Is our democracy moving into cyberspace?

David Cameron at computer David Cameron visits the office of social network site Netmums earlier this year

Politicians have complained of an ambush, after David Cameron was surprised on ITV's This Morning by a list of people named online as paedophiles. Is our democracy moving into cyberspace, and should we be worried in case the values of the internet prevail?

Facebook and Twitter campaigns, it seems, are replacing the old-fashioned demo or sit-in.

In the White House, there is now a team whose sole job is to monitor the world according to social media.

I'd be amazed if No 10 didn't have something similar, watching how the online community responds to current events. And I can imagine the conversations between advisors:

"Badgers has gone viral."

"Plebgate is still trending."

"#savetheashtrees is out of control. We're going to have to respond."

"If we don't react we'll look complacent."

"Or complicit. We need an initiative."

"A review."

"An inquiry."

"Maybe we'll have to change our mind."


And so real political power is shifting, it could be said, from the judicious mainstream to the rushing mob.

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Politics by Facebook rarely adds up to considered rational debate. It is visceral communal response. And governments are becoming scared silly by it”

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In some ways there is purity in virtual democracy. It reflects public mood in real time. It's difficult to rig. Sometimes truth is flushed out, with old power structures helpless to respond.

You can't have a quiet lunch with the editor of Twitter. And even if you could, it would be too late.

But politics by Facebook rarely adds up to considered rational debate. It is visceral communal response. And governments are becoming scared silly by it.

Those old fashioned focus groups, a dozen people in a room, seem irrelevant next to tens of thousands of tweeters suddenly getting angry about something.

Or ridiculing something.

Mitt Romney's phrase "binders full of women" inspired its own satirical Facebook group with 12,000 members. Nick Clegg's Apology song on You Tube has had more than 2m views.

Obama on Twitter Barack Obama used Twitter to announce his election victory this week

It can be clever and funny, but with politics conducted on social media, there's no Speaker in his chair, no referee, few rules. So the standards, the manners that govern behaviour in the real world don't always apply.

Want to accuse a public figure of some dreadful crime but don't have proof? Yes, you can Google the accusations in seconds. Hundreds of them.

Maybe with due process sometimes the guilty escape justice. But there's a reason the mainstream media haven't done the same.

It's not just the libel laws. There are deep professional and ethical concerns about adopting the values of the Internet, and troubling signs the mainstream is edging in that direction.

If our democracy completes its journey into cyberspace, and I suspect it might, there are huge questions about just what kind of democracy we will be left with.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    no its moving into fascism

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Virtual Democracy, run by Virtual Government, to provide Virtual Reality

    Power to the Pokers

    "Democracy.. Everybody gets what nobody wants"

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Are the twitterati selected as representative of the population as a whole, just as the whole electorate is able to vote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Compulsory voting at general and local elections elections, followed by voluntary public voting on key issues by internet at regular intervals, which should inform the House of Commons of considered public opinion would be useful. Those not online could go to a library or school to vote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    The BBC never reports the truth about islam or about the EU. That is why the net is our sole means of promoting the truth and informing people. I think you and your colleagues are liars and so do millions of other people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    "Something concrete is being done - a police investigation, with another arrest today."
    So that's 1 arrest per 800 allegations?
    There must be a lot of liars out there !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    "In some ways there is purity in virtual democracy. It reflects public mood in real time. It's difficult to rig"

    I really disagree with you there. There are groups such as 38 degrees which have the effect of rigging, by making the appearance of support for their views appear online much stronger than is the case in reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    You are right Mark, we do have a virtual democracy, has nowt to do with cyberspace though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The only difference would seem to be the angry mob carry illuminated mobiles instead of burning torches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.


    Something concrete is being done - a police investigation, with another arrest today.

    That's how to deal with allegations of child abuse - not a post on twitter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    social media involvement in democracy is not a problem, social media witch hunts trying to replace the justice system is

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    If Social Media is rising in prominence, then something else must be receding, and I reckon it's newspaper campaigns. Twitter has disadvantages compared to the papers, especially in that it's dominated by irrational, mob decisions, but it's also got great strengths. No longer is the general public represented by the likes of Rupert Murdock and Piers Morgan, and that can only be a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    This is not democracy. Social media only represents an attention seeking minority. It’s bad for democracy if a few hundred or thousands on Twitter change policy. It’s nothing like direct democracy until all can participate. Why should we need a corporate site to be able to express democratic will? We need something owned & controlled by citizens, not FB etc, which are there to sell products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    We don't really know how democratic or representative views expressed on social media are. The main problem is that it accuses and judges on the spot with no proper reasoning or adequate reflection. Mr X is an abuser let's bury the b***. One more life, possibly innocent, is destroyed.
    It is mob rule 21st century style.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    So some posters see it in their best interests to limit the franchise and constrain information flow..
    ..while others see it in their interests to have freedom of information and universal suffrage.

    Vested self-interest - isn't that what democracy is all about ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    One wonderful thing about the web is that a writer cannot be interrupted nor shouted down.

    If he makes sense, that's the end of it.

    It falls to the reader to check any facts on which he relies, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.


    I'm angry about everything and I want the government to take notice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Its important for politicians to realize which so called issues the electorate will remember come election day, just because something is trending on Twitter doesn't mean its an issue the government needs to address long-term.

    I wonder when we will be allowed to cast our votes online? Certainly would increase turnout, so we might well see a Labour govt implementing it post 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Social media is fine in itself. Its the moronic nonsense its full of and the people who use it that are the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Twitter ! The very word seems to sum up the mentality of the majority of users. As for Schofield on morning television , these sort of incidents are liable to happen when lightweight intellects, more fitted to T.V. showbiz gossip, attempt to venture into areas that require a bit more of what Schofield obviously lacks, knowledge and common sense.


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