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The tangled web of democracy we weave

Democracy is not a right, it’s a responsibility. The idealism of democracy at work on the web is, in places, bordering on being a pejorative term. Democracy works no better on the web than it does in the world around you — and it is in both worlds that democracy is prone to corruption…

Democracy is not a right, it’s a responsibility. The idealism of democracy at work on the web is, in places, bordering on being a pejorative term. Democracy works no better on the web than it does in the world around you — and it is in both worlds that democracy is prone to corruption…

This is a realization of mine, that has formed gradually, as I’ve objectively selected the pieces to build a better eye to view this world we call the web.

In reality the web is something very real, not in the least bit virtual. The people here are all real, with real lives, real responsibilities and their own very real stories to tell.

For its part, democracy is supposed to be the great and final say on a subject, where the consensus rules. However, the problem with this final say is that depending where you go, the consensus is more akin to either anarchic mob rule, hidden subversives and their various agendas, or just the artifacts of a faltering algorithm.

Interestingly, all three of these undermining agents of democracy on the web would appear to reside in one place. Love it or loathe it, Digg is a monumentally successful Social Media website.

Digg is a microcosm of extremes. First and foremost, it’s a fantastic melting pot of current, popular content. Secondly, it’s a internet marketeers wet dream. And finally, for anyone who’s into anything (except SEO, or any other disallowed topic), Digg is the place to be.

Sadly, for me personally I find Digg to be totally free of the charm it once had, now bordering on a hostile venue to people purveying certain topics of interest; SEO (Search Engine Optimization) being one of them.

Most mentionable SEO articles are almost immediately consumed by the vengeful so-called Digg Bury Brigade. The reasons for their burying of certain articles, or articles of a certain topic is for the most part irrelevant.

My principle concern is that such things happen at all. What this demonstrates is that, ironically, democracy is indeed alive & well on the web! I say this, because here in the world outside of the web, corruption within the confines of democracy abounds.

Look no further than the utterly disastrous and truly shambolic elections in Zimbabwe for a recent case study. Democracy is at times a crude but hugely effective tool to leverage a political ideology while appropriately removing or diminishing the specter of there being any impropriety.

“Well, you voted for us!” Might be the victors cynical response. But in the end, while their enemies and denounces paw over the paper trail, the populous sink back into their previous apathetic & indifferent states.

Another case study, pretty much summing up the aforementioned example would be the final term of office by current president of the United States of America.

On a positive note, despite being monumentally bad, these are often isolated examples. But the balance is a fine one, these days. Our apathy & indifference grows with each same-faced, baby-kissing politician and their curiously average views and middle-of-the-road policies.

We even talk in terms of being left or right of centre and all things far left or right are a political anathema.

These are curious times we live in and the web is by no means insulation from the capricious breeze of a corrupt democracy. In fact — for its part, being a realm that is technically far more malleable — the web is a series of wind tunnels, all waiting to be turned in a suitable direction, for fair means or foul.

In earlier times, I was more optimistic of what Digg’s own democracy could achieve:

“It’s possible that Digg may well have started something, by way of introducing a certain democracy to the web which has an interesting way of solving the problem of web censorship that could potentially placate both parties.”

After all, democracy on the web was new — but democracy as a political system isn’t. So the old rules were easily applied in a new context. Thusly, services like Digg became a target for abuse, and censorship becomes a very real issue to contend with.

To be succinct, censorship is the suppression of information. And there’s little doubt that information is, to all intents & purposes, a very dangerous weapon:

“I suppose you could refine the idea of information into knowledge. This transferable store of data & information is often fashioned into deliberately crude, blunt cudgels to bludgeon us into believing with, or finely crafted blades to draw our beliefs via stealth and cunning.”

And the suppression of information is arguably more damaging. Knowledge of harmful information often functions more as a deterrent to the majority of people. Censoring the wrong information leaves us all blind to where a threat might lay in waiting.

It’s often morally hideous to imagine people policing and maybe then censoring the web as is appropriate, yet we idly accept that there are those that bend and warp the web for their own nefarious ends, in some instances, acting as part of a secretive cabal of like-minded people.

However, the truth of the matter is, unless websites like Digg were to be completely closed systems, it’s difficult for any one group to enforce their own diktat all of the time. In the end, the majority are agreeable, peaceable and for the most part well intentioned.

Can our apathy & indifference be used against us, or can the peaceable majority win over a tech-savvy malevolent minority?

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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