The Changing Face of Electronic Aggression: The Phenomenon of Online Trolling Within the Context of E-Participation in the United Kingdom

The Changing Face of Electronic Aggression: The Phenomenon of Online Trolling Within the Context of E-Participation in the United Kingdom

Shefali Virkar (University of Oxford, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8900-6.ch024
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Over the last two decades, public confidence and trust in Government has declined visibly in several liberal democracies, giving way instead to disillusionment with current political institutions, actors, and practices; rendering obsolete or inappropriate much of traditional democratic politics. Simultaneously, digital technologies have created huge opportunities for public bodies and agencies. In analysing the No. 10 Downing Street ePetitions Initiative based in the United Kingdom, this chapter engages with issues related to the innovative use of digital network technology by Government to involve citizens in policy processes and to buffer national security within existing democratic frameworks. The work examines whether the application of new digital platforms to participatory democracy in the Government 2.0 era leads eventually to radical transformations in government functioning and the body politic, or merely to modest, unspectacular political reform and to the emergence of technology-based obsessive-compulsive pathologies and trolling behaviours amongst individuals in society.
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During the last two decades, there has been increased questioning of traditional democratic politics in Western liberal democracies, largely due to a decline in and a lack of opportunity for public participation in these processes. Such concerns are largely thought to be especially worrying and problematic for governments, as they speak of growing political apathy and a broader, more general disillusionment with current political institutions, actors, and practices. Whilst it is impossible to comprehensively untangle all the reasons for the decline in civic participation in these countries, there is little doubt that many citizens feel distanced from any sense of political relevance or power, often under the impression that, not only will their votes and individual voices be drowned out in the clamour of the crowd, but that the rules which govern their daily lives are drawn up by politicians and bureaucrats whom they will never meet and who are usually extremely difficult to contact (Eggers, 2005).

Leading commentators have described the political processes and institutions integral to Western democracies as undergoing what has been variously delineated as ‘a crisis of legitimacy’, a ‘credibility crisis’ or a ‘crisis of democracy’ (cf. Habermas, 1985, Archibugi & Held, 1995), and are fast reaching agreement that the fundamental flaw lies in traditional decision-making practices which are, in their current form, often democratically inadequate as they fail to provide extensive and relatively equal opportunities for citizens, communities, and groups to contribute towards the shaping of decision-making agendas (Sclove 1995). The focus of discourse and scholarly activity, both in academic and in policy circles, has thus gradually shifted away from a more centralised, top-down conception of ‘government’ – those formal institutions and processes which operate at the level of the nation state to maintain public order and facilitate collective action (Stoker, 1998) – towards notions of ‘governance’, an idea which, whilst traditionally a synonym for government, has been captured in recent theoretical work as signifying 'a change in the meaning of government referring to a new process of governing; or a changed condition of ordered rule; or the new method by which society is governed’ (Rhodes, 1996: 652).

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