Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect On State-Society Relations

How does the information revolution affect the relationship between governments and global civil society? Does the internet lead to greater democratization and liberalization? The findings of political scientists on this question could best be described as ambiguous—that is, there are two very different narratives that can answer this question. The more popular and prominent argument is that the internet dramatically lowers the costs of networked communication; therefore, civil society groups are better able to mobilize action to influence governments. Countless articles have been written about how the internet has facilitated social movements both to advocate for international treaties—like the Landmine Convention; and to block movement on initiatives—such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Decentralized forms of civil society, like Facebook or Twitter, are particularly likely to thrive with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies that facilitate user-created content. The networked structure of online communities closely mirrors the networked structure of global civil society. The coordination of worldwide protests that took place in the run-up to the war in Iraq is but one example of this phenomenon. The growth of the blogosphere as a force in American politics is only the latest manifestation of this trend.

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