Enhancing Democratic Participation: The Emerging Role of Web 2.0 and Social Media

Enhancing Democratic Participation: The Emerging Role of Web 2.0 and Social Media

Jenny Backhouse (University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-789-3.ch008


The Internet and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have long been seen as potentially contributing to a solution to the problem of voter disaffection and disengagement that has occurred in many western liberal democracies over the past couple of decades. The success of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States has highlighted the role that ICTs, in the form of Web 2.0 technologies and social media, can play in enhancing citizens‘ democratic participation and involvement in political campaigning. This paper examines the nature of Web 2.0 technologies and social media and analyses their role in political campaigning, particularly in the context of the 2007/8 presidential primaries in America and the 2007 federal election in Australia. While broadcast television is still a dominant political player, the empirical evidence suggests that a viable campaign needs to integrate diverse communication strategies tailored to citizens‘ interests and the political environment. The interactive and participatory technologies of the online world are increasingly key components of such integrated campaign strategies.
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Web 2.0

The label Web 2.0 is not, as the name might imply, a newer version of underlying Web technology. It is rather a label that has been applied to recent developments in the manner in which online users interact with the Internet and related technologies. The term was popularized by O’Reilly Media (O'Reilly, 2005). Tim O'Reilly identifies several characteristics which, although not definitive, he considers distinguish Web 2.0 from the manner of earlier uses of the Web, such uses now being labelled Web 1.0. One such characteristic is the use of the Web as a platform for running applications and storing data, rather than simply delivering web pages. O’Reilly acknowledges that some earlier applications, such as Doubleclick, the advertising online placement firm, were already using the web as an application platform. Every banner ad is served as a seamless cooperation between two web sites, delivering an integrated page to a reader on yet another computer (O’Reilly, 2005). Later a raft of popular applications such as the Google search engine and Ebay, built on this idea of the Web as a platform and thereby acted as ….an enabler or middleman between the user and his or her online experience (O’Reilly, 2005). Over time, these web-based applications developed more sophisticated user interfaces with many becoming equivalent to the interfaces supplied with personal computing applications, thereby simplifying the user’s interaction with the web site. …. Web-based applications can now be made to work much more like desktop ones (Graham, 2005).

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