On this blog we've seen several posts on the merits of new media in governance - I'm specifically referring to posts from my colleague Fumiko Nagano, from Silvio Waisboard, and from Kristina Klinkforth. All three authors are very careful, or outright dismissive, when it comes to the abilities of new information technology, specifically social networking sites, to aid the empowerment of citizens and to support democracy. Based on research, common sense (and my own addiction to Facebook) I want to challenge my colleagues by saying: On the web, it's all about efficacy and voice.
On Facebook, I have noticed an interesting trend: some of my friends who are normally introverted and shy in person are a lot more vocal and seem to have fewer qualms about voicing their opinions on the site. They post status updates sharing their thoughts on issues, comment on others’ posts, and provide links to websites, articles, photos and videos about topics that they deem important, even creating interest-specific groups to attract those who are keen to participate in online discussions on key causes. Part of this phenomenon might be psychological. Maybe we feel a certain degree of safety on social networking sites because they give us the option not to have to engage in physical, face-to-face interactions with those who might disagree. On these interfaces, there is no need to worry about potentially negative consequences arising from differences in opinion, such as ridicule, humiliation, confrontation, and isolation. If social networking sites can embolden even the shiest of us to voice our true opinions, could they be the answer to breaking the spiral of silence on contested issues?
New policy and practice fields need intellectual energy; otherwise they don’t go anywhere quickly. Those promoting the new fields need to be producing justificatory essays, applied research, good practice manuals, policy briefs, evaluations, articles in refereed journals...and blogs too! They should be bombarding policy makers with all kinds of output of good quality; and they should be organizing the field as a serious discipline.