electronic democracy by richard barbrook
What Can Be Done
Yet, despite its limitations, the Net can still improve the dissemination of political information and improve the accountability of elected representatives. For example, the Zapatista rebels in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico have been using Web sites and newsgroups to call for support for their struggle for land reform. Jose Angel Gurria - Mexico's Foreign Minister - recently acknowledged that the government had been forced into half-hearted negotiations with the insurgents only because of the power of local and global public opinion mobilised by the Net. It is becoming much more difficult for those in authority to look the other way when news reports made by those people suffering from economic exploitation and corrupt officials are being sent directly into the homes of their electorates.
Despite not realising the direct democracy dreamed of by left or right-wing anarchists, this more limited version of the electronic agora will play a key role in revitalising our democratic institutions. As the Demos think-tank has recently pointed out, electronic democracy will only be useful as one part of an overall modernisation of the political process - along with electoral reforms, protection of civil liberties, curbs on corruption and an end to official secrecy. Technology cannot cure political or social problems by itself, but it can be used to reinforce human solutions. Back in the late-eighteenth century, republican philosophers called for the creation of an informed citizenry who would possess the knowledge needed to make those political decisions affecting their own lives. Maybe, as we enter the twenty-first century, the Net will help to realise this democratic ideal for the first time.