The Benefits and Threats of “re-making democracy” through Online Networks #ARTS3091

29 Apr

Australia, unlike the Ancient Roman’s and current the Chinese Administrative System, does not have a fourth “integrity branch” of government. This “branch” maintains surveillance over government activities and initiates recommendations for change (Spigelman 2004, p. 91).

Thus, within Australian society, it must be questioned:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (“Who will guard the guards?”) (Brown 1998)

Placing this quote in the context of Networked Media, it is arguable that online/social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Discussion Forums etc give the general public the power to “guard” and scrutinise political decisions/policy – we (the general public and professional journalists) take on the fourth branch integrity role. By being able to post comments, ask questions, create protest forums etc, online networking opens up public access to government decisions and gives them the power to discuss and publically voice their opinions onparticular political decisions/issues.


Networks are also an extremely effective communication mechanism for politicians, as Malcolm Turnbull stated on the ABC Media watch,

If I write a blog like I did yesterday complaining about the ABCs’s reporting of the NBN I can put that on my blog, post it on twitter, and it is drawn to the attention of the possessors of one hundred and thirty odd thousand devices…now that is vastly more that say the readership of the financial review (ABC: Media Watch22 April2013).


Furthermore, Labor Senator for the ACT, Kate Lundy (the first Federal Politician to set up a blog) argues that since mainstream media only seems to broadcast information on polls and leadership, online networked media is important for giving the public actual facts about government policy,

We aren’t getting asked questions by the media (in press galleries) by what we’re actually doing…its all the commentary about how we’re doing our job and leadership… (ABC: Media Watch22 April2013).


Although online networking has arguably successfully “re-made” democracy in relation to accessibility and accountability of government decisions/policy, it is necessary to explore the threats this watchdog “sousveillance” (Boiler 2013) culture potentially poses to society.


Smith, in his article ‘The Danger of high-level intelligence leaks’ argues that successful diplomacy relies on government secrecy,

…the importance of government secrecy is directly related to proper statecraft…a certain level of secrecy is incredibly important for a healthy administration – this is the way the game is played (Smith 2014).


Although whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange claim and appear to be “careful” in ensuring that the only things disclosed would not put anyone in danger and are what the public should know (Watson 2013), as Cerveny states, (in relation to the released footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq by Wikileaks),

WikiLeaks not only took great care to redact potentially harmful information (holding back more than 15,000 documents for this very reason) but prior to releasing the documents, sought to engage the White House in its efforts to vet the material (Cerveny 2010).


It’s arguable that online networking still gives whistleblowers the potential to publish harmful information. A whistle-blower, that may not be so aware of the immediate and future implications of leaked information, could result in the exposure of “…sensitive information…” that is hidden “…to protect a country from military or economic rivals,”(Smith 2014) and thus the individual lives of the population.


The key question is whether societies’ thirst for government transparency and desire to “guard the guards” has lead to whistle blowers exposing too much information..

Although government transparency is evidently an important part of democracy, this does not mean every ounce of information must be leaked to the public. Secrecy does not necessarily equal corruption – society must be wary that a balance must be drawn between networked truth and national/individual safety.



ABC: Media Watch 2013, Bypassing the Gatekeepers, Sydney, online video, accessed 28 April 2014, <;


Bollier, D 2013, ‘Sousveillance as a Responce to Surveillance’, David Bollier:

news and perspectives on the commons, accessed 29 April 2014, <;


Brown, D 1998, Digital Fortress, St Martin’s Press, United Kingdom.


Cerveny, J 2010, Chelsea Manning Support Network, accessed 27 April 2014, <>

Smith, N 2014, ‘The danger of high-level intelligence leaks’, The National Business Review, 29 April, accessed 29 April 2014, <;


Spigelman, J 2004, ‘The Integrity Branch of Government’, National Lecture Series of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law, pp.91-125.


Watson, S 2013, ‘Snowden: UK Government Intentionally Leaking Harmful Information To Blame Whistleblowers’, Prison Planet, 23 August, accessed 29 April 2014, <;



One Response to “The Benefits and Threats of “re-making democracy” through Online Networks #ARTS3091”

  1. james ryrie April 30, 2014 at 12:03 am #

    Great post!

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