Monday, April 6, 2009

Citizens versus Netizens

There is a nugget of wisdom, and for those who already know it, a reminder, on how the evolving technology, and its far-reaching impact, or limitation, should be handled, and managed accordingly.

The "online public community" is not the same as the "physical public community". While members of the latter can be members of the former, full representation is not assured, so therefore, it cannot be assumed.


Individual opinions expressed online may not represent the public

Joel Gn

I refer to “Young PAP v2.009” (April 3).

It is clear that the Government is serious about engaging the public through this progressive and highly dynamic medium. However, this idea of the “public” in an online environment also brings with it some issues that have not been adequately addressed to date.

On one hand, there seems to be no distinction between the use of new media and more traditional mediums (e.g. TV and radio). Where most political parties are concerned, reaching out to as many people as possible seems to be the main reason for setting up their own site, blog or Facebook profile.

In other words, new media is truly effective insofar as it permits the greatest and most accessible form of public exposure. One would thus assume Netizens are no different from a television audience. But underestimating the interaction that Netizens are capable of, this “advertising approach” to the use of new media becomes by and large a one-sided publicity stunt.

The second issue is the idea of new media users as a public-centred community. Although there appears to be a conflation between Netizens and citizens in a public forum or “focus group”, there are major differences between the two.

For one, the people who post on blogs and online forums do not come together to voice their opinions. These platforms do not facilitate any form of face-to-face discussion, but give users the space to express their own ideas and interests anonymously. Given this lack of physical credibility, new media is no substitute for the public forum, especially with regard to policy matters.

Therefore, if new media is capable of bringing about new forms of social activity, is it still all about the message and not the platform? While it is important to monitor the content of new media, it is equally important that we understand the nature of the audience that results from its technology. As much as the Internet gives one the freedom to express his or her views, we need to remember that more often than not, the opinions we see online only represents the interests of individuals and not the general “public” as we know it.

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From TODAY, Voices
Monday, 06-April-2009


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