Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Open Source Politics

Open Source Politics is no longer a “wave of the future” phenomenon. Rather, it has now become a present day lifestyle. In the simplest of terms, open source politics is a methodology in which social networking and electronic civic engagement has revolutionized the ability to follow, support and influence particular areas of politics. The question isn’t whether open source exists, is effective, or even serves a purpose. Open source has been blatantly utilized through the YouTube debates during the presidential campaign, The Smirking Chimp and twitter-feeds for major news networks. Instead, the question of Open Source is assessing the enhancement and pitfalls, and whether limitations can or should be placed without infringing upon our 1st amendment rights. Richard Barbrook’s article Virtual Dreams, Real Politics examines the influence the Cold War has had on the new online generation. A technological revolution in essence promised democracy within an undemocratic state – this leads to the question: can free social networking exist in an “unfree” environment? Soviet communists dove into computerization headfirst, believing they could achieve socialism, yet could never make a complete transition without some sacrifice to power. BBC News reported on a 2003 study done by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) divulging the degree of censorship existing within Chinese chat rooms. RWB estimated the state utilized nearly 30,000 employees to monitor all online activity. A grading scale of 1-10 was implemented (harmless postings to severe criticism of the government) and 70% of level 7/8 were removed within a few hours of being posted. The “Self Disclipline Act” requires organizations to weed out postings related to banned topics, including (but not limited to): human rights, Taiwan independence, pornography, oral sex and Sars. Take this censorship issue straight to the United States in terms of Wikipedia. Nicholas Carr’s blog Rise of the Wikicrats references the rapid deletion of new articles. He likens the infiltrators to the infamous Soup Nazi – if George Costanza cannot get his turkey chili, why should Carr be able to post arguably “irrelevant” text online (as determined only by the elite)? I think this reinforces Marshall McLuhan’s idea that the knowledge elite, rather than the proletariat makes history. How free is free social networking? Open Source is meant to execute democracy in the way democracy should be executed: immediately and frequently in a widespread manner. All should be exposed and all can decide how to take part. Weblogs and Emergent Democracy by (mostly) Joichi Ito describes an essay that has been mass circulated, peer reviewed, and edited by the commons. Democracy mean to expand upon the social software. The internet was supposed to be a gathering place to correct imbalances and therefore must be developed appropriately within reason to avoid tyranny of the majority. A second question is then introduced: can social networking eventually lead to an overthrow of traditional news? When Trent Lott made racist remarks, he became a media story before eventually fizzling away. Blogs continued coverage, digging into his past until Lott resurfaced in the news. When conventional media provides only clips and sound bytes, the online community can help give the ‘full scoop,’ however irrelevant or meaningless the content may be. Even though blogs perpetuate discussion, is their ever hope for redemption? Newspapers may be forgiving, but the determined cyber-users continue to press, hound and report. Open Source Politics is a fundamental expression of true democracy. Douglas Alexander states the driving force of politics has always been the capacity for change and betterment. My only concern is that he continuous strive for “change” will lead us back to pre-constitutional times. If all becomes free does that mean nothing will be free?

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