Virtual Communities and Local Youth E-Democracy
Kosonen Miia (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland), Cavén-Pöysä Outi (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland) and Kirsimarja Blomqvist (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland)
Copyright: © 2006
E-democracy, digital democracy, and e-government are all phenomena that are developing together with ICT sector growth and rapid public-service development processes. Governments, at least in the Nordic countries, have strongly supported change in the Information Society and in electronic services. From a broad perspective the change is not only about transferring the services onto the Internet and making them reachable via different network infrastructures: it is more a question of profound strategic change in public-sector services overall, and a new kind of “virtual” citizenship. Support for traditional political participation will come from technology, online information, 24 hour discussion groups, and local virtual arenas such as municipality web sites. (Grönlund, 2003; Hacker & van Dijk, 2000). Participation, voting, and especially, youth empowerment are important activities for building up the Information Society. Voting rates have declined during the last few years in both local and government elections in Finland. Similar results have also been reported from other European countries (Macintosh et al., 2003). Surprisingly, large groups of young people have totally rejected participation in political elections. This has been seen as a strong sign of the possible destruction of the welfare state, and also a major threat to Western democracy. Participation in elections of people from all social groups, from different geographical areas, and from all age groups has been seen as the most powerful way of committing citizens to the costs and delivery ideology of Nordic welfare-state services. The traditional decision making in the public sector has been strongly in the domain of the professionals, and it has been implemented in top-down official hierarchies. Elements such as formal politics, administration, and civil society are all in the process of transformation. At the same time, emerging technology enables citizens to obtain and actively use all kinds of public information. Information Society rules and regulations have to be rewritten quickly, especially as young people start using the participation channels actively. Today’s youth is familiar with virtual realities in the form of avatars or different kinds of virtual features, and knows how to remain unidentified if necessary.