This chapter argues that depending on what criteria is used to evaluate the Internet’s democratizing potential, one can easily arrive at disparate assessments of the medium’s impact on society. If the Internet is assumed to be a tool that inherently enhances freedom of communication and social mobilization, then the medium will likely be evaluated positively. Essentially, technology per se does not foster nor hamper participatory democratic culture. Instead, users of the technology determine if the civic and democratizing potential of interactive communication technology can be realized. Therefore, the Internet is only a tool that enables users to disseminate their ideas and opinions, ideally ‘without fear or favour’, and to freely seek and receive information from global sources. The ‘democratising’ influence of the Internet is only as effective as allowed for by the country’s communication, political, legal and institutional structures, the public discursive culture and the people’s readiness to actively engage in the political process by using the Internet as the medium for this engagement.
This book chapter was originally published as Loo, E, The Internet: Simulacrum of Democracy?, in Banerjee, I (ed), The Internet and Governance in Asia: A Critical Reader, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), Singapore, 2007, pp.21-38.