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How democratic is the democratic potential of Internet?
The political commentaries in Internet empowering citizens that are more ordinary seemed Parody. Elite educated, established intelligentsias seem most liked in Internet. Frequently male, upper class, upper caste, less ethnically diverse, fewer plural political commentaries and spaces of political activism claim opinion dissemination.

Few opinion shapers mould the opinion of the majority of Indians in Internet. Platforms have been one of the instruments to bring a consolidated information hegemony and materialization of cultural power. Here Internet is not empowering unknown and un-mainstreamed Indians to get a place in political discourse, but it isolated and alienated them.

Citizen could write, read and film their news in internet. They create their own political commentaries and build up audience. For many people, the political contribution of Internet is the elimination of old gatekeeper media. The widely upheld assumption tells that Internet widens the frontiers of political communication to those exempted traditionally.

This means 'historically', gatekeeper controlled old media did not broaden political inclusion. Here, habitually, gatekeeper media screened some news from public while some other news let on public attention. Conversely, gatekeepers are still critical part even when Internet appears in India.

Gatekeepers still hold significant influence on the political potential of Internet. Social websites are much vulnerable to the filtering process of gatekeepers. Let us put this interesting question as to whether it carries any implication for democracy.

Manipulation sets the political agenda in Internet. 'Publicity managers' steer up how information has been disseminating over to users. A sedate pattern of platform uses for political communication beseemed that targeted use of online platforms lead to publicity stunts and at the same time, it has been discrediting enemies.

Staid pattern of concentration web pages and social media profiles among key players has created a new kind of cultural hegemony in Internet. A new kind of soft power control political communication over the Net.

Many people believe that Internet and social media sites, in particular could lower the cost of political communication. In fact, the well-charged assumption is that social websites are radical and it extends spaces of political communication to citizen outside the institutionalized mainstream political public. Therefore, the pioneers of such argument go to extend that Internet would bring down inequality and wipe out social barriers due to rigid social structure.

However, mere common sense of the democrat will tell that the very structure of the Internet is anti-egalitarian. To understand the unequal structure of the Internet, one does not need mastery on the intricacies of computer sciences. A gadget with broadband access is more than enough to comprehend the discordant and deformed social structure resurfacing over the Internet platforms.

Search engines are keys to access information on the Net. If not, at least, the way users search for information is critical in digital sociality and techno-politics. People search more than browse in the Internet. Therefore, the question, who decides the political agenda in Internet, certainly is an analytical category to evaluate the reflecting searcharchy in Indian Internet.

An undetectable power law rule over Internet agenda. In fact, 'power elites' control the political agenda of who gets what when and how in Internet. 'Internet power' is also a relation between influence and the influenced. However, the power question is somehow complex and dynamic in Internet. They are a sort of cultural hegemony.

Online information has been subject to filtering in the same way traditional news media has been filtering news items. As traditional news media organization and broadcast companies are prominent on the Web, they are also dominant players in the process of information dissemination in Internet. They claimed the major portion of political content in Internet.

Search engines and web portals are an important force in Indian Internet. The impending assumption is that Internet is not creating political exclusivity. It is not concentrating political power in few power blocks. Instead, it is changing the direction of political exclusivity from the information production to the filtering of political information. This means, the question of cultural power of big players in Internet are critical in setting the political agenda.

The searcharchy seem implicated in online gatekeeping. Two factors are important in the upcoming searcharchy in Internet. Therefore, first assumption is the infrastructure of the Internet. Second, who is speaking and who is hearing when considering political speech in read/write web.

The agenda setters in Indian Internet

Who decides the political agenda in Internet? Certainly, a perplexing question and people get to frown on many things. Political impact of Internet is likely to be similar to those of Internet on business where it has influenced on supply chain than production front. Internet does seem to be changing the processes and technologies that support mass political participation and guide elite strategy of expanding voter basis. This means there is seemingly a new set of agenda setters emerge in Internet.

Direct political speech on the read/write web, which is posting of political views online by ordinary citizen, does not follow relatively democratic model. If we look at citizen voices in terms of the readership, their postings receiving political expression online is in scale more unequal than the disparities we are used to in social structures. Big websites, platforms, etc., have huge traffic and follower basis.

Narendra Modi among politicians, Sachin Tendulkar among sportspersons, Katrina Kaif among female film actors, tops the list among Google trending. Corruption, Aam Aadmi Party, Education, Unemployment, Rape, etc., are few among the major themes India discussing in contemporary life. Google search will end users to an unequal pattern of search traffic for the keyword searches for such issues highlighted. Rape for example, one get 5, 04, 00,000 results (0.34 seconds) by February 2014. More importantly, the search traffic ends up with platforms of dominant players. This is the case with every other search in Internet.

The political agenda of the Internet certainly seem decided by few elites. They are the gatekeepers in Internet. They comprise arguably 'information' and 'power' elites. Users get more about such platforms disseminating their views on each word searched. A tiny portion of perspective holds the majority of variants in Internet. The question is how traffic distributed among political websites.

Thoughts of the online public sphere have imagined that political sites, activist blogs, advocacy organizations and other non commercial outlets would defy the monopoly that traditional commercial media have had on public discourse. However, judging by traffic, this challenge does not seem to be particularly strong.

Traditional news and media sites have successful online presence and still they receive huge page visits as they have been traditionally receiving it outside the Internet. That level of readership is large by the standards of traditional opinion journals, such as the Outlook, the Frontline, all of which are print publications.

However, individual political sites, profile with political commentaries, etc., remain a small forte amid the larger Web. Old news organizations bring in most of the public's political news and information even online spaces.

The gatekeeping process in Internet begins with search engines and much search engine use is trifling. The cumulative level of political interest is stumpy. Search strategies that citizens employ limit the political content users see over the platforms. Instead of browsing, users search for political content. Here the real player is search engines.

A sort of manufactured consent seems created over the platforms. Search engines, search traffics, platforms of big players, social profiles of leadership, IT companies, trained professionals; all play their own part in making Internet resurfacing in to a kind of searcharchy.

Significantly, the issue is the difference between navigational queries and content queries. In the case of former, it seeks a specific site or online outlet where as content queries seek information on political topics or political personalities. Citizens use search engines to seek out familiar sites and sources. Here, the search engines structure an unholy alliance with big players. This is a new kind of power game.

When a user searches with the key words: 'Leading politicians in India', search engines bring in 1,21,00,000 within result 0.26 seconds.  However, the information pertaining to the query leads to the platforms of few big players. They comprise http://indiatoday.intoday.in, http://www.mensxp.com, http://www.siliconindia.com etc.

Suppose, when one is searching with key words: 'Leading female politicians in India', one will get pages of http://indiatoday.intoday.in, http://www.indiatvnews.com, http://idiva.com.

The web sites navigate our understanding towards few familiar faces we already know. Here, independent political websites, unknown individuals with political ambitions are not getting the viewership and traffic they deserve. The platforms are, in no ways providing, an alternative space predicted that Internet would give. Internet only reproduces monopoles, conventional leadership and traditional hierarchies.

Traffic to political Web sites and independent web pages or profiles are lower even than many sceptics of social websites have anticipated. Alternative and non commercial sources of political information have failed to accumulate a challenge to traditional media outlets and sources of power. Political pages are getting only a small fraction of the visitors that even goes to online versions of traditional news and media sites. Traffic to independent and alternative political sites looks miserable.

Higher concentration of big outlets in terms search traffic and perspective generation created a culture of soft power in Internet. The agenda setting that what to discuss, how to think, where to communicate etc., seemed negotiated by the larger concentration of few websites in key areas where policy decisions are more akin to look for.

Here see a 'missing middle' in social websites. Certainly, there is a missing middle in the political effect of Internet. The political consequences of the missing middle are multifaceted, but perhaps nowhere are they clearer than with regard to the online public sphere.

Political websites are perhaps the most important test of this claim and social profiles may reach only a fraction of the public. However, they are now the most widely read from in India. Although, the distribution of political commentaries in Internet includes many hundreds of thousands of political content, a small group of leading political pages actually gets more traffic than the rest of the population combined.

The platforms are concentrated. See, for example http://ramachandraguha.in/, http://tharoor.in/, and social pages are more popular. Intellectuals have their social profiles with more traffic than website. Here their political commentaries get more acceptance and endorsement than individual commentaries of ordinary citizens. See, the social profiles of https://twitter.com/nramind, https://twitter.com/sagarikaghose and their social pages get more traffic and follower basis and in fact, acceptance to their perspectives is formidable. 

Social hierarchies have quickly emerged even in areas without serving players and where content is cheap for a single individual to produce. Repetitively, the claim is that Internet is shifting power away from political elites to more diverse ordinary citizens. Internet is supposed to allow more voices to reach a diverse audience and these new voices are supposed to be more representative of the public. The clearest political impacts of Internet then, come from the scandals that it has exposed or at least allowed to unfold more rapidly.

 February 2014 has been notable for many online political activists for the question of right to expression. For that matter, it has exposed many scandals and things and news the traditional media did not expose or failed to bring in public notice. Penguin Books has decided to withdraw all published copies of Wendy Doniger's book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.

However, following the decision, people began to get emails and Facebook shares where the soft copy of the book is downloadable free of cost. Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness written by Gail Tredwell has exposed shocking revelation about an 'Ashram' in Kerala. However, mainstream media 'failed' to bring it in public discussion.

Drugs Control Department in Kerala initiated prosecution steps against ayurveda firms: Dhatri, Indulekha and Sreedhareeyam, for misleading the public through false claims and advertisements in 2012. Unfortunately, it was not news for traditional media. It was only new media platforms, which brought in discussions. This is true in many other cases where traditional media failed/feared to give public attention to events that it deserves.

Therefore, the clear political potential of Internet somehow confined only to its potential to expose the scandal that old media are afraid to expose to the public. Except this exposing culture in Internet, social websites have only contributed to consolidate new kind of information hegemony, cultural power and publicity and marketing strategies of big players. This means Internet only reproduces a searcharchy. Democratic use of social websites is in fact, undemocratic. There is little democratic structure in the democratic and political application of Internet.

(About the Author: Biju PR teaches Political Science at Government Brennen College, Thalassery, Kerala) 

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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