Digital Disempowerment in a Network Society

Digital Disempowerment in a Network Society

Kenneth L. Hacker (New Mexico State University, USA), Shana M. Mason (New Mexico State University, USA) and Eric L. Morgan (New Mexico State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-162-1.ch009

Abstract

The objective of this article is to examine how the inequalities of participation in network society governmental systems affect the extent that individuals are empowered or disempowered within those systems. By using published data in conjunction with theories of communication, a critical secondary data analysis was conducted. This critical analysis argues that the Digital Divide involves issues concerning how democracy and democratization are related to computer-mediated communication (CMC) and its role in political communication. As the roles of CMC/ICT systems expand in political communication, existing Digital Divide gaps are likely to contribute to structural inequalities in political participation. These inequalities work against democracy and political empowerment for some people, while at the same time producing expanded opportunities of political participation for others. This raises concerns about who benefits the most from electronic government in emerging network societies.
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Introduction

As the roles of computer-mediated communication (CMC)/information and communication technology (ICT) systems expand in political communication, existing Digital Divide gaps are likely to contribute to structural inequalities in political participation. 1 This is true for both within-nation and across-nation gaps. These inequalities work against democracy and political empowerment and produce social injustices at the same time as they produce expanded opportunities to political participation. Rather than assuming that increasing networking of societies leads to democratization, the broader relationship between the two needs to be examined.

Our examination responds to the larger question of how the structures of advanced societies are becoming increasingly networked and the role that CMC plays in both creating new social networks and restructuring existing ones, particularly in the political arena. We first present these structures followed by a discussion of the existing global Digital Divide, in which we point out the ethical concerns raised by allowing groups who could most benefit from connectivity to remain disconnected. Finally, we raise the important point that universal access may not be enough to solve the structural inequalities created by allowing segments of the population to remain disconnected. Rather, it is important to go beyond access and ensure that technology is used to reduce structural inequalities in the best ways possible by marginalized groups. By using published data in conjunction with theories of communication, a critical secondary data analysis was conducted. In this critical analysis, we conclude by offering recommendations for electronic government analysis and research from existing data and theories.

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