The web as democracy?

Increasingly, the web is an important locus of knowledge for Canadian and US culture.

This is especially true for younger and white demographics who have the resources to be plugged in. However a “digital divide” remains, with “varying access to certain media, particularly computers and allied technologies, related to differences in socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and gender” (Roberts and Foehr, 2008, p. 11).

As a relatively new and rapidly changing technology, there is little consensus about anything related to the web. Some hail the web as a new democratizing force, with the means of media production no longer held exclusively by the richest and most powerful of our society. Gerodimos (2008) argues that issue based websites could be doing even more to capitalize on the emerging culture of user-generated content to engage youth in making social change. Adbusters, a long-standing advocate of corporate media critique, also views the web as a place for increased media democracy. This can be seen in their “Meme Warriors” campaign. The goal of this campaign “is to effect change and spread knowledge via the medium of online video. [Because] now more than ever, the tools of production are available to those of us who have no affiliation with media conglomerates.”

This campaign by Adbusters speaks strongly to the view that there is increasing access to the means of media production, but the story is not so simple. Not all user-generated content is equally “good” according to the memes of Adbusters. A logic of ‘us/them’ is being employed to mark the media conglomerates as ‘them’, against which a more innocent and progressive ‘us’ can be produced. Additionally, Adbusters does not say anything about who continues to be left out of the process of creating media. And there are a great many people who are left out.

In the early days of the internet, users were predominantly white and male (Nix, 2000, Cyberstratification and Social Distance over the Internet). Nakamura argues that the absence of people of colour in the foundation of the internet has resulted in discursive contours that continue to exclude non-white voices. And this disparity continues. Despite its wide usage around the world, the majority of users of the Internet are white, average or above-average income, and living in the US, Canada and Europe. Significant barriers continue to be faced by people who are marginalized by racialization and class (Mirchandani et. al., 2005, see also Nakamura, 2002).

We need to become more attentive to these contours, both online and off, if we are to change the way racialization shapes our lives in fundamentally unequal ways.

One thought on “The web as democracy?”

  1. Heya. It is good to see you publishing online. I really like the fridge magnet sidebar thingy. it was fun.
    one bit of feedback is about the copyright at the bottom of the page, maybe it should read 2009, 2010.

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