Internet and Democracy: Dilemma of Public Involvement

Barger and Barney (2004) discussed the relationship among journalists, citizens, and opinion leaders. One perspective that interests me so much and makes me want to discuss is that “journalists must be open to and seek input from citizens who have a real stake in the issues being discussed, not merely consulting experts and spokespeople who have become the standard sources of conventional wisdom” (Barger and Barney, 2004, p.198).IMG_2218

Personally, ss for normal situation, this standpoint seems to be absolutely right, however, in some situations, keeping norm may cause a dilemma. Taking 9/11 as an example, for emergency events like this, as the point in the How the MASS MEDIA Really Work, the author asserts that all news has implication for social control, especially when a social system is threatened. As for author’s point, it was because journalistic norms stipulate that they must rely on authorities or elites for more detailed information. While if the elites select not telling the truth or mislead the public, news media would become their accomplices unknowingly. Even if the authorities tell the truth, as journalists’ angle, the truth is given rather than found by themselves. Their perspectives actually are controlled by opinion leaders in these situations. And that’s what I’d like to discuss with you. On the one hand, journalists should deliver truth to the citizens, and citizens should participate in if journalists want to find out the truth. On the other hand, pursuing the truth always needs amounts of time, while when an emergency event like 9/11 happens, citizens want to know the truth as quick as they can. So maybe the only way for journalists to obtain the truth is to receive information from people who should be dependable, while no one can ensure these people(opinion leaders) never lie.

Nevertheless, with the development of the technology, this problem may be solved one day. Ekström (2008) indicated that “new communication technologies have also opened up new forms of public orientation, an explosion of public talk, a rich and intensified public debate in the form of blogging, cultural jamming, campaigning, cyberprotesting and file sharing that are of political significance” (Ekström, 2008, p.48). In my own perspective, while the similar standpoints can be found in the article Reevaluating the End of Mass of Communication, the appearance of social media like blog totally change the role of public. Not only be consumers that received information from journalists, they can also be producers at the same time. Therefore, personally, when an emergency event happens in the future, the public can not only hear truth from the media, from the elites, they will also have chance receive it from an individual person, or they can be the one who posts the news. And that will benefit democratic society.


6 thoughts on “Internet and Democracy: Dilemma of Public Involvement

    1. Good comments. The “spiral of silence” effect is related to the echo chamber in this way: When we think everyone agrees with us, we are more likely to speak up (and repeat what everyone is saying). When we see most people taking the opposite view, we want to stay silent, because we don’t like to be the “odd man out.”


  1. I strongly agree with your statement about the individual power. As you said, the public can receive information from an individual person. I can observe enough phenomenon telling about this truth. Like many social media do today. Individuals are able to express their opinion on the social media abundantly. Sometimes they even convey first-hand news through social media. Like the Chinese railway accident which happened on July, 23rd, 2011. A passenger wrote a Weibo immediately when this accident happened. Therefore the public get the most recent news from it.


  2. I think you raise great questions about the way we cover breaking news, especially in today’s hyper-connected world where many media worry more about being first than being accurate. In what ways should we rely on authorities and/or citizens in these situations? That’s proven to be an issue during breaking news in the post-9/11 world. When a violent news story breaks (mass shooting, terrorist attack), often misinformation spreads faster than the truth. Often because the truth takes longer to figure out. And sometimes, like you mentioned, the untruth could be spread by the authorities themselves. (Think of falsely accused “suspects” who had their photos go viral on social media during the Boston Marathon bombing or the Dallas police massacre).
    The key has to be to remain skeptical even as news is happening fast. Attribute quotes to authority and take your time in fact-checking citizens as well. The deeper question of who (and how) to trust is more difficult, but like you said ceding the floor to spokespersons and pundits can be dangerous and limit other insightful opinions.


  3. I do agree with the idea that we are now actually receiving more information from individuals than those “traditional” type of journalists. Unlike the past, the features of the new media and online ones allow news and information communicate fast with convenient. Thus there also comes the question. With this new ability of visibility, people are just getting more close to or further away from the news truth? We have certain more witness though, and we have the resource to get more detailed information from different people, (such as words on twitter), but we can also become hard to verify them, and thus the audience would likely to meet the dilemma which one is worth trust.
    And there emerges another phenomenon in my country, those people who would to control the media would pay to hire lots of netizen to express the information they would like to let the mass believe. Or just make comments to support those ideas. And it do works, more people would believe that idea and help them to communicate to others.


  4. Hi Lin’ao,
    Your discussion over the role of journalists and citizens has inspired me. I agree with you that citizen are striving to get the news as soon as they occurred, which make journalists under the pressure of providing these details to the public with a high level of certainty and accuracy. Your example of 9/11 is a perfect illustration of this point. I think the citizens striving to get news much quicker has always opened up windows to circulate rumors. Another factor that we must take into consideration is the profit-oriented journalism widened the gap and put more pressure on journalists.


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