Free speech perspectives on the internet - The internet as a public sphere and democratic medium

A study with a focus on russia

Master's Thesis 2007 123 Pages

Communications - Multimedia, Internet, New Technologies



Methodical Approach
Research Perspective

2.3.1. Transnationalism, Fragmentation, Access and Exclusion
2.3.2. Blogs and the Blurring of Private and Public Sphere
2.3.3. Politicization
2.3.4. Plurality of Opinions, Power Relations in Online Forums
2.3.5. E-Democracy, Participation, Social Movements and Grassroots Movements

5.2.1. General Situation
5.2.2. Surveillance: The System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM)
5.2.3. The Registration of Websites as Mass Media
6.3.1. Udaff.com and Padonki
6.3.2. Characteristics
6.4.1. Websites
6.4.2. Blogs


The Internet as a medium of communication brings about new possibilities and risks - it enables practically everybody who has the technical means to utter his opinion and participate in global communication. The transboundary network structure, a universal technological applicability, low access barriers, user-friendliness, the possibility of self-publishing and global reach turns the Internet into a potentially “democratic” medium, which competes with the traditional media such as the press and television. It creates a virtual public sphere, enables public discourses in forums and weblogs and breeds new digital subcultures. In the early stages of Internet development, the notion of its democratic potential sounded quite promising. But the new virtual ‘freedom of speech’ also caused conflicts and unwanted effects in democratic and non-democratic states, that have disillusioned the pioneers of the Internet in their view of the Net as a space with unlimited possibilities. It can conflict with existing legislation, interfere with political or economic interests, it can be instrumentalized by political systems, and it has become commercialized to a great extent. A crucial question is therefore, whether the growing connectedness enables a greater exertion of freedom of speech, public discourse and citizen participation or whether this development is stifled and restricted by political and economic forces such as state control, censorship and surveillance, media ownership, concentration on the media market and commercialization of content.

Methodical Approach

The aim of this thesis is not to answer this question conclusively, let alone on a global scale, but rather to explore the problem area in general and to subsequently narrow it down to a national context. The authoress of this thesis is well aware that the research questions appearing in this context have been posed and answered in previous research a number of times, thus a reachable goal can only be to present a current, individual approach, a combination and evaluation of formerly developed theories and facts, and an application to the specific situation in Russia today.

In the first part, the historical and theoretical context of the problem area will be outlined , such as:

- the notion and vision of the Internet as a ‘medium of liberty’ which has its mental and territorial roots in the United States
- the role of the media for the formation of a public opinion
- the characteristics of the Internet as a public sphere
- laws and regulations dealing with freedom of speech
- definitions of and motives for censorship
- technical means to control and exercise censorship
- tools and platforms on the Internet that provide a space for the exercise of free expression.

Due to the historical context of the development of the Internet, many of these chapters will describe the subject from a US-American resp. Western perspective. For the theoretical approach of the Internet as a public sphere and its impact on the public sphere, Habermas’ theory of the structural transformation of the public sphere is essential. The respective chapter will focus on secondary literature which has dealt with the relationship of new media and public sphere at an earlier stage, rather than focus on the original text.

The second part will concentrate on describing the situation of the Internet in Russia, breaking down the subject field to more specific and concrete problems. The situation will be analyzed regarding power structures and ownership in the media economy, Internet usage and dissemination, news media, political PR, surveillance and control, as well as the cultural specifics of the Russian Internet. The historical context of the Cold War makes the study of the development of Internet culture in the formerly antagonistic superpowers USA and Russia particularly interesting, with cultural distinctions becoming apparent as a side-effect of the work.

An evaluation of the general situation regarding the Internet and freedom of speech as a first step, and the situation in Russia as a second step, will conclude the work.

Research Perspective

First of all it must be stated that a subjective perspective of a sensitive political subject such as freedom of speech cannot and should not be denied. A western socialisation and background together with a political point of view as a proponent of free speech[1] leads to a position which naturally tends to polarize. Thus, the goal cannot be a totally neutral or ‘objective’ research position, but rather one which takes into consideration and is relativized by the possibility of a different view, without giving up one’s original point of view. This may sound banal, but the non-neutral-position was not practically questioned or challenged until the my actual stay in the country of concern. The component of self-reflexion which takes effect here might only have a minor influence on the overall outcome of the work, but has left a trace in some parts of the text in the second part.

With regard to the part about the Russian Internet, access was limited to sources in English or German language, so that the choice of sources was restricted to secondary literature, new research results of mostly western-based scholars and articles of English-speaking authors. The analysis of Victoria Brunmeier’s “The Internet in Russia” and the Russian-Cyberspace.org – project, especially the contributions of Henrike Schmidt and Katy Teubener, were very helpful to comprehend the situation and better be able to grasp the whole topic. In addition, a number of surveys and press articles were evaluated, and the work was rounded off by the expert knowledge of my scientific advisor in St. Petersburg and an informative interview I was able to hold with an expert of the e-Russia-program.

The current political situation in Russia nourishes fears in Western Europe that the political system could turn into an authoritarian regime merely disguised by democratic elections, even more so since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s presidency. A free press and media landscape seems to be restricted more and more, the secret service FSB has gained considerable influence in the government, and some regime critics are threatened by death. Whether this view corresponds to the real situation should not be judged here, but in the context of growing media content control the role of the Internet as ‘one of the last realms of free speech’ in Russia could gain in importance in the future.



In the first section, a brief summary of Internet development, basically referring to Manuel Castells’ “Internet-Galaxy” (2001) will be given, and in the second part of the chapter, some examples of Free-Speech initiatives that illustrate history and efforts of the Internet as a medium of Free Speech will be presented. The chapter closes with a view on visions of citizen empowerment in historical media theory and current reflections on the coherency of Internet, democracy and free speech.


The technological sources of Internet development go back to the ARPANET, a network developed for military and technological research purposes by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the United States in 1969.[2] ARPA was a research project founded by the Defence Ministry for the original purpose to gain technological superiority over the USSR, and the computer network was – according to a popular myth - designed in a way to be able to survive a potential nuclear attack, even if this was not the initial purpose.[3] The innovation thereby was a decentralized network structure, which, unlike conventional computer networks, did not rely on a central server, but was able to function even if part of the network was destroyed. This was achieved through a technology of data transfer in small ‘packages’ and the ability of every computer in the network to function as a server. This is exactly the capacity which led to the famous quotation by Internet pioneer and cyber-libertarian John Gilmore, that “the Internet treats censorship as though it were a malfunction and routes around it”,[4] meaning that technological methods of censorship would be interpreted by the network as mere hindrances – a quote which should be challenged later on by technological and political developments. Between 1973 and 1978, computer scientists at the University of Stanford and the University of California further advanced the network architecture and the TCP/IP-protocol, which has served as the standard communication protocol of the Internet until today.[5] The open network architecture and standardized communication protocols enabled an international usage and at the same time safeguarded long-distance communication transfers independent from any technical or political authorities, with the main goal to ‘bring the information bits to their destination’.

A very interesting circumstance is that the Internet was developed at the intersection of governmental institutions such as the Military Defence Department and an open-minded, liberal scientific culture,[6] which had its roots in the think tanks of American universities – a stunning contradiction at first glance. Although the original purpose and the financial sources were based in military research, the whole Internet development soon became ideologically independent and the computer scientists who took part in the development had great freedom in their developmental process and were endowed with abundant funding resources.[7] A second branch for Internet development grew with the upcoming Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), the BBS network FIDONET and Usenet news, based on the operating system UNIX, which were developed independently from governmental funding by programmers and IT-students who built their own networks, which together formed what would later on be called the Inter -net. The open-source movement[8] of programmers advocating the open development of software without any claims on copyright was initiated by UNIX-programmers such as Richard Stallman, who founded the ‘Free Software Foundation’ in 1984.

In 1990 the US-government released the Internet out of the responsibility of the Defence Department opening the way to privatization and private use of the Net.[9] In the same year, the British programmer Tim Berners-Lee developed the Hypertext-System world wide web, consisting of the Hypertext-Transfer Protocol (http), the Hypertext-Markup-Language (HTML) and the first web browser,[10] eventually enabling Internet usage by a lay audience on a large and international scale.

The notion and vision of the Internet as a medium which enables great liberty of speech and free expression was therefore not only technologically determined, but also ideologically based in an anglo-american tradition of liberal (or even libertarian)[11] thinking – and in the scientific practice of programmers who cultivated a culture of open software development and sharing rather than privatization, copyright and ownership.[12] The development of the Net emancipated it(self) from the central steering of governmental authorities to what Manuel Castells calls the “self-evolution” of the Internet – the development by its users – the users-producers.[13]

Castells also points to the important fact, that the Internet has its ‘birthplace” in the USA not only technologically and ideologically, but also politically and institutionally under the jurisdiction of the American constitution: “Institutionally, the fact that the Internet developed first in the United States meant that it came under the constitutional protection of free speech enforced by the US courts. Because the backbone[14] of the global Internet was largely based in the United States, any restriction to servers in other countries could generally be bypassed by re-routing through a US server.” The technological innovation thereby challenged and undermined the sovereignty of nation states in its reach which had a different understanding and jurisdiction towards free speech.[15]


The principle of free speech with regard to the Internet was first challenged in the U.S. by the Communications Decency Act in 1996, a draft law which aimed to impose some content control on the Internet regarding ‘indecent’ content such as pornography. The draft was intended to protect children from watching such content on the Net, but was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1997. This decision was preceeded by a corresponding judgement of the US-district court in Pennsylvania. In the opinion of the court, it says that: “Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects.”[16] This decision was to large parts the merit of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an association fighting for free speech in the online world since 1990 with famous cyber-libertarians such as John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore among its co-founders. The EFF is a non-profit organization in the tradition of American free speech and civil rights advocates like the ACLU[17] – only its activities are focused on Internet issues such as privacy protection and surveillance, filesharing and copyright / intellectual property, free speech and censorship and it provides legal advice and support in cases and lawsuits involving the use of the Internet.

John Perry Barlow wrote his now famous and notorious “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” in 1996, a pretty pathos- and ideology-loaded pamphlet against any governmental intrusion in the affairs of the Internet community, proclaiming the Cyberspace as a virtual, incorporeal sphere which creates its own rules and “Social Contract”.[18] It was a reaction to the “Telecommunication Reform Act” of the US-government in 1996, when the Internet community in consequence feared censorship. The EFF started the widespread “Blue Ribbon Campaign” with the following appeal to webmasters to apply the campaign banner on their own website:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Another Free Speech Campaign that should be mentioned here, was the “Global Internet Liberty Campaign” (GILC) in 1998. The campaign was initiated and supported by 43 international human rights and civil liberties organizations and has released a report, which had the purpose to “lay the groundwork for the proposition that the unique qualities of the Internet support an even more robust application of international free expression principles to online communications.” It claimed that “the Internet has already demonstrated its capacity to promote democracy by:

- Facilitating participation in government
- Expanding access to government information
- Strengthening civil society through the building of networks among individuals
- Broadening access to traditional media and promoting pluralism”.[19]

The report gives an overview about legal and technical conditions for Free Speech internationally and discusses governmental measures for Internet content controls and prior censorship of online communication such as filtering, thereby expanding the problem area onto an international level.


“Sollten Sie dies für utopisch halten,

so bitte ich Sie, darüber nachzudenken,

warum es utopisch ist.”

Bertolt Brecht, Radio Theory[20]

Whenever a new medium entered the stage in history, it was regularly accompanied by the promise of more democratic or egalitarian conditions and the empowerment of the recipient as a producer:[21] Bertolt Brecht suggested in his ‘ Radio Theory’ in 1932 the vision of the radio as a medium where listeners could equally become broadcasters.[22] The radio should be transformed from a mere distribution device into a communication medium, enabling the listener to broadcast himself and turning the one-way communication into a reciprocal activity. With the invention of Television, similar visions emerged: for example in 1970 Hans Magnus Enzensberger (in reference to Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin) deployed a theory with a socialist approach as a counterdraft to the notion of an almighty, manipulating Bewusstseins-Industrie dominated by commercial and governmental interests. He claimed that the ‘new’ electronic media are egalitarian in their structure and that the opposition of producers and consumers is not inherent in the electronic media.[23] However, his vision did not succeed in coming true, due to the sustaining power structures, economic interests and governmental regulations in the media system.

One of the most prominent visionaries of the renewal of social and political relations through the medium Internet is Howard Rheingold in his groundbreaking book “Virtual Communities” (1993). Jankowski / van Selm state that “Rheingold […] has perhaps popuralized the societal possibilities of electronic networks more than any other author. In his now classic tract on virtual communities he philosophizes on the impact these networks may have for the functioning of politics. He suggests they may allow users to challenge the conventional hierarchies of these systems and thereby reinvigorate citizen involvement in the political process. This development, he contends, may allow the dominant role played by the traditional mass media to be circumvented.”[24]

In any case, the Internet is not a conventional mass medium (characterized by a dominating one-way communication flow from producer to recipient/consumer), but enables communication in several ways and network-structures, such as one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one and many-to-many. Johanna Dorer notes that new media technologies can influence the development of public discourse and that especially the Internet with its possibility of dialogical, reciprocal communication corresponds to Habermas’ notion of “gleichberechtigte Rede und Gegenrede” – an equal power position of interlocutors in discourse.[25] It raised the hope that “electronic networks may also reduce the gap between public discourse and provisions for involvement in decision making.”[26] The promise of a democratization of communication is justified by the lowered barriers for publication on the Internet, which does not require professional journalistic skills or any approval by editorial gatekeepers, who decide whether a text will be published or not. The Internet can in fact give a voice to the people, provided that these people feature the technical means and skills to go and publish online. Users are thus able to become producers of content on a large scale, although the “producer/user” in the early stage of the Internet development must be distinguished from the second generation of the “consumer/user”, who learned to use the Internet in a more application-oriented way.[27]

The supposed decisive role of technology has led to the well-known discussion in Internet research, whether the technological determination, the technological determinism, or the social and cultural impact, the “cultural constructivism” is actually more significant in influencing social and political developments connected to the Internet.[28] In the early years of Internet history, researchers tended to favour the assumption of technological determinism, in a positive as well as in a negative way. Two powerful and opposed images of the future of communication technology existed. There was the utopian vision of the electronic agora made possible by new technology and implemented through decentralised networks: "…this technology, if properly understood and defended by enough citizens, does have democratizing potential in the way that alphabets and printing presses had democratizing potential."[29] Proponents of a vision of cyberspace as a means to achieve a liberated mankind were contrasted by gloomy visions of omnipresent surveillance, disintegration of privacy through total data transparency, a cyberspace governed by evils like hackers and viruses or the diminishing of real social contacts, turning the user into a computer-addicted nerd. While some of these fears are substantially justified, the vision of a liberated cyberspace at the same time becomes threatened by an increase in governmental control and regulations which were not applied in the early stages of Internet usage. On the other hand, the influence of the cultural adoption of technology gained more importance in theory, i.e. the acknowledgement that people form and use technological means according to their purposes and needs, rather than their social behaviour becoming transformed by technology. But this also means that the Internet does not create democratic conditions ‘automatically’ by the mere existence of a networked structure. Compared to the early stage, the Internet has become more vulnerable to surveillance and technical control. Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer calls the famous Gilmore-quote a myth which is long since outdated and overtaken by the technological development of measures for content control and censorship and by the commercialization and re-centralisation of the Internet infrastructure.[30]

Claus Leggewie stated similarly already in 1998, that the Net is not an ‚auto-evolutionary’ system, which defies legal control or economic, governmental or other steering mechanisms.[31] Here, the problem of content control appears and the interest of - democratic and authoritarian - governments to restrict the dissemination of content they regard as ‘inappropriate’. According to the respective governmental systems, the ‘style’ of Internet policy can vary from a ‘laissez-faire’ policy to strict governmental control or even a sealing-off by firewalls and filtersystems, as is the case of Internet censorship in China.[32] Mark Poster noted that “the question that needs to be asked about the relation of the Internet to democracy is this: are there new kinds of relations occuring within it which suggest new forms of power configurations between communicating individuals?”[33] Is there more citizen empowerment and social movements empowerment or do the ‘old’ existing power relations prevail, the economic power of conglomerates and the political power of national governments?



The concept of the role of media as the „Fourth Estate“ (vierte Säule) of democracy goes back to the development of a free press and the parliamental system in Great Britain in the 19.Century.[34] It basically means that the media (at that time the press) have the function of observing and controlling the actions of politicians and the government by critical reporting and press coverage (watchdog function), thereby informing the critical public and enabling the citizens to judge the integrity and competence of the government and the competing parties in view of, not only, but also, the next elections. This is of course an idealized version of the functioning of democracy that is influenced by a multitude of contraproductive factors, such as commercialization, instrumentalization and the competition inherent in the ‘economy of attention’ (“Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit”).[35] In any case, the media play a crucial role in the building of public opinion, nowadays much more so than at the time when this notion came into being. In a representative parliamental democratic system, the communication between government and citizen gets, due to the national dimension, mostly be transmitted through the media or institutions of the government and civil society. Information duties have been delegated to professionals such as journalists and PR-managers, who have their own selection criteria.[36] As the media are the dominant means to inform citizens about governmental actions, the dependency of democratic systems on the integrity, plurality and balance of media reporting is enormous, and one could ask, where public discourse nowadays actually takes place outside of media environments. At the same time, the public opinion of the population in total is never represented by the media, and the predominantly one-way communication broadcasted by the ‘traditional’ media has led to an imbalance of ‘public opinion input’ and feedback on the citizens’ part. The Internet has radically changed the medial conditions, because it enables dialogue, participation and self-publishing. Whereas the ‘traditional’ media are more suitable for ‘top-down’ communication, the Internet provides a platform for horizontal communication between citizens and numerous feedback channels, featuring also feedback possibilities for the communication between government and citizens.[37] As Sassi states, “the Net public sphere can alternately operate dialogically and hence the environment can actually produce conditions for a public to be born .”[38] At the same time the self-publishing phenomena can become a potential competition to professional journalism. The problem of defining ‘the public’ and ‘the public sphere’ will now be scrutinized a bit more thoroughly.


There is virtually no analysis or exploration of the subject matter “Internet and democracy” without reference to Juergen Habermas’ work “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” (1962)[39]. Although heavily critized, it is still regarded as a milestone within the field of social sciences, which has widely influenced democracy theory and media research.[40] Some of the basic ideas of his complex theory shall be used here in a very simplified and brief form in order to clarify the relation between public sphere, media and the Internet. Secondary literature will be quoted here, as the subject of Internet, media and public sphere has been covered by several up-to-date researchers, who take into consideration the altered conditions of society and media system.[41]

By “the public sphere” Habermas understood a realm in which societal consensus can be reached by the practice of rational discourse between autonomous subjects. His theory was built on an “enlightenment-minded framework”.[42] The bourgeois public sphere played a crucial role for the constitution of democracy and the emergence of the free press as a means of emancipation from the power structures of feudalism, exemplary in the England of the 18. century.[43] The bourgeoisie was strenghtened by its growing economical power and became a considerable force in the formation of the modern democratic state. The “coffee house” or marketplace debates, the modern version of the greek “agora”, provided a place for the free expression of political opinions, which later became institutionalized as parliamentary debates. In his work, Habermas diagnoses a demise of the public sphere in the 20th century, through 1.) commercialization and monopolization of the media (in connection to Adornos / Horkheimers Kulturindustrie thesis) and 2.) the professionalization and manipulation of information through public relations in the field of politics.[44] He reads this development as a refeudalization of the public sphere through commercial and political interests, and predicts an erosion of the public sphere as the basic presupposition and fundament of democracy.

Habermas’ concept was critized to describe the bourgeois public sphere as an ideal of democratic deliberation and achievement of consensus by equal participants, which never really existed in this form in history. A single unified bourgeois public sphere is an abstract notion which necessarily excludes large parts of the society.[45] Two arguments shall be extracted here from criticism and challenging concepts: 1) the exclusion of public spheres, social strata and groups other than the bourgeoisie, 2. ) the neglection of power structures and relations in the practice of discourse. In 1972, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, taking a Marxist approach, developed a theory of a dialectic between the bourgeois public sphere and the proletarian public sphere, claiming that the latter is being suppressed by the bourgeois public sphere, which at the same time maintains its power through ownership, economic power and a prevailing voice in the media.[46] Negt and Kluge hereby coined the concept of an “oppositional public sphere”.[47]

Nancy Fraser criticised Habermas from a feminist point of view for being “gender-blind” and neglecting the existence and importance of counter- and sub-public spheres of disadvantaged groups of society such as workers and women or minorities, such as homosexuals.[48] Many of Habermas’ critics conclude that there exists not ‘one’ public sphere, but rather a fragmentation of the public sphere into a multitude of parallel, sub- and counter public spheres, which represent different, conflicting interests and social groups. There are more as well as less dominant ‘layers’ of major(itarian) and minor publics, and the dominating bourgeois public sphere accounted for what was understood as the mainstream public opinion, necessarily excluding standpoints, lifestyles and subcultures that do not conform with the prevailing public opinion. A holistic, all-embracing public sphere would include “…several spheres of counter publics that have been excluded from mainstream political discourse .”[49] But a consensus about the “common good” (Gemeinwohl), the achievement of a ‘common will’ in the whole society is utopian in a reality of multiple public spheres and is rather replaced by an ongoing negotiation between different interest groups and institutions of civil society which ideally leads to some kind of compromise or agreement.[50] John Keane states that:

„The ideal of a unified public sphere and its corresponding vision of a territorially bounded republic of citizens striving to live up to their definition of the public good are obsolete. In their place, figuratively speaking, public life is today subject to ‘refeudalization’, not in the sense in which Habermas (…) used the term, but in the different sense of the development of a complex mosaic of differently sized, overlapping and interconnected public spheres that force us radically to revise our understanding of public life and its ‘partner’ terms such as public opinion, the public good and the public/private distinction.”[51]

Habermas has made an important dinstinction between the realms of politics, the economy and civil society. He “…stresses the importance of a vital and functioning Öffentlichkeit, a sphere of critical publicity distinct from the state and the economy, consisting of a broad range of organisations that represent public opinion and interest groups, […] as a conditio sine qua non for a pluralist democratic debate in an open society that is not entirely dominated by the mass media.”[52] He separated the ideal public discourse from the mass media, because they distort and manipulate information and are dominated by advertising and commercial interests.[53] The media system belongs to the economy, whereas political institutions use professional Public Relation (PR) agencies to spread biassed information that follows certain political interests with the goal of e.g. winning the next elections. Webster, in reference to Habermas, characterizes PR as following: „[…] what public relation does, in entering public debate, is to disguise the interests it represents (cloaking them in appeals such as ‘public welfare’ and the ‘national interest’), thus making contemporary debate a ‘faked version’ (Habermas 1989: 195) of a genuine public sphere. […] public affairs become occasions for ‘displays’ of the powers that be, […] rather than spheres of contestation between different policies and outlooks.”[54]

Habermas himself has criticized the restriction of the bourgeois public sphere to certain societal circles and judged the media as a means to generate a pseudo-consensus, thereby substituting a critical public, or the public sphere of ‘real’ places of public discourse altogether. To put it differently, the place of public discourse has been shifted to the media (with an emphasis on broadcasting), where it became subject to capitalist interests, the manipulation of information and ‘molding’ of opinion. In consequence, there is a difference between opinion published by the media and public opinion – ‘published opinion’ aims to influence public opinion, whereas public opinion never fully becomes represented in the media.[55] But whereas the traditional media reduced the role of the population merely to spectators (“Zuschauerdemokratie”[56]), the Internet opens up the possibility for the masses to express themselves and communicate dialogically. With the advent of the Internet as a medium not controlled by professional media gatekeepers, the vision of the possibility of a virtual public sphere uncontrolled by any political or economic power, emerged and “…methods of accessing and disseminating information have been fundamentally changed, with profound implications for individuals, civil society and governments.”[57] One could say that the public sphere becomes extended by the virtual space of the Internet, and that its definition must hence be adjusted contrary to Habermas’ prediction of an extinction of the public sphere by the media.[58] The characteristics of this ‘virtual’ part of the public sphere must therefore be investigated to see if it is radically different from the ‘traditional’ media. Regarding the terminology, a distinction between ‘public sphere’ and ‘public space’ could be discussed, as Papacharissi does – the Internet provides a public space for political discussion and exchange of ideas and opinions, but only becomes a public sphere when these discussions and expressions actually lead to an enhancement of democracy.[59]


The research about the concept of public sphere and the Internet evolves around a variety of questions, such as:

- Whether the Internet as a public sphere is able to (figuratively) replace the ancient Greek agora, the medieval market place or the 18-century coffee-house as a place of public discussion, and thereby can strengthen existing democracies or democratic tendencies
- the role of the Internet as a transmitter between citizens and government (e-democracy)
- the role of the Internet as an alternative medium, a means for citizen empowerment and social movements empowerment
- the Internet as a platform for the formation of digital subcultures
- how does technology influence the form of discourse?
- which power structures take effect inside this virtual public sphere (for example, through economical hegemony of global media conglomerates or through power structures in social relations in discussion forums)
- what are the effects of the Internet as a public sphere on social structures in the real world?

Definitely, not all of these questions can be discussed here, but a choice of aspects commonly related to the Internet as a public sphere, subsumed under different headlines concerning the keywords transnationalism, fragmentation, digital divide, private and public, plurality, participation, citizen empowerment, e-democracy and social movements shall be investigated in the following subchapters.

2.3.1. Transnationalism, Fragmentation, Access and Exclusion

According to Plake / Jansen / Schumacher, the public sphere can be defined in reference to events (of public interest), to communication (which takes place publicly) and to (public) places.[61] The first and most obvious capacity of the Net, its transnational reach, leads to the fact that the public sphere becomes independent from place and thus from geographic entities such as nation. It creates an own virtual space and opens the possibility for the becoming of a multiplicity of publics in which the public sphere confined to a nation state, if it ever existed in this form, falls into numerous fragments, corresponding to a multitude of interest groups. Reams of newsgroups and discussion forums exist for an infinite number of subjects. Since the content comes unfiltered and unselected by any gatekeepers, the user has to separate the wheat from the chaff, and there is a lot of ‘chaff’ on the Internet. The Net seems to enforce the fragmentation of the public sphere and on the other hand, its transnational character makes a ‘global public sphere’ possible, at least in theory.[62] Keane differentiates between micro- , meso- and macro-public spheres, according to their dimension and the number of people involved. His indicator still is the nation state, but on the macro-level, theoretically millions of people could be enmeshed in disputes at the supranational level.[63] Sassi asks “…whether the notion of a global public or global public sphere is itself an anomaly, because it would have to include all of humanity.”[64] In regards to the digital divide it first of all exclude s all people that have no access to the Internet, which is still the large majority of the global population.[65] Restricted online access can turn the Internet users into an elitarian fraction of the population, and some Internet researchers ask whether this resembles the concept of an elitarian bourgeois public sphere.[66] Although the Net population is definitely composed much more diversely, one fact applied to many countries where Internet penetration is yet marginally developed: that „those who would benefit the most from the democratizing potential of new technology do not have access to it.“[67][60]

2.3.2. Blogs and the Blurring of Private and Public Sphere

Another development which takes place on the Internet is the distinction between the private and the public sphere becoming increasingly blurred, for example through the widespread description of private matters in public, personal weblogs.[68] A large part of Net communication initiated by private persons is now happening in blogs, another large part in forums. Newsgroups, the most popular form of discussion threads from the early years of the Internet, still exist, but their number is on the decline in favor of blogs which also have embedded discussion features. The infiltration of the public by the private already took effect in the traditional media, especially TV, with the presentation of private matters, such as exposing individuals’ sex-life in talkshows, but never before was it possible to this extent to publish the most intimate details to a potential global audience of millions of people (and the exponentially rising number of blogs give evidence of their enormous popularity).[69] By making issues public that formerly belonged to privacy, the boundaries between private and public issues have become transformed and as a consequence, privacy extends into the public sphere.

The German researcher Jan Schmidt has worked out a comprehensive survey about German blogs,[70] on the basis of which he could extract shifts and changes in the public sphere through the copious appearance of weblogs. He differentiates between the public sphere of mass media, specialized parts of the public sphere (though not counter- or sub-, as they do not necessarily have a politically motivated background) and the ‘personal public sphere’, which he relates to the majority of blogs with private content.[71] The personal public sphere, which could also be named the ‘private public sphere’ indicates a shift in the understanding of ‘the public’. Many people who open a blog do not intend to reach a global audience, but only a (larger or smaller) circle of friends and online acquaintances. These blogs are public, although they are (more or less) meant to be private, in view of their content.[72] The global accessibility of the blogs does not play a decisive role as the large majority of them is only known to a tiny fraction of Internet users, and remain “invisible” as long as they are not popular. Only few blogs gain a big popularity due to selection mechanisms like ranking, linking, recommendations by listings on so-called ‘blogrolls’ - the “word-of-mouth” of the Internet.[73] These mechanisms of ‘network wisdom’ of new social networks add to and replace the gatekeeper mechanisms of the traditional mass media. The public sphere of the mass media, the ‘blogosphere’ and other web communities which can be summarized under the term “web 2.0”, observe and influence each other. There is an interchanging agenda-setting – topics from the mass media are taken up and commented in blogs, journalists observe and publish in blogs themselves and take up topics into the mass media. Schmidt concludes that the ‘personal public spheres’ transform the traditional notion of the borderlines of the private sphere and that “public” no longer necessarily means “relevant to the public”, because information is publicized too which might only be of interest to a few people.[74]

2.3.3. Politicization

The traditionally stable entities of private sphere and public sphere became permeable even before the advent of the Internet, but the Internet makes it a lot easier for groups and individuals to publish their concerns to an infinite, even though splintered audience.[75] Blogs and other web media do not tangent the sphere of politics as long as their subjects remain purely private, but their content can become highly political if delicate topics or scandals are made public (for instance the homosexuality of a prominent person in a society where homosexuality is regarded as abnormal). The publication can lead to either a increase or decrease of discrimination, but can be an important means for minorities to uncover discriminating practices and to make abuses or political scandals public as a first step of resistance. Nancy Fraser is of the opinion that “there are no naturally given, a priori boundaries between the public and the private domains.”[76] She refers to the right of minorities to express their views in counterpublic spheres, which can be a necessity for the recognition of difference, of ‘otherness’. Sassi, in reference to Fraser, phrases it like this: “Democratic publicity requires positive guarantees of opportunities for minorities to convince others that what was not public in the past should be so now.”[77] Papacharissi states that “this vision of the true virtual sphere consists of several spheres of counterpublics that have been excluded from mainstream political discourse […].”[78] According to Plake / Jansen / Schuhmacher, a counter public is constituted when there is doubt that the official media fulfil their information mandate sufficiently and conscientiously - the omissions, blind spots or deficiencies in media coverage leave out topics which then are taken up by alternative media.[79]

2.3.4. Plurality of Opinions, Power Relations in Online Forums

“Liberty resides in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious.”

John Stuart Mill

The Internet provides a platform for the expression of a plurality of opinions, which can basically be seen as a quality fostering democratic conditions and enabling the flourishing of democratic systems, but at the same time it can threaten liberal principles by the dissemination of extremist ideas and fundamentalist ideologies, that equally make use of the right to freedom of speech while promoting contradicting ideals: “While sites that openly advocate discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity [ or religion or gender ] exercise the right to free speech, they certainly do not promote democratic ideals of equality.”[80] This is one of the basic problems of free speech expression on the Internet, that forces democratic governments to protect their societies by restrictions of the freedom of speech – for example the prohibition of neo national-socialist extremist websites in Germany - but the Internet lifts the problem onto an international level. Furthermore, the possibility to communicate internationally does not necessarily mean, that it automatically fosters mutual intercultural understanding. On the contrary, national and cultural communities of Internet users develop, which communicate in their own language and built their own cultural sphere on the Net, especially if they communicate in their own script, which is the case, for example, in Japan, China, Russia or in Arabic countries.[81]

Another aspect is working against the assumption that discourse in online communication is practiced in an equal manner and with basic-democratic ideals: Previous research has revealed that newsgroups and forums were often dominated by a few participants, that “online discussions, much like real life ones, seemed to be dominated by elites and were unable to influence public policy formation”.[82] This means that power structures which are present in many real-life face-to-face-discussions, also take effect in online discussions – there are a few dominant speakers, more or less participating people and probably a silent majority of “lurkers”, who only read blogs and forums without taking part in the discussion.[83] Steven Schneider carried out an empirical study of newsgroups discussions in 1997 and, based on Habermas’ concept of discourse free of domination (herrschaftsfreier Diskurs), identified four dimensions of an ideal public sphere: equality, diversity, reciprocity and quality. Schneider used these dimensions as criteria to measure the quality of discourse in newsgroup discussions. Although the ideal of equal discourse is difficult to achieve, he came to the general conclusion “that newsgroups have much potential for contributing to the idealized version of the public sphere.”[84]

2.3.5. E-Democracy, Participation, Social Movements and Grassroots Movements

Regarding the relation between government and citizen, different flows of communication can be distinguished: communication between governmental authorities and citizens (top-down and bottom-up) and communication among citizens (horizontal communication), which represents the larger part of these two communication flows on the Internet. Claus Leggewie calls the communication among citizens “Subpolitik”, referring to a public sphere which lies ‘under’ the mediated communication of official politics, but nevertheless influences it .[85] According to Tsagarousianou, „new technologies clearly have the potential to sustain such spaces as they enable both deliberation (citizen to citizen communication) and ‚hearing’ (citizen to authorities communication).”[86]

The efforts to enable a greater citizen participation in democratic systems through Internet communication can be subsumed under the term “e-democracy”, which deals with a large range of topics, such as e-government, e-voting, polling, information freedom, online access to official documents, feedback possibilities, electronic plebiscites etc.;[87] The participation of citizens in parliamental and presidential democratic systems is often limited to voting, which leads to an increasing discontentment and disenchantment with politics in Western democracies. The crucial point for the enhancement of a ‘grassroots’ democracy is the possibility to participate in decision making beyond mere voting, but this would presuppose first of all a change in the structures of the political system, because in a parliamentary democracy possibilities for participation in decision making are limited. The Internet was attributed with the hope to be able to provide conditions for a wider citizen participation, but new technological inventions alone do not change the system, they provide only the means for it. As Papacharissi states: „Despite the fact that the Internet provides additional space for political discussion, it is still plagued by the inadequacies of our political system.”[88] Opinions can be expressed freely, but:

„The power of the words and their ability to effect change, however, is limited in the current political spectrum. In a political system where the role of the public is limited, the effect of these online opinions on policy making is questionable. To take this point further, political expression online may leave people with a false sense of empowerment, which misrepresents the true impact of their opinions.”[89]

To reformulate and sharpen this argument, one could say that in the worst case online activism is merely a substitute for ‘genuine’ civic engagement, which only has effect if it leads to real action in the offline world. Besides these innovations that came about with the promise of improving citizen partizipation, there is another subject field regarding democracy and citizen empowerment: the social movements and grassroots-movements, which fight for the enhancement of democratic conditions from ‘below’ and sometimes from outside the official political system. For them, the Internet is a means to organize political action, protest campaigns and ‘online demonstrations’. There are “purely virtual” forms of protest, so-called net-strikes, e-campaigns and online-demonstrations - Armin Medosch describes protest actions on the Net that gained some popularity in the past, such as the “Electronic Civil Disobedience” – actions of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre (EDT) in the 1990’s, the “Electrohippies” in Great Britain or an online-demonstration against the deportation of refugees carried out by Lufthansa (airplanes) in Germany in 2001.[90]


[1] “Freedom of Speech” and “free speech” will in the following be used synonymously.

[2] A detailed description of the technical development can be found in “A Brief History of the Internet” by Vinton Cerf, Jon Postel and others; The Internet Society, http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml (06.01.2007)

[3] Castells (2005 : 20f), Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpanet#Software_and_protocol_development (06.01.2006)

[4] as cited by Barlow (2000). Gilmore himself has commented the phrase on his homepage www.toad.com/gnu, saying that: “I was quoted in Time Magazine in about December, 1993 as saying something very close to this ("a defect" rather than "damage"). It's been reprinted hundreds or thousands of times since then, including the NY Times on January 15, 1996, Scientific American of October 2000, and CACM 39(7):13. In its original form, it meant that the Usenet software (which moves messages around in newsgroups) was resistant to censorship because if a node drops certain messages because it doesn't like their subject, the messages find their way past that node anyway by some other route. This is also a reference to the packet-routing protocols that the Internet uses to direct packets around any broken wires or fiber connections or routers. (They don't redirect around selective censorship, but they do recover if an entire node is shut down to censor it.)” (last visit 06.01.2007).

cp. also Lorenz-Meyer (2003 : 309)

[5] Notably Vinton Cerf, Steve Crocker and John Postel, et. al. Castells, ibid.

[6] Castells (2005), p. 27: „Das Internet wurde vor allem an der unwahrscheinlichen Schnittstelle zwischen Big Science, militärischer Forschung und einer libertären Kultur geboren. Große Universitäten und Denkfabriken mit Verbindungen zum Militär waren entscheidende Bereiche, wo diese drei Quellen des Internet zusammentrafen.“

[7] cp. Castells (2005)

[8] „Open source“ means basically an openly accessible source code of the program/software, which can be altered by anyone who has the knowledge to improve it. Stallman coined the term copyleft in opposition to the copyright claims which later became so economically crucial in case of Microsoft. Stallman developed the alternative operating system GNU. Linus Thorvalds built on UNIX the open source operating system LINUX in 1991.

[9] Castells (2005 : 21f)

[10] Berners-Lee worked at the time at the CERN research institute in Geneva, Switzerland

[11] Castells writes „libertarian“, and explains the difference between the American and the European understanding and tradition of the term. I hesitate to use it here generally, because it can also have an ‘anarchistic-libertarian’ connotation, which applies to some of the Internet pioneers, such as Stallman, but not to all of them (e.g. not to Cerf). – cp. Castells (2005), p. 27 and 35.

[12] cp. Castells (2005 : 181)

[13] ibid., p. 38f – re-translated from the German edition

[14] backbone = technical backbone of the network, built by stable servers, routers and providers

[15] Castells (2001 : 169)

[16] The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ACLU vs. Reno Decision,

http://www.eff.org//Censorship/Internet_censorship_bills/960612_aclu_v_reno.decision (08.01.2006)

[17] The ACLU, a non-governmental organisation fighting for civil liberties, was founded in 1920.

[18] The text begins with : “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” http://homes.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html (06.01.2007)

[19] „Regardless of Frontiers“ - Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet; http://www.gilc.org/speech/report , also available at the Center for Democracy and Technology http://www.cdt.org/gilc/report.html (09.02.2007); A list of contributors is included at the end of the report. Among them are Human Rights Watch, The Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) and many others.

[20] as cited by H. M. Enzensberger (1970)

[21] „Jeder Empfänger ein potentieller Sender“. cp. Dorer (1999), Jankowski / Van Selm (2000)

[22] Bertolt Brecht: Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat; Rede über die Funktion des Rundfunks (1932).

[23] „Die neuen Medien sind ihrer Struktur nach egalitär.“ „Der Gegensatz zwischen Produzenten und Konsumenten ist den elektronischen Medien nicht inhärent.“ Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien (1970)

[24] Jankowski / Van Selm (2000)

[25] „Geht man davon aus, dass die Entwicklung neuer Medientechnologien Einfluß auf die Entwicklung des öffentlichen Diskurses nimmt, so ist zu fragen, ob und wie das Internet als neuartige Technologie zu einer Veränderung des öffentlichen Diskurses beiträgt. Denn wie kaum ein anderes Medium ist das Internet als Kommunikationstechnologie und Kommunikationstechnik – in Form einer gegenseitigen Rede und Antwort, in der Diktion von Habermas als „gleichberechtigte Rede und Gegenrede“ bezeichnet – mit der Vorstellung und dem Versprechen einer allgemeinen Demokratisierung der öffentlichen Kommunikation angetreten.“ Dorer (1999)

[26] Jankowski / van Selm (2000) p. 150, ref. to Brants et. al.

[27] This terminology is deployed by Manuel Castells to distinguish the technology-versed ‘user-developer’ from the average Internet user, the ‘mass audience’ of the Internet. cp. Castells (2005 : 47)

[28] cp. Schmidt / Teubener: “Our RuNet?” (2006a – Ref. Part 2). Cultural constructivism is characterized by a greater autonomy of the subject, the possibility of choice and self-determination (agency). Cp. also Ewert / Fazlic / Kollbeck (2003), who contrast technological determinism with ‘technological indifference’. (p. 231f)

[29] Rheingold (1993); Cited from the online version of his book “Virtual Communities”, Chapter Ten:

http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/10.html (20.01.2007)

[30] Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer: Die Zensur als technischer Defekt. Der Gilmore Mythos (2003); For example, by the fact that central nodes (servers and routers) of the network structure are owned by large telecommunication companies. Cp. also Barlow (2000): “More than 80 percent of all of the routers in the world are made by Cisco Systems. Nearly half of all the servers on the Internet run Microsoft NT. A very high percentage of all packets travel through networks owned by WorldCom/MCI or AT&T. […] Any one of those companies is now in a position to unilaterally redefine the underlying elements of Internet architecture to its own commercial advantage.”

[31] „Anders als die forsch vorgetragenen „Unabhängigkeitserklärungen“ libertärer Netz-Propagandisten und verzagte Ohnmachtsbekundungen von Politikern suggerieren, entzieht sich das Netz keineswegs der Regulierung; es ist kein auto-evolutionäres System, das sich Gesetz, Geld und guter Worte, also den üblichen Steuerungsmechanismen prinzipiell entzieht.“ Leggewie (1998), p. 21

[32] „Nach dem jeweiligen Ausmaß der vorbehaltenen staatlichen Aufsicht über die Entwicklung der Netze lassen sich Stile der Technologiepolitik in demokratischen und semi-demokratischen Systemen typologisieren. Sie reichen von autoritäten Kontrollen und „Brandmauern“ (…) bis zu einer vor allem in den USA praktizierten Laissez-faire-Politik.“ Leggewie (1998), p.22

[33] Poster (1995)

[34] Requate (2003)

[35] The term and concept of „Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit“ goes back to Georg Franck and his homonymous book (1998).

[36] cp. Plake / Jansen / Schuhmacher (2001 : 23)

[37] Leggewie calls the horizontal communication among the people „Subpolitik“. Leggewie (1998); Ewert, Fazlic, Kollbeck (2003) discuss the problem of communication between government and citizen, democratic legitimation and representation in the media in depth. p. 229ff

[38] Sassi (2000), p. 95

[39] Subtitle: “An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society”. Habermas’ book was translated into English not until 1989, and only from then it became widely known to the Anglo-American scientific community. Sassi, ref. to Peters, discusses the ambiguity of the term „Öffentlichkeit“ when translated into English, where it is possible to differentiate between ‘public’, ‘publicity’ and ‘public sphere’. (In short: ‘Publicity’: the condition of being public; ‘The public’: "a sociological aggregate of readers, viewers or citizens, that excludes no one a priori and is endowed with key political and critical powers.”) However, ‘public sphere’ is the commonly acknowledged translation of the term in the Habermasian sense. (Sassi, 2000)

[40] Habermas belongs to the “second generation” of the Frankfurt School, but if his theory also belongs to critical theory, was challenged. Cp. Roger Behrens, Kritische Theorie (2002)

[41] Habermas himself has later made critical comments on the original work, for example “Further reflections on the Public Sphere”, in: Calhoun (Ed.) 1992; Preface of the new edition (1990), Suhrkamp Verlag; However, these reflections yet did not take into consideration the new medium Internet. A recent treatment for a current approach of the public sphere and the media including the Internet can be found in Habermas’ speech at the ICA conference, Dresden 2006. The speech is available as an audiofile on the site of the International Communication Association: http://www.icahdq.org/conferences/pastfutureconferences.asp (20.01.2007)

[42] Sassi (2000): The transformation of the public sphere

[43] Webster (1995), Keane (2000)

[44] Webster, ibid.

[45] cp. Fraser (1992), Sassi (2000)

[46] Oskar Negt, Alexander Kluge: Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung (1972)

[47] Not coincidentally, this theory was developed just after the period of student protests and the emergence of the APO (Extraparliamentary Opposition) in Germany. Cp. Plake / Jansen Schumacher (2001), p. 24

[48] Fraser (1992)

[49] Papacharissi (2002), ref. here to the virtual sphere and to Fraser (1992).

[50] cp. Sassi (2000); This fundamental problem of democratic decision-making cannot be discussed here extensively. For an introduction in the problem connected with the Internet, see for example Ewert / Fazlic / Kollbeck (2003).

[51] Keane (2000)

[52] Boeder (2002)

[53] cp. Webster (1995)

[54] Webster (1995), p. 103. This is especially interesting in connection with “Political Technology”, a form of political PR in Russia, which will be treated in Part 2.

[55] Tönnies (1922) has specified the difference between published opinion and public opinion in detail. Cp. Sassi: Public Opinion and Democracy; http://www.valt.helsinki.fi/staff/ssassi/thesis/VIII_PUBLIC_OPINION.html (03.01.2007)

[56] cp. Leggewie (1998)

[57] Dempsey, Weitzner: GILC Report (1998)

[58] Habermas himself has of course in the meantime adjusted his view, 44 years after his work was published. Cp. Christian Stöcker: “Jürgen Habermas und die Netz-Nerds”; Spiegel Online, 23.06.2006

[59] Papacharissi (2002), p. 11

[60] Transnationalism „broadly refers to multiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions across the borders of nation-states.“ Webster (Ed.): Culture and Politics in the Information Age (2001), preliminary remark.

[61] cp. Plake / Jansen / Schuhmacher (2001), p. 18f

[62] cp. Plake / Jansen / Schuhmacher (2001 : 146)

[63] Keane (2000); Keane refers here to pre-Internet media, global politics, and the concentration and internationalization on the media market, that led to the building of large, international media corporations.

[64] Sassi (2000), p. 95

[65] The average worldwide Internet penetration was 16,8% (as of December 2006), in the USA the Internet penetration was 70%; Internet World Stats, www.internetworldstats.com (4.1.2007)

[66] cp. Papacharissi (2002)

[67] ibid., as of 2002.

[68] ‘Blogs’ is short for ‘weblogs’. The term “weblog” was coined by the American blogging pioneer Jorn Barger on his first blog “Robot Wisdom” in 1997. Möller (2005 : 115)

[69] The number of blogs worldwide doubles every 5 months; El Ahl u.a.:“Rebellen im Netz”, Der Spiegel Nr. 47 / 2006. “The growth rate of blogs is impressive. Technorati, a search engine that monitors blogs, tracked more than 8 million online diaries as of March 21, [2005] up from 100,000 just two years ago. A new blog is created every 7.4 seconds. That adds up to 12,000 new blogs a day, 275,000 posts a day and 10,800 updates an hour.”

CNET news.com: “The Future of Blogging”; April 5, 2005;

http://news.com.com/The+future+of+blogging/2030-1069_3-5654288.html (20.01.2007)

[70] Jan Schmidt: Weblogs. Eine kommunikationssoziologische Studie. UVK (2006)

[71] I am referring here to documents available on Jan Schmidts homepage www.bamberg-gewinnt.de,

namely the summary and sheets of a presentation he has held about the changes of public spheres on the Internet: www.bamberg-gewinnt.de/wordpress/wp-content/pdf/futuredays_vortrag1.pdf (11.01.2007)

[72] According to Schmidts evaluation, about 76% of German blogs have private content and about 35% political content.

[73] These selection mechanisms can be interpreted as tools that are effective in the “economy of attention”

(Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit).

[74] About the coherence of public sphere and relevance, cp. Plake / Jansen / Schumacher (2001 : 18)

[75] cp. Plake / Jansen / Schumacher (2001 : 72)

[76] Quotation is not from Fraser, but from Sinikka Sassi (2000), p. 93

[77] Sassi (2000), ibid.

[78] Papacharissi (2002), ref. to Fraser; cp. Ch. 2.2

[79] Plake / Jansen / Schuhmacher (2001 : 23ff). They define Gegenöffentlichkeit out of a German context as follows: “’Gegenöffentlichkeit bezeichnet Aktivitäten zur Verbreitung von Informationen und Meinungen, die – von einem medienkritischen Ansatz ausgehend, die Aufmerksamkeit der Bevölkerung auf weitgehend unbeachtete, nichtsdestoweniger für die Allgemeinheit als bedeutsam angesehene Themen zu richten versuchen.“

[80] Papacharissi (2002)

[81] 41% of all blogs are published in Japanese, 28% in English and 14% in Chinese. El Ahl u.a.: “Rebellen im Netz”, Der Spiegel Nr. 47 / 2006

[82] Papacharissi (2002), ref. to Jankowski / van Selm (2000).

[83] The Lurker phenomenon was analysed by Robert Mayer-Uellner: Das Schweigen der Lurker. Politische Partizipation und soziale Kontrolle in Online-Diskussionsforen (2003).

[84] Jankowski / van Selm (2000 : 152ff)

[85] Leggewie (1998)

[86] As cited by Jankowski / van Selm (2000 : 151)

[87] There is a growing body of literature about the development, problems and influence of e-democracy and the effect of the Internet on democratic structures, for example Siedschlag, Rogg u.a.: Digitale Demokratie – Willensbildung und Partizipation per Internet (2002); Martin Emmer: Politische Mobilisierung durch das Internet? (2005)

[88] Papacharissi (2002). She refers here to the governmental system of the USA.

[89] Papacharissi, ibid.

[90] Medosch (2003);

Lufthansa Online-Demonstration am 20.06.2001: http://www.geocities.com/demo4alles/dt/index.html (08.01.2007)


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University of Kassel – Faculty of Journalism, St. Petersburg State University
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Title: Free speech perspectives on the internet - The internet as a public sphere and democratic medium