Accountability Online

On: October 15, 2007
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About Felicia Plijter


Is decision-making on the internet more democratic, less hierarchical than in the ‘real world’? Is structure needed in collaboration? In the ‘real world’ there is a general consensus about this: In any kind of management, be it the board of a huge multinational or a small town party council, there’s always a chairman, a treasurer and a secretary. Next to that there are usually others with different responsibilities. All these people have different talents on base of which they have been atributed their task. The chairman is a good leader, the treasurer has got a reliable financial instinct and the secretay is very good at writing down things other people say and going through the mail. then there are the people that are not on the board, depending on them, hoping they will make the right decision.
These boards or committees have an executive task: making decisions, achieving a goal. Others which are not on the board may also have a voice but the last say is always theirs. If they don’t work together well enough they will not achieve their task and others will take over where they failed. Depending on the circumstances (political party or big multinational) this may or may not be a democratic process but there is clarity about the responsiblity.

In the ‘other world’, internet, the game seems to be played somewhat differently. web 2.0 has made it possible for people to contribute and share their opinions, arts, everything with the rest of the world. These people may be very talented and intelligent or the other way around, but the important thing is that they can put themselves ‘out there’. This sharing in itself is not a way of working together to achieve a similar goal, accept perhaps the most general of general goals: distribute and share information with everyone anytime.
There are obviously other collaborations on the internet which are more practical, like raising money for a political party. Matters of importance can also be found online and usually concern financial matters on the stock market which become more important everyday and can affect a lot of people. Decision-making on these serious topics, however, is not something done by the big mass. this is in general impossible because with so many people, a consensus can never be achieved, too many different interests are at stake. There, like in the real world, certain people make it work and make lots and lots of money. Who they are, why they are where they are and how they make their decisions is unclear.

It may look as though people have seized the power in the world of internet but the real decisions are still made by the elite. Google decides what you can find, Wikipedia decides what you can know just as our government decides how much taxes we have to pay and our publishing houses decide what we are allowed to read. Not much has changed now that we have a new medium when it comes to decision-making accept for the fact that it is easier for the rest of the people to ventilate their opinion. Let’s just hope they are being heard. The downside is that there is less openness about who this elite is, and, more alarming, even that it exists. It is an illusion to believe that everyone has an equal say on the internet when it comes to important matters and until there comes more openness about the web’s elite, what exactly they are responsible for and how they function, I prefer the more honest method of the real world.

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