The twitterati, facebookworms, and other forms of web hegemony

Nick Cohen said in his column yesterday that:

At the height of the [apparently heartfelt protests against the BBC’s refusal to broadcast an appeal for the victims of the war in Gaza] in January, the BBC Trust had logged more than 22,000 complaints from campaigners who seemed desperate to do what ever they could to get aid to the afflicted. The alleged concern of almost half of them was phoney. At precisely that moment, the number of true altruists who had put their hands in their pockets and contributed to the appeal stood at a mere 13,000.

It made me think of a separate issue, namely that of internet democracy and participation. There is a lot of talk about such a thing on the web, its unique way of grabbing the attention of those who would otherwise have no interest in it, and the problems it may bring up, for example the lacking of proper online public space.

What Cohen’s point seems to be here is that online democracy – showing its colours of late with twitter campaigns of Jan Moir, the Guardian gagging by Barclays etc – is exaggerated. A modest amount are the true architects of protest, and this in turn creates a figure double that of the original as followers, uncommitted numbers in a chain of cause and afflict.

His conclusion steers elsewhere, but an obvious subtext is the worry of internet hegemony – I’m thinking Stephen Fry, now back from his 24hour abandonment of the Tweeterati –  being a new force in democracy. I’m not surprised at new forms of participation being hijacked, but am in hope that the web will create more direct forms of public input, eventually.

Further, I’m not surprised because democracy has hitherto worked on this basis anyway. Real democracy will be achieved when all forms of hegemony are harnessed. But maybe all pariticpationist forms will rely on hegemons? It is for this reason that Cohen’s figure above does not send shivers down my spine, at least no more shivers than do currently reside there.

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2 Responses to The twitterati, facebookworms, and other forms of web hegemony

  1. Dave Semple says:

    It’s fallacious logic on the part of Cohen. He assumes that because not everyone who complained had donated money, they have no right to care or are false in their concern. Which is obviously nonsensical. There are plenty of causes I simply don’t have the money to donate to, after transport costs for political activism and party subscriptions are paid for, that I still care about.

    As it happens, I wasn’t one of those who complained to the BBC Trust. But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that had someone asked, I would have done so. But I did not donate money to the issue. Am I thus deprived of my democratic right to care?

    • Well this is what I mean when I look at these dubious attempts at changing the power structure in democracy, like Power 2010. For as long as power is concentrated in capital, liberal notions of change must put up with the democratic right not to care.

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