provided or used and to or by whom is important. Whereas a government offering information on a proposed law and providing a venue for citizen input is seen as a positive impact on democratization, an authoritarian government providing or “bombarding” the public with false information or propaganda designed to further its own aims would be considered a negative impact.

Comparably, the development of civil society involves the development of a network of noncommercial, nongovernmental organizations, with memberships of informed and active people, that are able to articulate the positions of their members to the public at large, to elites, and to the various branches of government. Surveys of informed persons could be used to obtain data on whether the Internet's impacts are perceived as beneficial or detrimental and on the magnitude of the impacts of the Internet on direct communication between government and citizens, media-intermediated contact between citizens and government, and on the role of civil society organizations in promoting public awareness and participation in government decisionmaking.32

The Internet is a critical element of an information and communications revolution that is likely to prompt profound changes in interpersonal, intergroup, and interinstitutional relationships in Africa. Whether the overall impacts of the Internet are to stabilize or destabilize governance, to increase participation or to support coercive efforts, will be crucially important. Yet the complexity of the network of effects of the Internet on society and the ramifications of these effects through policies and institutions are extraordinarily complex. Ultimate judgments may have to be made about the impacts of the Internet, and these without doubt will be made by the population, using qualitative techniques. Such would be the ultimate indicator of the impacts of the Internet on democratization and civil society.

32  

One such survey that the committee is aware of is being carried out by the University of California, Santa Barbara, under its Government and Politics on the Net Project.



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