Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 12 Political Change


Impact of Internet and Communication Networks and Technologies on Concepts of and forms of Democratic Government and Rule

Kim Thompson

Dominick LaRocca

Peter Gallagher

Jasmine Cintron


Senior Research Project (CC499-05)- Capstone Course, Fall 2009

CUNY Online BA Program in Communication and Culture, School of Professional Studies

The following are the evident results of the project:




Personal Reflections



This research project referenced three hypotheses related to the Impact of the Internet and Communication Networks and Technologies on Concepts of and Forms of Democratic Government and Rule.  The Internet and Communication Networks studied involved numerous aspects of the advancement of the digital media technology. Each Senior Capstone research team member was assigned a hypothesis to examine. Significant data variation of general public opinion was noted for and against what was hypothesized. However, after lengthy analysis a firm conclusion could not be formed with authority.




The Impact of the Internet and Communication Networks and Technologies on Concepts of and Forms of Democratic Government and Rule

 During the 2008 Presidential Election, the Media inundated the public with reports of the Internet playing a critical role in the success of the Obama Campaign. Ranging from statements such as ""Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president." said Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post." To the more factual statements surrounding Obama's fundraising machine taking advantage of the internet better than any previous candidate. "The campaign's official stuff they created for YouTube was watched for 14.5 million hours, to buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million." Stated Joe Trippi a political consultant famous for running Howard Dean's 2004 US Presidential campaign. While it is clear that the Internet is a firmly integrated part of the political process, this report is designed to develop the three hypotheses for future study. 


The first is that the use of the internet and communication networks is directly impacting the democratic process by influencing participation in political processes such as voting.

The second is the use of the internet and communication networks is allowing for a better informed voting population.

The third is the use of the internet and communication networks is surpassing traditional print and broadcast media outlets as the primary information source during the election process directly impacting the decisions of voters.


The method of interest for this research project was an extensive review of relative educational journals and the like with a concentration in the U.S. The data that was accessible for this research project consisted of college online resources, educations journals and related literature that provided close information relationship to the impact of the internet and communication networks on forms of democratic government and rule.

While the research project cannot be considered representative of the entire population opinion on this matter, generalizability was not a primary goal -- the major purpose of this research project was to determine whether the impact of the internet and communication networks on forms of democratic government and rule was accessible context.


Conway (1985) defines political participation as "activities of citizens that attempt to influence the structure of government, the selection of government authorities, or the politics of government. These activities either may be supportive of the existing politics, authorities, or structure, or they may seek to change any or all of these," (p.2). The need to reinvigorate the political process has been talked about since political activity started to decline in the beginning of the 20th century. One study set out to measure the decline of civic engagement over the past 30 years by measuring 41 key civic indicators and concluded that from 1975 through 1998 all indices had negative slopes showing an overall decline in civic engagement. (National Conference on Citizenship 2006) More germane to the topic at hand was the decline in voting from 1968 through the turn of the millennia. According to the data in the graph below, there was a 20% decline in voting between 1975 and 2000.

(America's Civic Health Index 2006- National Council on Citizenship


The question that needs to be answered is what happened in 2000 that turned the tides on civic engagement and voting? We know that 122 million Americans voted in the 2004 Presidential Election which was the greatest turnout since 1968 and the single largest jump since 1952. (The Washington Post, 2005).  Many factors contributed to the increased turnout including successful voter registration campaigns such as Rock the Vote, and possibly the aging US population which would increase the pool of the over 60 population which historically votes in larger percentages. Some early studies predicted that the internet would further erode political activity by replacing physical engagement leading to social withdrawal, (Nie &Erbring, 2000).  What this and other studies missed was how the internet was being used; they instead relied on the quantity of time being on the internet and couldn't foresee the growing community that occurred via the Internet. It was not until the November 2000 election that scholars realized the impact of the internet on the political process. Multiple studies have since been conducted, but looking back on one of the earliest from Shah et al at the University of Wisconsin, they used data from a series of three national polls with the last one occurring immediately following the November 2000 presidential election and found "Online information seeking and interactive civic messaging-uses of the Web as a resource and a forum-both strongly influence civic engagement, often more so than do traditional print and broadcast media and face-to-face communication. These effects are largely replicated across three well-fitted synchronous models, cross sectional, fixed effects, and auto regressive, providing considerable confidence in these findings. That is, we found largely consistent patterns of relationships among these variables regardless of whether we were examining associations among individual differences, intra-individual change, or net gains," (Shah et all, 2005).

According to the web article, Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008-Social Networking and Online Videos Take off, the statistical research data supported the notion of a better informed voter due to technology enhancements.  In fact, the article stated the following, " Nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) say they regularly learn something about the campaign from the internet, almost double the percentage from a comparable point in the 2004 campaign (13%)."   The article also stated, "The quadrennial survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Internet & American Life Project on campaign news and political communication, conducted Dec. 19-30 among 1,430 adults, shows that the proportion of Americans who rely on traditional news sources for information about the campaign has remained static or declined slightly since the last presidential campaign. Compared with the 2000 campaign, far fewer Americans now say they regularly learn about the campaign from local TV news (down eight points), nightly network news (down 13 points) and daily newspapers (down nine points). Cable news network's are up modestly since 2000, but have shown no growth since the 2004 campaign."

Subsequent studies do tend to follow suit that the Internet is positively impacting political activity amongst the population, but specifically tend to increase political activity in those groups that are already active. Namely the well educated and financially secure. The latest study from the Pew Internet Group conducted in August 2008 found that "Just as in offline civic life, the well-to-do and well-educated are more likely than those less well off to participate in online political activities such as emailing a government official, signing an online petition or making a political contribution." (Pew 2008) See Figure1

 Figure 1. Pew Internet& American Life Project (August 2008).

What later surveys did reveal was that the internet was beginning to take center stage in how people that were politically active interacted with each other. "In 2008, Americans were frequently asked -- and, in turn, asked others -- to take part in political activities. Two in five adults received at least occasional requests to take part politically via email, telephone, or letter, while an additional 25% were asked to do so in person. Although very few (just 3%) sent letters asking others to take part politically, roughly one in ten sent emails or made phone calls asking others to get involved, and 15% did so in person." (Pew Internet Report p27) Figure 2

 Figure 2. Pew Internet& American Life Project (August 2008).


Political Activity is not relegated to the voting process; it's also in the desire to shape current processes and policy on the federal and state levels.  President Obama campaigned hard on a transparency in government effort and since the election has attempted to follow through on the campaign promises. During the transition period, he launched "Your Seat at the Table" which chronicled the daily meetings of the transition team as well as the Citizens Briefing book as an open forum for ideas. In his first day in office, the President signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government ( outlining the desire and need for transparency, participation and collaboration of the federal government. It set forth to have measurable goals within 120 days and leading up to the Open Government Initiative. (  It sets forth the means of opening up government transparency by posting everything from the White House visitor log to full Budget overview of each agency. To increase participation from the citizens, they have launched multiple avenues for engagement including the Open for Questions forum and the newly launched Health IT forum. All of these actions strive to keep the media and citizens part of the decision making process for our government and to make sure the decisions of our leadership are open to public scrutiny.

Over the past few years, a noted shift occurred from traditional communication networks and technologies to more advanced technology mythologies. Along with this, there has been a significant shift in the thought process of potential voters in evaluating political candidates, as well as, supporting or not political legislation. A central issue that has been moved to the forefront has been the ability of how individuals send and receive information. According to the web article, Direct Democracy and the Internet, written by Dick Morris, the impact the internet on developing a better informed voter is a reality.  The author stated the following, "The Internet will accelerate both the greater flow of information and the increased reliance on public opinion in legislative decision making. News websites cover political information and public affairs far more extensively than even the most thorough of newspapers and certainly in vastly greater depth than any television news programming. Indeed, if one were to compare, on a typical day, the number of stories covered in the pages of The New York Times-arguably the most inclusive of newspapers-with the public affairs stories reported online, the Internet user has access to a far wider range of information."  

There have been several attempts from a political informative point of view, to develop a novel and enhanced communication methodology processes to assist democratic government with the utilization of advanced digital technology processes. The most promising of these have emerged from the internet and communication networks arena. These latest communication processes relative agendas and evaluations are currently being researched to determine the value derived from this communication process. Most of the early attempts to evaluate such processes have naturally focused almost exclusively on the comparison of tradition versus advanced communication technology effectiveness. However, theory suggests that enhanced internet and communication networks have sustained important public information benefits. The web article in Imaging the Internet stated the following, "the News media, politics and governance promise to change the most thanks to the all-publishing, all-connecting nature of Internet communications. The most obvious effects on news media are the rise of weblogs supplanting the public's attentions to traditional news media, and the slow death of newspapers ... We can expect the nature of socio-political interaction to change as well, potentially changing the way prospective voters make up their minds - or even how frequently and consistently they vote on any given race or cause."

Over the past several decades, the theory of impact of communication has experienced two major stages of evolution. Examples of original communication models were based on direct/face to face contact or newspaper to share opinions and ideas on political areas of interest. Political candidates designed campaigns to influence voters to support their positions. The communication integration setting placed political campaign managers in a position of strategizing and designing plans to maximize the support for their particular candidate. The NP Action website, states the following, "Voter apathy and lack of information are major barriers to full participatory democracy in the United States. ... Online political information brings several important benefits:

  • More citizen engagement on issues of concern at the local, state, and national level;

  • Increased access to more and better information on candidates, policy positions, and government decisions that affect all citizens; and

  • Pressure on all entities - from news organizations to advocacy groups - that inform the public to provide the best quality information.

As access to the Internet continues to expand, potential voters will have available an enormous variety of resources to help them connect with the political process."

Many people now turn to social networking to discuss political issues as well.  Hanselmann (2001, p. 4) states, "In terms of political information, the Internet promises the availability of more information for the average citizen and more individualized information content that is dictated by the recipient - to a greater extent than is possible with most other forms of media. Providing citizens with information on politics, policy and government, it is argued, will empower them to play a more active role in civic life." Further evidence suggests the internet is becoming the main source of news media for anyone who can get connected. An example of this would be America Online. "America Online, Inc., (AOL), the nation's largest online company, had 1 million subscribers in 1994, 5 million in 1996, 10 million in 1997, 18 million in 1999-and more than 22 million subscribers today. More people now get their news from AOL than from the top five daily newspapers combined" (Westen 2001).

With all of the access to social networks there is more discussion between friends and family online via blogs, emails, and forums to read and review before one goes to vote. The Pew Internet and American Life Projects reported, "Just over one-third of Americans (36%) are involved in a civic or political group, and more than half of these (56%) use digital tools to communicate with other group members. Indeed, 5% of group members communicate with their fellow members using digital technologies only. At the forefront is email-fully 57% of wired civic group members use email to communicate with fellow group members. This makes email nearly as popular as face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations for intra-group communication" (Smith, et. Al).  Further research by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press revealed "23% of American adults fit into a news-audience category they call ‘Integrators.' They get the news from both traditional sources and the internet, and they comprise a more engaged, sophisticated and demographically sought-after audience segment than those who mostly rely on traditional news sources... ‘Traditionalists' make up 46% of the population. This is an older, less educated, and less affluent news segment that is particularly tuned into the TV news. One salient feature of Traditionalists' behavior: Unlike the news Integrators, or those who mostly get news from the web, most Traditionalists say that seeing pictures and video, rather than reading or hearing the facts, gives them the best understanding of events" (Lee).

The information available online related to government, politics, and democracy is astounding. As a new national election cycle begins; looking at voters' motivation becomes the forefront of thought among politicians. The NASPA Journal of College and Character on the topic of, The Internet and College Students' Motivation to Vote stated the following" The results illustrate that not only politicians, but educators should be cognizant of this civic engagement process. Schools and teachers of all levels are on the front lines of the battle to create a more informed, more involved citizenry; higher education has a strong influence on motivation to vote. Though speculation abounds regarding the information age, new access to information via technology simply does not have the impact that many, especially in the media would like to imagine. In reality, it is the educator that has the largest role in predicting college students' motivation to vote."

A study by the Stanford Institute for the Quantative Study of Society (SIQSS) concluded in their article titled "The Impact of Internet Use on Socialibility: Time-Diary Findings" that if people are on the internet then they are not spending time on another social activity.  "Time can be reallocated-from time spent with friends, family or on social activities to time spent on the Internet-but not expanded; it is indeed like a hydraulic system, where increases in activity in one area reduce time available for other activities,"(Nie and Hillygus 2002, p. 9). If individuals are spending more time on the internet in general, it is expected that their sources change from television or printed media to online newspapers, emails, blogs, or political websites.

The shift to the internet could not be more prevalent this year than in any other.  As of July 2009, over 105 newspapers had closed down in this year as per Preethi Dumpala of The Business Insider. "Even with an understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of democracy,' the history of technological prognostication is littered with faulty predictions of the impacts of new technologies' (Weare, 2002: 660). Over the last hundred years, new communication technologies including telegraphs, telephones, radios and televisions have, in most cases, failed to fulfill their social potential (Hornik, 1988). The Internet, however, is the most interactive and technologically sophisticated medium to date, which enhances user reflexivity in terms of user participation and generated content and thus has a greater likelihood of affecting change (Bucy and Gregson, 2001; Gaynor, 1996; Thornton, 2002)"(Groshek 2009, p. 117).

The information gathered suggests that while moving toward internet and mass communication networks, the traditional methods still have a solid backing by nearly half of the population.  Portions of the American public who are not involved in the political processes in any way are those disinterested and don't vote or cannot due to citizen status.  David Bollier writes," Even with the proliferation of the Internet's many networking functions, today's centrally distributed "mass media" -- the gatekeeper-controlled systems of broadcasting, cable and satellite TV -- are likely to remain in place for years to come." He wrote this in 1996 before the world came into the new millennium and it remains true to date. 


Lotte E. Scharfman coined the phrase "Democracy is not a spectator sport." The words insist that action be taken in order for democracy to progress. In 2009, there are more publicly funded training programs to integrate unemployed and impoverished people past the digital divide. With all of the availability to the average citizen, it is reasonable to believe that internet and communication networks have become an integral part of the democratic processes.  Furthermore the limitless information potential allows for the public to access mass media and communications networks to discuss, protest, and advocate all forms of democratic government and rule.

Does the Internet play a vital role and to what extent does it continue to factor into political activity and voting? The variety of reporting, facts, and findings provides information that the internet and mass communication networks are inconclusive as the necessary survey could not be performed to confirm or falsify our hypotheses. While it would appear that the internet is beginning to mold the way people communicate about politics and policy, further studies need to be conducted to validate the claims that it is increasing political activity amongst those that do not currently participate. In today's world the basic manner in which information is shared and communicated has been significantly changed based on the advancement of technology. 

The question that still has not been clearly defined is to what extent and for whom. The Senior Capstone research team selected three hypotheses surrounding this broad topic of interest to investigate. The Senior Capstone research team could not conclusively determine this to be accurate or not. The research that has been reviewed provided insight from various perspectives.

There is no evidence compiled that can determine if the internet and mass communication networks has surpassed other forms of media outlets as the primary information source during the election process directly impacting the decisions of voters.  It is most likely an integration of information from a variety of sources that leads individuals to determine a decision during the election process.

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Open Access



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Multimedia Resources

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 Impact of the Internet and Social Networks on Political Affairs in Iran


Associated Press (2009, June 15). CBSNEWS. Twitter tells tale of Iran election amid media crackdown, young and liberal Iranians document voting, unrest

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Kaminsky, Ross(2009, June 18) Iran’s Twitter Revolution

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The Editors (2009, June 23) The York Times: Opinion. Behind the Protest, Social Upheaval In Iran

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Rhoads, Christopher and Chao, Loretta (2009, June 22). Wall Street Journal: Tech. Iran’s Web Spying Aided by Western Technology

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Personal Reflections


Kim Thompson's Personal Reflection

From a personal perspective, the value of this project provided another good opportunity to work in a team setting.  It was important to me to be able to play a role within a team and produce valued appreciated work.

From a growth and career perspectives, my occupation calls for strong characteristics focused on team work and exhibiting leadership qualities.

This project allowed me to function in various capacities as the team required. Each team member at some point was either a team player or a side line coach. The sharing of the leadership hat was encouraging and admirable.  This is important and could easily be applied in a professional business setting.

In the beginning of this project, I was not informed as to the degree in which the advancement of technology had on the political, and more specially, the voting process.  However, after researching materials for this project, I was enlightened as to the various levels of impact and the future affect technology will have on the impact of internet and communication networks and technologies on concepts of and forms of democratic government and rule.

In closing the most important learning that I took away from this project was again, it is critical to be able to make modifications to a plan as even the best plan is not 100% proof.  This project allowed all team members to exhibit excellent crisis management skills, for a lack of a better term, which truly made me proud to be part of this team.

Pete Gallagher's Reflection

The project’s title drew my attention as it’s in keeping with my career in Telecommunications. I’ve been working in International Telecom for the past 9 years, and have delivered and managed services into some of the most remote areas of the world forging new relationships with partners and customers alike.  Over the span of my career, I’ve always been focused on the technical aspect of the Internet and the supporting technologies. I’ve had some interaction with the political process in international locations, especially going through the proper government channels in the Middle East and China, but the social impact was never really on my mind globally and especially not locally. At the beginning of the research stage, I was categorically sure that the Hypotheses would absolutely be proven true. I was convinced in 2009 that the Internet had already changed people for the better regarding political activity. I suppose this was mostly due to the widespread media coverage, and was surprised that the internet’s saturation may not be as deep as I thought. It’s certainly making inroads into attracting new constituents but I think we may need to go through a few more political cycles to really see the impact.

                From a logistics standpoint, the project was a little challenging, but manageable. I’m used to coordinating projects with clear roles and responsibilities, but in these types of settings, leadership roles need to change and remain fluid, of which I think we did well. The research material was distributed well amongst the group and everyone seems to contribute nicely.

 Jasmine Cintron's Reflection

This project was a real lesson in teamwork before anything else.  The collaborative efforts of such varied individuals are a life lesson on how to deal with others in a work environment.  We were required to contact and communicate with each other about a topic that was foreign to me.  I am a business major learning about communications and cultures while also being educated on democratic processes and political science to some extent.  The rigorous research and long hours reading gave me a deeper understanding of our migration to mass communications media and technologies, mainly the internet.  I also learned how Democracy (with a capital D) has become available through technology to parts of the world that accept a computer in their country before they allow their citizens to vote. 

It was all relatively new to me being that I am finance oriented with a mind directed to logic and reasoning with numbers.  I don’t make myself available to current events.  I had not even known about Obama’s web initiatives until this course.  Yes, all true!

The learning that took a place of significance to me was that I too am one of the masses.  I am one of those people that should make it a point to learn more about who I am voting for.  As for my career, the Capstone was a project that provoked collaboration and joint efforts.  I am someone who does it all on my own and sometimes I felt it was difficult to give insight and input when I was in the learning phase.  However, I am at my best when I feel I have learned and absorbed it all.  I feel that showed at the end when we wrapped up all the months of research into one report.  This was an overall positive experience for me as I feel I learned every single time I worked on my Capstone project on my own or with the group.  It enhanced me as a person.  

Dominick LaRocca's Reflection

I have a career in education and I am pursuing a role as a teacher. This project was a major eye-opener to me as I had assumed that most people are in my position. Going into teaching I come from a poor family that struggles to get by. I would consider myself to be the lucky one in my family and by looking up statistics I have come to the realization that I make lower than the national average. going by that logic I assumed that since my family was able to struggle and afford a PC (a couple in my household) and some sort of internet service, then easily the majority of Americans are also able to afford at the very least 1 computer per household. Now this would then expand to people of other countries (aside from third world countries) especially when dealing with them in MMORPG's such as World of Warcraft which to me is proof of this.

Taking this class I have been proven wrong on more than one assumption. Despite the majority of this country (other countries aside) have a higher income than my household the personal computer is not quite the commodity as I once thought it was. There is still a large percentage who do not have access to the internet or just do not wish to, even despite growing numbers to the contrary. Now with this realization in mind, there is a large number of people who do not spend their time on the internet as I do, since everyone has different interest group combinations. Therefore I learned that the percentage of Americans who utilize the internet as a proper social medium is much lower than I expected for the variety of factors. How does this affect my job? Well as the report says I am one of the people on the frontline of motivators for people to vote and otherwise take a more active stand in our country's democratic process.

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents