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open to supporters is also open to the opposition. It is even possible to listen in on discussion groups hosted by opposing candidates or interest groups—a new twist on focus group research.

Teledemocracy and Control

In the 1992 election campaign, Ross Perot proposed the use of technology to support electronic town meetings at the national level, with instant plebiscites on a multitude of issues. This concept of the virtual town hall of "teledemocracy" did not die with Perot's presidential hopes. Similar ideas of varying degree have recently been endorsed by opinion leaders, most notably representative Gingrich. But the impact of a virtual polity may go too far, according to many critics who fear that such immediacy will overwhelm the point and purpose of representative government.

For some, the control of the networked interactive media infrastructure is an important issue for democracy. Where there is control of distribution, there is control of content and therefore opinion that is represented. The openness of the Internet has quashed early fears about freedom of speech and access in the new media. But as major content and transport providers begin to position themselves as major players in networked interactive media, concern swells.

However, the interactivity of the new media, the proliferation of competitive service providers, and consumer demand for diversity of content will limit the influence or manipulative power of any one service provider. Competition for consumer attention, in fact, should intensity efforts to identify and cater to specific audiences. In such an environment, content can more easily reflect the views of participating consumers than in the past.


On regulation and enforcement, we recommend the following: Pure voluntary self-regulation by information collectors and users is a good start, but it can and should be supplemented by government standards to ensure that "bad actors" are dealt with appropriately and that privacy, access, and democratic standards are defined and protected. Consumers face a confusing patchwork of self-administered approaches that vary by state, industry, and company or service provider. Many examples of abuse have already surfaced. Legislation should set minimum standards along the lines suggested here. A joint industry-consumer panel should enforce the standards, educate and consult, and provide dispute resolution services. Disputes that cannot be resolved through this voluntary mechanism should be referred to the courts.

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