Internet

The introduction of Internet into the equation

Click on the image to go through the countdown of the 5 most innovative initiatives in cyberpolitics: mixing computer science and political science in a quest to solve human problems!

Click on the image to see the countdown of the 5 most innovative initiatives in cyberpolitics: mixing computer science and political science in a quest to solve human problems!

Citizen diplomacy is old news but since the arrival of the Internet, the playing field has changed radically.

Cyber-optimists and Cosmopolitans believe we are witnessing the beginning of a more connected, peaceful world, a so-called “Global Village” (example). Evidence suggests, however that the Internet is not a panacea. The Internet has led to a diversification of voices heard, and a multiplication of the locus of power, nationally as well as internationally. Sometimes this has beneficial effects, sometimes malign. Examples of negative effects include the exclusion of those that are economically disadvantaged (the Digital Divide) and the filter bubble. Terrorists and extremists are also benefiting from the use of the Internet. “The Innocence of Muslims” video is an example of how rapidly and wide a few people’s video can hurt relations between Muslims and Christians.

“Reality suggests that commerce and technology can be as ambiguous in their effects as anything else. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all been accused by Amnesty International of abetting censorship and repression in China by supplying equipment and adapting their search engines to bloc certain sites and, in Yahoo’s case, assisting the Chinese authorities in identifying on-line anti-government critics.” (Ross  2007:116-11)

Arguably, the internet is just another technology, and it is how humans chose to use that technology that creates the negative or positive effect. Nicholas Westcott writes that “the internet introduces changes of form that create changes of substance.” (Westcott 2008:2) He highlights three main changes in International Relations (IR), that the internet has caused:

  1. Increase in the amount of voices and interests that have a say in IR and decrease in the exclusive control of states.
  2. Acceleration of the dissemination of information, accurate or not, about any issue or event.
  3. A more cost effective way of doing diplomacy, both for traditional- and public diplomacy. (Westcott 2008:2)

Another effect of the Internet is the enabling of many-to-many communication and new forms of collaboration. Clay Shirky argues that new technology removes the obstacles to collective action thereby challenging existing institutions by “eroding the institutional monopoly on large-scale coordination.” (Shirky 2008:143 [1]). In the Arab spring we saw a new influence of citizen diplomacy conducted online, that circumvented governments. An example is the way the international group “Anonymous” and individuals from the U.S. supported citizens in Egypt in their efforts to circumvent censorship from their government and create alternative Internet connections after the government of Hosni Mubarak closed down the Egyptian Internet [2]. Governments can enable communication between citizens from different countries, but civil society can also route around their governments, when they try to hinder cooperation.

Computer Science becomes relevant to Political Science

The attempt to bring the technological developments into problem solving in politics on a national scale is in its first stage of development. Some online lectures at Ted.com are documenting these developments. People are just starting to think about what open source and crowdsourcing might do for governance in particular in relation to transparency and democracy. There seems to be a potential in increased access to decision makers. A politician does not need to speculate about what their constituency thinks about a certain policy, they can potentially ask and find out instantly.

Experiments

The following is a list of interesting experiments in the crossroads between computer science and political science.

  • The online Party of Canada is an online political party that attempts to solves the problem of disparity between the opinions of party members and the party leadership: the eParty does what the members vote it to do online.
  • CodeforAmerica: An example of a successful experiment that has made real world changes as a result of the joining forces of computer science and political science is: Code for America. Code for America is a new form of public service build on the Teach for America model. At Code for America, computer programmers work to create apps, programs and online tools to help government work bettera new form of public service where computer programmers work to create apps, programs and online tools to help government work better.
  • RosYama: Online monitoring of the state of Russia’s Roads – Russia promises a certain condition of the contry’s roads. With this online project, they cannot deny it when standards are not upheld, and according to the site, this has lead to 8,500 fixed potholes.
  • Moveon: online petitions and campaigns made quick easy and accessible.
  • Crowdfunding has changed the way we fund NGO’s and changed the priority given to good ideas with sites such as Kiva, Crowdrise, Kickstarter and Greenfunder.
  • Access to education is increased with free online education materials through services such as ItunesU, Google scholar, and countless more.

Nationally: a Wave of Experiments, Internationally: Silence

When you look at projects on the international stage, the image fades. There are a lot fewer coordinated experiments online, but quite a lot of uncoordinated activity; the before mentioned Arab spring and the Innocence of Muslims video crisis being examples of big consequences of uncoordinated, international citizen-to-citizen online collaboration.


1. Shirky, Clay. 2008. “Here Comes Everybody – the power of organizing without organizations” The Penguin Press: New York.

2. Interviews with citizens involved in this cross-border cooperation see the documentary ”We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2012) by Brian Knappenberger.