The Web: Ochlocracy versus Democracy

I just came from reading a post on the Moving Finger blog. It talked about Marshall McLuhan’s foresight regarding the tribalism of a global village using electronic and computer media. It also contrasted bloggers to journalists which lead me to thinking about Ochlocracy, “we the mob”, versus Democracy, “we the people” on the web.

The current web with its allowance for anonymity, rumor and passion is cultivating an ochlocratic environment.

Ochlocracy is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of constitutional authorities. In English, the word mobocracy is sometimes used as a synonym. As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it’s akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning “the easily moveable crowd.”

As a term in civics it implies that there is no formal authority whatsoever, not even a commonly-accepted view of anarchism, and so disputes are raised, contended and closed by brute forcemight makes right, but only in a very local and temporary way, as another mob or another mood might just as easily sway a decision. It is often associated with demagoguery and the rule of passion over reason.

A liberal democracy on the other hand requires identity, source and reason.

No universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’ exists, especially with regard to the elements in a society which are required for it. Many people use the term “democracy” as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include additional elements such as political pluralism, equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government.

Until the web can evolve into a democratic system where every participant’s identity is known, rights protected and actions accountable, we will witness encounters with mob rule usually hinging on threats of harm – do what the mob wants, and you won’t get hurt; resist, and you almost certainly will – the anonymity, sheer size and psychological makeup of the mob making it difficult or impossible to assign blame to any one person. We will also encounter a constant need by governments to keep people fed, distracted, and in awe of the power of the state and manipulation of the mob by political leaders who sense that they have the power to dispose of opponents to policy.

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