Talking Politics on the Net

By Sara Bentivegna

A paper by Sara Bentivegna, fall 1997 fellow, examines the concept of the public sphere within computer mediated communication. The particular focus is on communication produced by citizens who take part in news groups of a political nature. These news groups consist of people who discuss, via computer, relevant events of political life. Particularly active during electoral campaigns, news groups have over time acquired a stability and an identity independent from that of the party and/or candidates sites from which they originated. The persistence of interest in discussing politics with other citizens even in the absence of exceptional events (like campaigns) constitutes a primary characteristic for such groups, which might be their most significant innovation. It is possible to consider the virtual space created by such groups as a modern translation of the Athenian agora. Bentivegna finds that the agora-like elements that best characterize the news groups are: 1. equality among members, 2. reference to personal experience, 3. reworking of the information provided by the traditional media. The coming together of these three elements makes it possible that the news group can be ideally placed in a space which gradually shifts from daily life into the world created by the media, with the constant aim of interpreting and debating questions of public relevance.

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