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Does the Web Make Democracy Safer?

In various spots in yesterday's New York Times, and in a variety of forms, the question is raised whether the Web makes democracy safer. I think safer; but taking only the New York Times on one day, albeit a quiet day meant for circumspection, there are troublesome trends . . . and other trends, not so much.

TROUBLESOME

Politicians offended by citizens' scrutiny of their behavior . . . Jean-François Copé, parliamentary chief for France's governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, said in a recent radio interview, "The Internet is a danger for democracy." (quoted in 'As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back' NYT front section). He's referring to a YouTube comment about a government minister being shown to be "a liar", a comment that drew the legal ire of the minister in question.

Police forces acting surreptitiously and provocatively in monitoring Facebook . . . "In some cases, the government appears to be engaged in deception. The Boston Globe recently quoted a Massachusetts district attorney as saying that some police officers were going undercover on Facebook as part of their investigations." ('Twitter Tapping' NYT editorial). The article may have been referring to this event at which 15 police officers invaded a dorm party in which underage drinking was taking place.

NOT SO MUCH

The U.S. government using software to bypass censorial restrictions on the Web . . . "Long before the protests in Iran started, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. civilian international broadcasting, had in place software to counter censorship in countries like Iran, so people could better access the blogosphere. And the State Department financially supports agencies that make it easier for Iranians and others to surf the Web." ('Social Networks as Forerign Policy' NYT Magazine)

Just one day's chat about the ethics of Web discourse. But as long as the debate happens we'll be okay.

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