it also has links to e-mail addresses, a mailing-list, and even
a discussion-forum. The Bundestag is an example of a parliament which invites the citizens to activate with "two-way" communication.
Strictly diffusing, on the other hand, are the menus of most of the international organisations offered on the Internet. There is lots of information to gather but possibilities of coming into an interactive dialogue with organisations like the "European Union" (http://europa.eu.int) or the "World Trading Organisation" (http://www.wto.org). (Appendix I) are rather rare.
An Internet user can gather more "consuming" information about governments and parliaments sites like "Election notes" (http://klipsan.com/calendar.htm) and
"Electoral Studies" (http://www.psci.unt.edu/es/). The first site offers an international election calendar which keeps one updated on parliamentary, presidential and even local elections around the globe. The second site is a link page for analysing the results of elections and research on electoral behaviour.
3.3 "Mobilising" services
Many political groups and individual political activists have recognised that the Internet is offering more than just a cost-effective medium to display their information. Of course for such groups the "one-way" transmission of information is also an important political instrument. Indeed, political organisations of every kind have seen that the entire spectrum of communication possibilities on the Internet can be used to organise, discuss and thereby activate their target "audience".
Minorities all over the world have recognised that they can gain information-advantages by the use of computer-networks. The Mexican Zapatistas guerrilla group became world famous in this way.. This group is fighting for the rights of the Indians in the Southeast region of Mexico under their leader "Subcommandante" Marcos. The Zapatists have background maps and information justifying their struggle and fight for freedom laid out on the Internet (http://www.ezln.org)
In Europe there exist 61 different minority languages according to the Danish weekly Weekendavisen (3. 1. 1997). Of these 61 languages about are being 40 regularly used on the on the Internet in discussions.
In the African country Somalia an almost forgotten war is going on. This conflict has
almost vanished from the daily news. On the Web site NomadNet, however (http://www.users.interport.net/~mmaren/index.html) an American journalist is giving almost daily updated information about this "forgotten" conflict.
The Internet makes it possible to move information and communication around or over barriers which totalitarian regimes have set up to prevent free speech.
Examples for such Web places are the Tempo (http.//www.tempo.co.id/) an Indonesian forbidden news magazine, Kenyan opposition leader Koigi wa Wamwere site (http://www.spidergraphics.com/khr/khrld.html) or the Free Burma site (http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma/). Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org) is also spreading information over the borders of totalitarian regimes.
The Norwegian environmental activist group Bellona in the recent years did work on a report on the problems of the nuclear waste on the Kola peninsula in
North-western Russia. The Russian secret service FBN was not happy about Bellona`s
activity in this militarily sensitive area and imprisoned Bellona`s Russian assistant
Aleksandr Nikitin. The final report was forbidden in Russia. Bellona laid out the
report in Russian on the Internet. It got downloaded in Russia, copied and is now available to environmental activists, researchers, and journalists also in Russia. (http://www.grida.no/bellona/)
It is not that easy on the other hand for Chinese opposition politicians and citizens to use the Internet to gather and spread political information. The Web site Democracy Wall of China (http://interlog.com/~yuan/china.html) gives information about the situation concerning human rights in China and has a link for the search for victims. The page also has a links where Internet users can post the demand to free the China`s best known opposition activist Wei JingSehng. The receiver of this demands are the US and the Canadian governments. But Chinese people canít read this Web site. The Chinese government has restructured the Internet communication line and with this now official "control" sites like the Democracy wall of China are censured.
But on the other hand Chinese students in the USA are using the Internet to communicate and co-ordinate their political actions.
French authorities too have to experienced that with the appearance of the Internet "the world has changed". In France it is not allowed to publish opinion polls in the last week before an election. But during the general elections in spring 1997 the French electors could see the latest opinion polls, published on the Internet by foreign newspapers like for example the Swiss paper "La Tribune de Geneva (http://www.edicom.ch/tdg/ or the English "The Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)
Political databases on the Internet are for political groups and individuals a possibility to get background information or a starting point for a search. Examples for a such sites are "Political Databases on the Net" (http://universal.nl/users/derksen/election/reframe4.htm), "Political Resources on the Net" (http://www.agora.stm.it/politic) or "Demokratie & Netze" (http://www.staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~rillingr/net/netmat/netdem.htm/)..
These examples the use of interactivity to activate citizens or a target audience is still quite limited. Still, the main goal of most of the described sites to inform, although at the same time the "hidden" intention of the sites is to activate, for examples minorities or a global opinion. Moreover the use of "two-way" communication, compared to the "diffusing" services, is already quite expanded.
3.4. Services who activate citizens
There are services on the Internet, however where the aim to activate citizens through an interactive "two-way" communication appears more clearly.
Electronic mail and the use of discussion possibilities such as Newsgroups are more central to the aim of political organisations and groups which have activation of citizens and their participation in mind.
Internet sites which attempt to activate and mobilise citizens can be projects with that aim. "The Electronic United Nations" (http://www.simulations.com/eun/) is a
project for schools to learn and discuss on-line about how the real United Nations works. An other one is the "Minnesota E-Democracy project" (http://www.e-democracy.org/) which is designed to improve participation in democracy in Minnesota and is non partisan and citizen-based. It is the aim of the site to offer through the Internet a public space for the interaction of citizens and the political "two-way" discussion . The project claims to have the world`s largest e-mail based discussion list.
As these examples show, many of the projects have roots in the USA. It is little wonder then, that (maybe besides the Scandinavian countries) the use of the Internet in USA is the most extensive. But with its global and borderless character the Internet makes it also possible to follow such a project form anywhere in the world and gather ideas for participation.
The global character of computer-networks is also very useful to international citizen campaigns such as, for example, boycotts. The "Boycott Board" (http://boycott.2street.com/) samples targets of boycotts such as a boycott against the Shell Oil Company because of their activities in Nigeria or against Mitsubishi because of their the environmentally destructive activities in Mexico.
Resistance against nuclear tests is an other example of how the Internet is used to activate . Protests and viewpoints can sent directly on a global basis to the political
decisions makers. Web sites like Anti-Nuke-Links (http://muu.lib.hel.fi/MediaFilter/nuke/nukelinks.html/) give a number of e-mail addresses where protest can be posted (like the French ministry of defence) and connections to nuclear-protest-pages.
"Oneworld" (http://www.oneworld.org/), is a global network for environment, peace and social justice. The Web site pages offer a Newsgroup where environmental and human rights subjects can be discussed. "Oneworld" goes one step further with their "action page" (http://www.oneworld.org/action/noticeboard/index.htmt/) where the question for an International Criminal Court is proposed. Information is laid
out (specified also for press and legislators), but there are also links where politically interested people can put forward e-mail and letters. There are even samples for letters and e-mails which can be loaded and used.
The number of sites where political discussions are possible on a national basis is increasing on the Internet. As example: The British Broadcasting Company BBC had under the electoral campaign in spring 1997 an interactive Web site. Citizens had the possibility not only to gather information about the parties and candidates but they could also put question interactively to the candidates over the Internet.
There are Web sites which collect the possibilities for active discussion and participation. "Links where you can participate" (http://www.vote-smart.org/other/particiapte.html) is a such site. It not only lists several US and international political Newsgroups but also gives links to sites where a citizen can give his opinion by "voting electronically". Direct Democracy (http://www.albany.net/~fioril/direct.html), Democracy in Action (http://www.gbar.dtu.dk/~itsjg/macpherson.html), EFF "E-voting" Archive (http://www.eff.org/pub/Activism/E-voting/) and Electronic Democracy Resources on
the Internet (http://www.e-democracy.org/intl/resource/) are other examples for sites which give information about democracy and links to places where it is possible to
By looking at several of these activating sites one can easily state that the degree of participation differs quite a lot. Also the quality of discussions differs.
But does such activity on the Internet sites have any effect? To give an answer to this question one first has to define what an effect is? If the effect is that people get active, meaning that they communicate with people , they discuss, they gather information, then the answer is almost certainly yes.
On the other hand, could one questioning itself if thorough the activity on the Net, an influence on political and democratic processes really happens?
As I stated previously, it is not the aim of this paper to look at the influence of computer-networks to such formal political processes. The following two examples, however, show that interactive processes are at least on the way to becoming an addition to "normal" democratic decision making processes.
Using the "two-way" communication ability of the Internet for discussions is not the sole step forward in using the Internet in citizen activating processes.
Activating citizens by pulling them into the law making processes like for example in Sweden and Norway is one way to use the interactive ability of the Internet.
In Norway a committee had to make a report to the ministry of Justice on the subject of a new law for the protection of personal rights ("Oppdatering av personregisterlovgiving").
The committee laid out a site on the Internet where the mandate of the commission was presented. Citizens had afterwards the possibility to give comments and propositions to the committee on Internet.
The commission delivered the report on June 13, 1997. In the period the law proposition was laid out on the Internet there were made propositions to only 13 paragraphs.
However, the committee concluded that this Internet-hearing was a success. Not
only was the site of the commission hit 2850 times but there was also substantial
information coming in: especially on the subject of personal rights and the Internet. (http://www.jus.uio.no:80/iri/afin/personvern/)
In Sweden all propositions to law changes and protocols of the parliament (Riksdagen) are laid out on the Internet-Rixlex page (http://www.riksdag.rixlex.se/rixlex/index_en.htm).
Three pages have about 90 000 hits in a month and the Swedish Newspaper "Dagens Nyheter" (26.3.1997) concludes that with this database it is easier for citizen to lobby for or against a new law.
But there is a but: It is not possible to give comments on law propositions directly on
Internet. A interested citizen has to use a Telnet-browser or a free telephone line.
The influence of the Internet on real political processes by its asynchronous and interactive capability is probably still more obvious.
1996 the Swedish press began to write about the alcohol abuse of the leader of the socialist party Gudrun Schymann. She was forced to go public about her problems and take a break as party-leader. For the open Swedish society that is not something new. New, however, was the role of Internet. The radio-reporter who reported how Schymann acted drunk in a cinema gathered his information from the Internet and quoted the Internet site where examples of Schymann`s alcohol abuse were sampled. "The Internet made its appearance as a new actor in the political arena". (Carlshamre 1997: 71).
Citizens can with help of the Internet force governments to more openness, one of the pillars of a functioning democracy. In the beginning of 1997 the Norwegian Defence Department came under heavy criticism from the national financial control (Riksrevisionen). The controllers had several questions regarding a 2,7 billion-project to up-date the country`s F-16 fighter-jets. But the Department of Defence refused to release the documents and referred to "national security". Nevertheless, the newspaper Aftenposten (20.2. 1997) found all the requested numbers on the official Web page of the US financial control.
At the end of 1996 people in the Serbian capital Belgrade began to protest against
President Slobodan Milosevic. Their claim was that the opposition in fact had won the community elections in several places but the result had been faked by corrupt
election boards. Day after day people on the street protested against the regime of President Milosevic.
Students were central under the protests and the radio-station Radio B92 was an important information- and organisation instrument. For that reason Milosevic closed the station down. But it took only several hours and the station was again broadcasting, on the Internet (http://www.xs4all.nl/opennet/). What influence that action had is of course hard to analyse but in the end Milosevic`s regime had to give up and recognise the victory of the opposition.
Political mobilisation on computer-networks is also not a new phenomenon. Wayne Rash Jr. describes the political influence of the precursor of Internet, the ARPANET, already had. Jerry Pournelle, a science fiction author and computer-magazine writer got to know that the US congress wanted to the shut down a project which eventually led to development of the Global Positioning System (GPS). With the help of the ARPANET Pournelle provided decision makers with information . With success, the GPS eventually got the green light. "All that was basically a result of the existence of the ARPANET", says Pournelle. (Rash: 1997:72).
Of course, through these few examples it is not possible to say how big the effect of the computer-networks was on the outcome of the political process.
By the same token, however, it is no exaggeration to say that the Internet certainly had some effect.
I have tried to cast light upon two "sides" of political processes on the Internet: the more "one-way" communicated aspect of "consuming" sites and the interactive aspect of more "activating" sites.
Where does that leave us?
Political discussions are going on on-line chat sites and on-line conferences, political viewpoints are posted on BBS`s, Newsgroups and even to political decision-makers. Immense quantities of political information are exchanged without taking need of political and physical borders (even over the information barriers of totalitarian regimes).
These examples of political and democratic processes on the Internet leave one
impression. On a national or on a global basis, are the interactive services are not the only services on the Internet which are "activating" citizens/Net-users. Citizens can also get "activated" through "diffusing" "one-way" information on the Web. hence, if one wants to consider the "activating" capacity of the Internet it is necessary to look at all the communication possibilities as a totality.
On September 15 the Norwegian voters had to elect new parliament. If citizens activate on the Internet in not only using the interactive services, would that not also be the case in the political process of a election campaign? Or do the Norwegians, "sedated" by a political system that only allows them to speak up every fourth year, take the possibility of interactive discussion with both hands? The following chapter shall try to give an answer to these questions.
4. Got the Norwegian voters "activated"?
The Norwegian political system has a strong representative character. The Parliament
is elected every four years and the constitution allows no break up of the parliament (Stortinget) during those four years. Six referendums have been held in Norway: one about the dissolution of the Union with Sweden, one about the monarchy, two about prohibition and two about the European integration. Meanwhile, those referendums had only a consultative character because the Norwegian constitution does not mention the referendum. In such a purely parliamentarian and representative system, the political parties play an important role not only in the political decision process but also in political discussion and debate.
I am aware, however that the power of the Unions is considered a significant
channel of influence. Political scientists like Stein Rokkan talk therefore of a two-channel-system of political power in Norway, of the "numerical channel" of the voters and the "co-operative channel" of the Unions. "The Norwegian system is balanced, in other words, between `numerical democracy` and `co-operative pluralism." (Heidar, Berntzen 1993: 48).
Nevertheless, the parties seem to be for the Norwegian citizens the central political
"instrument" and are important for political discussion.
In the electoral campaign for the general election of 15 September, 1997 the
Norwegian parties for the first time used the Internet technology as a part of their
If the parties play such an important role in the political system, is it not then appropriate to assume that if the Norwegian citizens get "active" on the Internet, they will probably do it during the electoral campaign?
In my attempt to look into how "mobilising" and activating the Internet campaign of
Norwegian parties has been, I will try to use the same "frame" as the one I described for the political services on the Internet in general. I assume that the degree of participation and activation on the Internet is coherent with the degree of interactivity.
This section of the paper is based on interviews before and after the election with the responsible Web editors of all the parties which joined the parliament in the period 1993 to 1997. Because the deadline of the paper was soon after the election, the findings of the interviews can only be a first indication in my attempt to give an answer to the question of the "mobilising" and activating abilities of the Internet in Norwegian politics.
Future research also has to consider in a much higher degree the influence of non-partisan sites, like for example the site of the Norwegian Broadcast company "NRK" or the election site of the newspaper "Aftenposten" .
The Norwegian citizens had their "first meeting" with the election campaign on the Internet through the newspapers. A story was runabout the Internet page where pictures of the social-democratic minister for planning and administration Bendik Ruggas were manipulated. In one picture the minister looked like "Darkfather" while in another he was pictured as he was holding Janet Jacksonís breasts from behind.
The second "Internet meeting trough the press" happened when on 8 August
1997 when the social-democratic Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland in the beginning of the election campaign was answering questions on the Internet. A hacker was able to fake some answers and make them look as they were from Jagland. For example "Jagland" in answer to the question whether it could be dangerous to shop in certain parts of Oslo because of the many foreign people, "Jagland" said: "You perhaps didnít know that my origin is Pakistani." And to the question whether Norway should consider lifting the immigration stop, "Jaglandís answer" was : "Every thing works with homeopathic therapy. With that we will manage the problems with the immigrants and the economy as well." (Verdens Gang, 9.8. 1997).
Those two practical jokes on the Internet determined the media focus in the beginning of the Norwegian election campaign. The main subject was however the technical question of the security of the Internet .
But what was the intention of the political parties and how did they really carry out their Internet campaign? I will try to give an answer in the following section.
4.1 Campaigning on the Internet
The biggest party in Norway is the Labourparty, "Den Norske Arbeiderpartiet". (http://www.dna.no/start.html/). At the last elections the "Arbeiderpartiet" got
36.9 % of the votes and ruled the country for the whole period with a minority government.
The idea of the Internet campaign of Labour was to make a daily updated party-newspaper. It was the intention of this news-part to attract users to visit the page every day. Meanwhile the central task of the Arbeiderpartiet was to reach potential voters through the Internet without they having to go through the "filter" of the traditional mass media.
On the starting page the "Arbeiderpartiet" offered, in addition to the news, links to "diffusing" information about the party organisation, to the party program and a schedule about the campaign plans of central politicians. It was also possible to download the campaign speeches of the politicians.
There was no interactive element on the campaign site of the "Arbeiderpartiet". However the part had a guestbook as a "reactive" Part where it was possible to leave a message or send greetings. According to Frode Iversen, one of the Web editors, the "Arbeiderpartiet" did not consider the time ripe for an interactive discussion on the Internet.
The experience the "Arbeiderpartiet" had with the guestbook confirms this statement, says Iversen. Several times a day they were forced to remove messages which were either obscene and against Norwegian law.
A priority of the election strategy of the Internet campaign of the "Arbeiderpartiet" was not to address it to a special target group. The intention was to reach quite ordinary people who would rarely go to a traditional party meeting or a town square rally but who were politically interested and used the Internet.
This election campaign was for the "Arbeiderpartiet" the first one which included the Internet. The party was according to Iversen a late-starter in the use of computer-networks. Everything is still in a state of development, but it is clear that the Internet will also become an important part of the way information is exchanged, within the party-system as well, says Iversen.
The Conservatives ("Høyre") is the traditional opponent of the social-democrats. "Høyre" had a special approach to the electoral campaign on the Internet. Basically, the party did nothing especially for the electoral campaign. According to Marco Cristofoli from "Høyres" information department, which is responsible for the Web site, all campaign material and information (which also is printed) was accessible on the Internet.
The central idea of "Høyre`s" Web site (http://hoyre.no/) is that it is to serve as an updated information bank to any interested visitor. This information bank is central for the general Internet ideology of ""Høyre". All searchable shall information is to be as easy to get as possible. For that reason "Høyre" also offers a mailing-list where anybody can register to get the newest information and press releases.
However, during the campaign the party updated these "diffusing" information services to suit the actualities of the campaign.
In addition to its public information bank the conservative party also has an internal information bank which is only accessible to the members of the local branches.
The does not offer any interactive element on the Web site. In a "reactive" way, however, it is possible to apply for membership and the information department also hoped that the use of e-mail will lead to more feedback from the public.
"Venstre" (Liberals) was the first Norwegian party and is today situated in the centre of the political spectrum. The party is often characterised as the party of the little tradesman. After a long absence from of the parliament the party managed to regain a seat in the Stortinget in the election of 1993. Despite its traditional roots, "Venstre" takes the offensive on the Internet.
The main thought behind "Venstre`s" Web campaign site (http://www.venstre.no/) was to present all the candidates of the party and give the public an interactive possibility to ask questions to them trough e-mail. The candidates were sorted according the regional departments (fylker) which are also the constituencies of Norway.
The question and the answers of the candidates are afterward presented on the Web pages. According to the Thomas Hansen, who is responsible for the Internet services of Venstre, all the candidates were informed about this "interactive" campaign on the Internet. Moreover, one of the candidates from Oslo was presented as a special "Internet candidate"
The interactive part was organised in a way that also allowed those candidates without a PC to take part. During the campaign the central secretary helped with their hardware resources to get the questions and send back the e-mail.
Beside this interactive campaign was "Venstre" also presented links and "diffusing" information on the Web site, like for example a summary of the work which has been done in the parliament in the last four years.
"Venstre" was not targeting a special group with their site although according to Hansen, profiles show that the typical voter of "Venstre" is middle-aged and well educated. "Of course we have this in mind whom designing our Web campaign," says Thomas Hansen.
"Venstre" also uses the Internet internally. Through a special server, party functionaries are able to gather information and keep in touch with the party headquarters.
"Kristelig Folkeparti" (KrF)
The Christian democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti) is the second party which
shape the political centre of Norwegian politics.
For the KrF this is the first time they are campaigning on the Internet. In fact, the whole Internet project began for KrF just shortly before the elections. That is why the KrF sees itself very much in a stage of trying, learning and failing.
Unlike to other parties I have mentioned, KrF has a very clear view which group they are targeting: the young, pupils and their teachers. It is therefore the intention of the layout of the main site (http://www.sol.no/krf/) to be understood easily and it should be easy to get an orientation.
On their main page KrF presented daily updated news and links to lots of "rational" information about the organisation, press information, a search part to KrF`s information and as a "reactive" part, the possibility to apply for membership.
The Nettcafèen was the interactive element of KrF`s campaign site. It was possible to make statements and to give answers to opinions and statements already posted.
According to the editors the goal of KrF`s interactive Web service is not only to have a dialogue on the Internet. It should also be possible to analyse the questions and the answers later and "reshape" the information to use it in the forming of the political programmes of the party.
The Web editors stress that the Internet project is still in the initial stages. That is valid especially regarding the use of the Internet as a party internal communication and information system, which shall have priority in the future.
The third of parties in the political centre is the "Senterpartiet" (Centreparty). This party has strong support in rural districts, and with its central policy of "no to a Norwegian membership in the EU" it grew in the elections of 1993 to become the biggest opposition party.
Along with KrF, "Senterpartiet" with its Internet campaign site (http://www.senterpartiet.no/) was targeting and students, and in addition also the media. The campaign Web site offers "diffusing" links to facts, information about the organisation, the candidates, politicians and a news page.
There is no "reactive" element on the campaign site but with the "Meningsbrønnen" (Well of opinions) the "Senterpartiet" had an interactive discussion site forum. The discussion site was, according, to Web editor Iwar Arnestad, very open. There was no editing of the questions at all and questions were answered by the party organisation as well as possible.
Internally "Senterpartiet" uses the Internet only as a resource fountain for arguments. Campaigners can get good arguments for political discussion on the Internet.
"Sosialistisk Venstreparti" (SV):
The "Socialistisk Venstreparti" (Socialist Leftparty), a party situated left of the "Arbeiderpartiet", made a step forward in the internal use of Internet in the election campaign. SV has forbidden the Fax machine as a communication instrument and has replaced it with e-mail. SV in addition defined a clear target group. Like "Senterpartiet" youth and students were the central target for the Internet campaign.
Like almost all other parties the SV site (http://www.sv.no/) was also offering links to "diffusing " information about the party organisation, links especially for the press and a search instrument for all this information.
But in addition the SV campaign also had the site called "The red surf board" ( "Den røde Surfbrett"), a national and international link site to socialistic and political sites. "It is our goal that a politically interested person can take our site as a starting point", said Line Thorvik, Web editor of SV.
She is convinced that a party can gain voters only by talking to them and that an interactive site on the Internet therefore would be ideal for reaching young voters. Despite this the SV service did not offer an interactive element during the election campaign. A lack of resources is the main raison for that, according to Line Thorvik. However it was possible on certain days to pose questions to the party leader and other candidates. As a "reactive" element SV has a guest book on the Web site.
SV also tried to consider the technical resources of the Internet users. The goal
of the Web design was to use as few graphics as possible so that the site was also available to older and less powerful PCs and older browser software.
"Rød Valgallianse" (RV):
Left of the socialistic SV is the "Rød Valgallianse" ("Red electoral alliance"). RV is an alliance between communists, Leninists and independent socialists. The party looks at the Internet principally as a way of making their own political material more easily accessible. On their campaign Web site RV offered not only "diffusing" links to, for example, the party programme, but on a special download site it was also possible to get lots of reports and papers which the party considered important.
As Torgny Hasås, a press-secretary and one of the editors of the Web pages (http://www.rv.no/) says: "Our intention with this election site is to make RV`s politics as accessible as possible."
Like SV, the party is limited in resources. For that reason RV has no big interactive part. Nevertheless, it is possible to ask mail questions to the RV candidates. Questions and answer are afterwards displayed on the RV site.
The possibility to applying for membership was a reactive element on the campaign page of RV and there was no special group the party was targeting with the Internet campaign.
"Fremskrittspartiet" (Progressive party) was founded 1973 as a protest party against taxes and public intervention. Frp is situated at the right end of the political spectrum and has with its leader Carl I. Hagen a very populist touch. For "Fremskrittspartiet" it is still more important to meet people "real" than on the Net. However, "Fremskrittspartiet" sees the Internet as the communication instrument of the future, says Web editor Per Arne Olsen. He recognises that the Internet is primarily a meeting place for young people and the Frp site (http://www.frp.no/) is therefore primarily designed for them.
The Frp site has besides "diffusing" links to information and programmes and interactive services, a "reactive" site where it is possible to apply for membership. On the electoral discussion site it was possible to take up all kind of questions, and they were answered by people from the party. Because of its position on the right political wing the party wants to keep a clear of any association with neo-nascistic and right-wing extremists. Those extremist were, if necessary, censured on the otherwise open discussion forum
Frp even had a Chat site where it was possible to chat politics on-line. Due to the strong belief that the Internet is a communication medium of the future the Frp is also planning to use the technology in future for better party internal communications.
The youth organisation of Frp also had an ideas for the Internet: Convicted sexual criminals should be laid out on the Internet with names and pictures. The mother party, however, had no intention of taking up the idea.
4.2 Non-partisan Internet campaigns
The Norwegian electoral campaign on the Internet was of course much more than the election sites of the parties. The Norwegian search engine Kvasir had, two weeks before the election, a list of 23 election sites (http://kvasir.sol.no/soc/pol/elect/).
Most of them are provided by Norwegian newspapers like the site of "Aftenposten" (http://www.aftenposten.no), "Dagbladet" (http://www.dagbladet.no/valg97/welcome.shtml) or the Internet newspaper Nettavisen (htttp:// www.nettavisen.no/valg97/).
However, probably the most ambitious project was carried out by the Norwegian National Broadcaster NRK. The election site "Valg 97" (http://www.sol.no/valg97/) not only provide large quantities of "diffusing" "one-way" information about the Norwegian election, it also organised interactive interviews and discussions. When for example Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland was on-line on 21 August the Labour leader received almost 900 questions by e-mail.
In addition it was also possible to get audio- and videofiles from discussions and news from television and radio from "Valg 97".
Apart from the audio- and video services the electoral sites of the newspaper had almost the same profile. But several newspapers had, such as for example the newspaper "Verdens Gang" (http://www.vg.no), in addition to that an "election tester" as a "reactive" service. On this service it was possible to fill out a form with over a hundred political questions. A computer-program tried afterwards to find out which party one should choose according to the answers. The solution was displayed on the page after a short time..
In addition, single issue groups on the Internet had a chance to present their political viewpoints: The "Fellesaskjsonen against gaskraftverk" (Joint action against a gas power-plant) used their Web site (http://ngo.grida.no/ngo/fmg/) not only to spread information but also to co-ordinate their actions during the election campaign.
4.3 More "diffusing " rather than "activating"?
An election campaign on the Internet was a new experience for all the eight parties which had a seat in the parliament during the period form 1993 to 1997.
All the eight parties recognised that is was absolutely necessary to carry out an electoral campaign on the Internet, but it is possible to identify substantial differences in how the task was carried out practically.
A I mentioned the after election-interviews were made only several days after the election. Web server statistics at that time were only available in variable quality.
In my attempt to analyse how the Norwegian parties organised their Internet election campaign and how "activating" this campaign was, I would like to propose identify the following variables: target group, party-internal use of Internet, "diffusing " services, "reactive" services, "interactive" services (Figure 4.3).
AP H SP KrF V Frp SV RV
Target group defined / O X X / O X O
Internal use of
Internet / X / / / / X O
"Diffusing" services X X X X X X X X
"Reactive" services X X O X X X X X
"Interactive" services O O X X X X / X
X = yes, O = no, / = partly or under construction
To get a better impression of how the parties interact with citizens over the Internet I added the category "reactive". A "reactive" link on a party Web site leads for example to an application form or a guestbook.. Even though on a "reactive" site is "two-way" communication does it not have same quality and responsiveness as a fully interactive service. The message which the sender is receiving back less generated than a message which is generated in interactive communication.
There are also the two variables "target group" and "internal use" . This shift the angle of analysis from the citizen/user to the parties. Because the aim of this paper is to examine on how citizens are eventually are "activated" through the Internet campaign the target group is an important part .
At first glance the importance of internal use is less obvious However, through the internal use of the Internet the parties can sample arguments and transmit them afterwards through certain chosen authorities. The parties would in that case use what researchers of media effects call the "two-step flow"-model. This model goes back to Paul Lazarsfeld. Basically the theory says that the effect of a message is stronger if it is treated in more than one step (Jensen 1997, Watson, Hill 1993). If so-called opinion leaders are generating and transmitting the messages the influence on the receiver is higher.
During the 97 campaign only "Høyre" and "SV" actually used the Internet for internal communication. SV even banned the fax machine from party internal communications. Nevertheless the other parties plan to use the Internet in future for internal communication and most of them have already partly started. In addition
"Senterpartiet" and "Arbeiderpartiet" have considered using the Internet in the manner of the "two-step flow"-model. "Arbeiderpartiet" wanted, as the governmental party, to use its position to transmit arguments from the departments to the voters on the Net. "Senterpartiet" wanted to use the discussion site to prepare arguments for their campaigners. Both parties had difficulties using the Internet for that intention,
In their Internet campaign only "Senterpartiet", "KrF" and "SV" pointed out a clearly defined target group. "Arbeiderpartiet" and "Venstre" directed their messages on the Internet towards a half-defined group (younger people, because they use the Internet most) while the rest of the parties had no target group.
It is surprising that so few of the parties had clearly defined target groups and did not take advantage of the Internet to present more "two step-flow" amplified messages. Normally one would expect political parties to use all efforts to gain more votes. Going right to the group where there are possible votes to expect seems therefore logical. These apparent contradictions are of course very connected to fact that campaigning on the Internet was new for all the parties.
Even so, the fact that through the use of the Internet the parties have a "more open arena" to the citizens probably supporting the political activating capabilities of the Internet.
All the parties considered the possibility of giving "diffusing" "one-way" information to the Internet users as an important part of their Internet campaign.
Party-programmes and political "handbook" was the central information parties liked to offer on their Internet-campaign sites.
But only the "Arbeiderpartiet" (the ruling party) explicitly used the Net as a possible way of avoiding the "filter" of media.
For the other parties the aim central aim was to give voters the possibility of gathering as much "neutral" information about the party as possible. Indeed, for the "Red election alliance", this task was even the most important of the whole Internet campaign.
Remarkably this "dry" information of the of the "diffusing " services attracted a lot of visitors to the parties` Web sites.
On the campaign site of the "Arbeiderpartiet" political information and the party-program were the most requested services in the last three weeks before election day. In the week before the election the "Arbeiderpartiet" had about 43 100 visits (hits). Moreover, according to Frode Iversen from the "Arbeiderpartiet", the demand for "one-way" information increased over the last three weeks before election day.
Political information and the hand book stood for about 23 percent of all the requested services of the conservative "Høyre", which had about 33 000 visits in the last week before the election.
On n the site of "KrF" the party program and the political handbook were also the two most visited services. From almost 24 000 visits in the week before election day 1326 visitors went straight to the program and the handbook.
"Senterpartiet" had 15 864 hits on their sites . The are no numbers available for the hits on political "one-way" information for the last week before September 15th. But in the last four weeks before the election political "one-way" information, with a share of about 13 percent, was clearly the most visited service of the site.
The "Fremskrittspartiet" is the Norwegian party with the clearest populist profile. During the campaign the party leader Carl I. Hagen had been criticised for interpreting the party differently to fit into the campaign. One should perhaps expect that there was less interest for "diffusing " "one-way" information on the site of this party. But "Fremskrittspartiet" also confirms the tendency toward greater interest in "one-way" information. From the total 134 173 visits the party had in the period from 24th of August to the 20th of September, 18 233 (13.50 percent) was on the "information" of the site.
At the time of writing no information was available from the Socialist Leftparty (SV), but it is no exaggeration to say that political "one-way" information was the most popular services of all parties campaign sites.
However, this does not fit with one of the basic assumption of this paper. The possibility of interactive "two-way" communication is the great benefit of the computer-network technology and that they would therefore intensively be used for an interactive discussion. It would not be far wrong to assume then that these interactive parts of the party camping sites would be popular.
On the other hand it is probably either not that far wrong to assume that lots of political "dry" "one-way" information was gathered not from party people but from net users, who would not write to a party to get a program or a political handbook.
In other words, some Norwegian citizens, through the use of the Internet become more politically "active" than they would have been otherwise.
To access on the traffic on the "reactive" and "interactive" sites of the parties is not that easy because some parties erased parts of, for example, their "reactive" guestbook. "Arbeiderpartiet" and the conservative "Høyre" have been the traditional opponents in Norwegian politics. Neither of these parties offered an interactive service on their Internet campaign sites. "Arbeiderpartiet" had a "reactive" guestbook where it was possible to place greetings or a political message. As already mentioned the ruling "Arbeiderpartiet" to remove some messages which were against Norwegian Law. "Fremskrittspartiet" did not have such problems but got sabotaged by self-repeating messages, which made it necessary to erase to hole guestbook. The other parities did not have such problems, but the traffic on "reactive" guestbooks and application forms seemed to be rather modest.
The experience of the parties with the interactive discussions services was on the contrary quite different. . Beside "Arbeiderpartiet" and "Høyre" all the parties had an interactive site. The "SV" campaign site provided interactivity only implicit. Party leader Kristin Halvorsen answered questions during the campaign on posed by e-mail and got tough in an interactive dialogue.
"Venstre", "Rød Valgalliance", "Senterpartiet" and "Kristelig Folkepartiet" and "Fremskrittspartiet" had, on the other hand, explicit interactive discussion services on their Internet campaign site.
Thomas Hansen from "Venstre" assumes that in the last two weeks before election day there were about 60 questions from Internet users which had to be answered.
The "Christian peoples party" had 36 questions in their interactive "Nettcafèen".
The "Red election alliance" had pointed out the already before the campaign-start that the interactive part of their site would use lots of resources and they considered it therefore a problem. That assumption proved to be true during the campaign. To questions like "what does RV think about the politics on elderly", it was according to Torgny Hasås, problematic to answer, because of the limited personal resources of the party head-quarters.
The "Fremskrittspartiet" appeared to be the big winner of the 1997 elections. The party gathered about 15,3 percent of the votes and advanced to become the second biggest party after the "Arbeiderpartiet". "Fremskrittspartiets" experience with the interactive service of their campaign site differ significantly from the other parties. Frp was the sole party to have a chat site and this was in fact the part of their site with most visits, 27 250 in the period from 24th of August to 20th of September. The discussion site had 18 233 hits in the same period. That does of course not mean all the hits ended in a contribution to the discussion. But according to Per A. Olsen was discussions were lively and he had to check all the time with the partiy`s political department to give answers to questions.
One of my central assumption the Norwegian voters with Internet access would use the Internet campaign of the parties to produce an expanded interactive dialogue on the Internet seems to have some confirmation.
On one hand, the interactive services of some parties, such as for example the "Fremskrittspartiet", showed a surprisingly lively traffic. The "Fremskrittspartiet" of course had two political advantages in the campaign. The ruling "Arbeiderpartiet" had "Fremskrittspartiet" pointed out as the main opponent and the party has the most populist profile of all parties. These two factors might had contributed to the relatively high participation in the two interactive services the party offered, the discussion service and a chat service.
For some of the other parties, on the other hand, as for example the "Senterpartiet" the participation on the interactive service was less than expected. But in considering the phenomenon of the "lurkers" also has to been regarded. Lurkers on the Internet are looking into a into interactive discussions but they do not participate. "Luring is participation by watching without revealing your presence to group. The catch is, others may not know you are there, but you know you are, and so you are as involved as they are. You are still part of the group." (Argyle 1996: 137)
Some of the parties which only evaluated the number of addition to their interactive discussion services might had had a substantial number of "lurking" visitors. This "silent" participators (McLaughlin, Osborne, Smith 1995: 102) in fact had the effect that in reality the "activating" and moblising of the parties interactive services had been higher at it seems at first glance.
On the other hand:
-As mentioned is "Fremskrittspartiet" the party which is generally very most keen to come into dialogue with the voters. This party also spent an amount of resources on the interactive services. One can only speculate what would have happened if the ruling "Arbeiderpartiet" had used its resources to produce a similar interactive dialogue. Probably, in general, the interactive debate would have accelerated.
- The electoral sites of the newspapers and the broadcaster NRK have also to be considered. On these services during the electoral campaign quite a broad interactive discussion was going on. As, for an example, when Prime Minister Jagland was on-line on the NRK election site, in a few hours there were almost 900 questions.
-In the four weeks of the campaign all the eight parties had about 450 000 hits on their campaign sites. (vague estimation because of different surfers` statistics and missing numbers). If one takes into consideration that many voter several had been on a site multiple times and also takes some foreign visits away, one can say that 85 000 Norwegian voters had been on the campaign sites. That is about 2,75 percent of the total 3,1 Mio. voters
-Not only the interactive services during the Norwegian electoral campaign have to be considered as activating. The more diffusing services of the party can as well have contributed to a general activation and mobilising of the voters.
Taking these aspects under consideration on probably will be tempted to conclude that some of the Norwegian voters got activated thorough the fact that it existed an electoral campaign on the Internet. But not the interactive "two-way" discussions services alone had this effect. One also has to consider the influence of the "diffusing" "one-way" information services..
However, it is necessary to evaluate the happenings on the Internet during the campaign under such a totality view. Then one can say the Norwegian voters got activated but the shape and the possible development of the Internet allow in future a activation and mobilisation to a much higher degree.
5. Concluding remarks
There is a broad discussion going on about how computer-networks influence democratic processes and how "Cyberdemocracy" could even help to reform the
challenged concept of representative democracy. As I mentioned previously I will only touch upon this complex subject. Nevertheless, it seems that no matter how one looks at the task of maintaining and reforming democracy, one thing is obvious: nothing really works without an active participation of the citizens. Democratisation has to start at the level of the citizens or nothing happens, states Andreas Gross (1996).
But it is also possible to go around the approach of democracy in models and concepts and looking into democracy more fundamentally. How should a society reach agreement as to how the "good society" should be? The answer has to be that it can only be done through an active discussion where the members of the society are participating. Active citizens, therefore are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
If active discussion and participation of the citizens is so important for maintaining democracy, the question which also arises is if and how the new Information- and communication technology can contribute to such an active discussion.
"Teledemocracy" or "Cyberdemocracy" are concepts which itself are under a broad debate. The concepts of "Cyberdemocracy", for example, differ widely. The spectrum goes from those who look at "Cyberdemocracy" as a system where authorities inform citizens through the new information technology, to those who interpret "Cyberdemocracy" as the development of a new democratic public sphere.
One therefore is tempted to conclude that those who stress that computer-networks could be a contribution to democratic processes (through their special communicating abilities) are more positive toward "Cyberdemocracy" than those who would like to change existing democratic formal processes (such as voting ) with the help of computer-networks.
In other words, activating citizens through computer-networks such as the Internet seems to be closer and more feasible than turning the citizens of a democratic nation into "keyboard-voters".
Its my impression this view on gets its confirmation through the overview over the writings (chapter 2.4) on the Internet. Possibilities for debate and discussion are to much more higher degree considered as important than the change of democratic structures by the mean of the Internet.
The findings in the chapter about political action on the Internet shows that citizens use the Internet to an interactive dialogue. At the same time are the same time as the more "one-way" communicating, "diffusing", services also play an important role, considering the totality of politics on the Internet.
Looking into the Internet campaign of the Norwegian parties does also strengthen this impression. Those Norwegian voters how did use the Internet during the electoral campaign to a certain degree to carry out an interactive dialogue in the interactive services of the parties, the NRK and the newspapers. At the same time also the "diffusing" sites of all this organisation did attract many of the Norwegian Internet users.
That brings us back to the two scenes in the beginning of the paper where participating direct democracy and democratic action on the Internet were tried to "melt" together.
Considering the described findings one probably can conclude that the existence of the Internet to a certain degree already is contributing to an increasing of activating democratic processes.
They do it, one hand, through the interactive "two-way" dialogue, which is an basic element for a functional democracy.
But also the ability of the Internet to spread "diffusing" information with more "one-way" communicating character seems to have an political activating effect on Internet users.
However, even if the computer-network technology is not accessible to every citizen of a democratic society I do not consider as a fundamental democratic problem. Activating citizen through computer-networks is an additional possibility to democratic processes.
This attempt I made to show how computer-networks could be an activating factor to democratic processes is of course just a starting point. Basically it leaves us also with more question left which have to be investigated to get a picture more clear about democratic processes on the Internet:
- Who are the political active Internet users/citizens?
- Has the assumption the interactive services on the Internet are the politically the most activating and mobilising to be reconsidered because the importance of other services?.
- Assuming the computer-network technology gets more embedded in democratic societies, the negotiation process has come much further to borrow Bruno Latours words. What consequences will such a development have on democratic activation on computer-networks? Will there be some societal groups which more and more will be excluded from democratic activity?
- Effects on democratic technological development in Western democracies is one side of the picture. Maybe will computer-network technology at a certain time be as embedded in Western democracies as the telephone and transform in a "boring" boring technology. It might will therefore be hard to talk about an exclusion of certain groups. But what will the situation be in developing poor countries? Are such nations again left out or will cheap technology give them also a chance?
Such questions have to be central in the research which has to be done. Important. As this paper tried to show touch computer-networks democratic, political processes upon to technological processes. It seems therefore important that researcher form both those fields work together in finding answers to those questions.
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Politics on the Internet
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German parliament, Bundestag
International Elections Calendar:
North Korean Government:
Parliaments around the world:
World-wide Governments on the WWW:
International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies:
International Monetary Fund
"Non-traditional" politics on the Net
Bellona, Norwegian environmental activists:
Free Burma site:
Indonesian forbidden newsmagazine Tempo:
Koigi wa Wamwere:
La Tribune de Genève
NomadNet, Information and News from Somalia:
Personal rights hearing, Norway:
Political Databases on the Net:
Political Resources on the Net:
Rixlex page, Swedish laws and protocols of the government: http://www.riksdag.rixlex.se/rixlex/index_en.htm
"The Daily Telegraph
Activating and mobilising services:
Democracy in Action:
Democracy Wall of China:
Do-it-yourself, listserver and mailing List:
EFF "E-voting" Archive:
Electronic Democracy Resources on the Internet:
Internet & Politik:
Links where you can participate
Minnesota E-Democracy project:
Radio B92, Belgrade:
The Boycott Board:
"The Electronic United Nations":
Norwegian electoral services:
Fellesakjsonen mot gasskraftverk:
Den Norske Arbeiderpartiet:
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