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The impact of the internet on ways in which citizens are able to participate in their political and social systems is immense. The internet is a potential communication technology which is simple to use, relatively easily accessible and it is interactive. The development of the internet as a form of communication has brought principles of direct democracy and has caused them to flourish. Examples of these are phone-in and televised debate, the casting of the mass votes after every debate which opened up important discussions to all strata of population (Budge 1996 p.27). The mass access to the internet and the means of direct response has greatly expanded the participation realm which is very healthy and needed in the political perspective. Democracy is very essential in the governing of every nation and one author once said that “Public policy can be discussed and voted upon by everyone linked in an interactive communications net. This destroys the killer argument habitually used to knock direct democracy on the head, that it is just not practical in modern mass societies to bring citizens together to discuss public policy. The existence of electronic communications means that physical proximity is no longer required. Mass discussion can be carried on interactively even when individuals are widely separated,” (Budge, 1996, p. 1). The impact here is that it has improved democracy to all citizens. This helps in polling, voting having adequate information from the debates and discussions.
The new-style electronic format like the internet has created a new public space and has provided unprecedented opportunities for the political discourse. The transformation on the media system has significant implications for the democratic citizenship. The interactive communications between the citizens, media personnel and the public officials are the primary characteristics of the internet age. The citizens are allowed to make their political opinions and presence known to their leaders. The citizens are also allowed to have very visible role in all the political events that are carried out in their nations.
Computer networks to the internet services have gained immense attention due to their potential to change the democratic ideals to reality. The visionaries always predict that as the internet services become more integrated into the society, the public will be therefore linked by the horizontal networks that facilitate the conversations between the elites and the citizens. This close proximity to the decision makers by the mass public will give more room for greater citizen input into the arena of the policy (Butchstein, 1997 p, 23). The journalists also benefit from this because they will publicize the citizen opinions further than the snapshot of the polls. The general public is a great resource for news stories because the reporters often go online to source for information and they solicit the reactions and ideas to issues and events where the general public has commented and given out their thoughts and ideas.
The new media environment and the usage of the internet has been seen to be the society’s more advantaged and privileged members and does very little in encouraging the participation between the traditionally unengaged. The use of the internet attracts audiences from the higher educational and socio-economic groups who are mostly politically active in some other ways. This is both a political and social factor (Graber, 1997 p, 12). The internet user base is increasing and is becoming more ordinary but it is still not available to many millions of citizens who are without the skills and resources to participate. The use of the internet has widened the political participation and information gap that exists between the societal ‘have –not’s’ and ‘haves’.
The media politics that are carried out through the internet are viewed as a deterrent to the actual political participation. Communication scholars argue that watching governance especially through the internet has largely become a substitute for them engaging in real politics for most of the people. The communication using the internet leaves the citizens with false impression of that they are very close to the politicians and the thoughts that taking the actual steps to gain the attention of the elites is not actually necessary (Putman, 1995 p, 45). This scholar also argues that attending too much to the media either politically or socially, takes much time away from the actual engagement in other important activities especially in regard to community affairs.
The use of internet in the recent past has enhanced political efficacy that refers to the individual’s belief that they can influence the process of politics and successfully reach the political leaders. This concept has two sides which include internal efficacy and external efficacy. The internal efficacy is explained as the perception of the people that they have the personal skills that are necessary in order to navigate the realm of politics very successfully. The external efficacy on the other hand refers to whether the citizens believe that the government responds to the attempts that are made by the citizens to affect the government (Davis & Owen, 1998 p, 34). The term efficacy is closely related to political trust. Through the internet, political efficacy has been improved and encouraged. In return, these citizens who acquire the strong sense of the political efficacy are inclined to participate better and fully in the public affairs and also participate fully in community service activities.
The use of the internet and the computers has the potential for facilitating and always expanding the capacities of the individuals within government, businesses, institutions, and business. The new era is because of the invention of ICTs meaning information and communication technologies which is taken as the tool of information in the society. The internet has engaged itself in all fields of activities that include: consumption, production, government, administration, finance, trade, recreation, education and business. All the sectors of the society have in the recent past felt the need to find means and ways of seizing the better opportunities that are offered by the internet facilities. This would help them in governance, establishment of new communication channels especially between the citizens and the government, also they would create and also strengthen the community networks and also take part in actively in the information world and society. All the sectors could expand greatly through the use of the internet because the information is passed quite well and extensively. The internet gives very educative information that could be used to expand the existing sectors. The citizens are able to participate in the social systems and political systems and this could lead to economic growth as explained above (Diana 1999, p, 12).
The use of the internet today has led to the various forms of government communicating effectively and also the citizens are able to give their opinion on the existing motions or factors affecting the whole nation. The government has home pages on the World Wide Web that provides forums of the city webmasters are now being organized. It reduces the bureaucratic red tape which has in the past encumbered the communication between the areas of the government. Administrative costs are cut down and information is passed on time at the lowest cost. The citizens are able to participate and this leads to effective communication and hence this promotes unity and confidence in their authorities. The central decision-making institution always perceives the internet as a potential media for improving information and their ideas could be implemented after some time. An example is the Slovene government that focuses on presenting its ideas, work and different proposals to their citizens (Diana 1999, p, 16).