Of all the gifts the internet has given humanity, one of the most important has been providing a platform where everyone can engage in civic discord and air their opinions concerning policy-making. With the advent of the internet, social media, and other virtual forums, civic engagement is being redefined as people gradually move away from traditional approaches to politics (Mitchell, 2021). The ease of access to social media platforms and the means of communication in the digital space allow for people’s unified actions without the limits of distance, arrangement difficulties, and other obstacles. Since virtual reality has solidified in human everyday life activities, its role in the forming of policies is inevitable. Consequently, the process of policy-making becomes more dynamic in comparison to traditional approaches, thus making civic engagement more active, influential, and decisive. This paper will summarize and respond to the article by Royer (2021) to opine the role of virtual reality in policy-making in the contemporary digitalized world. Digital platforms are currently redefining civic engagement due to their facilitation of political participation, which influences political decision-making processes.
Recently published research and opinion papers are significantly concerned with the emerging phenomenon of virtual reality and how it shapes human life, including social and political domains. The article at the center of discussion in this paper is Kiara Royer’s (2021) article titled “Virtual Politics,” which was published in MIT Technology Review. In this publication, the author claims that with the advancement of online space and people’s use of it as a platform for political discourse, policy-making is inevitably shaped by the online community’s opinion. Moreover, the inclusion of future generations in the decision-making process is a transformative characteristic of politics that becomes a virtual phenomenon. The author of the article refers to her personal experience with creating an online petition at the time of Capitol protests to make a more general argument on the power of digital platforms in policy-making. Indeed, calling this phenomenon virtual politics, Royer (2021) identifies such characteristics as intensified civic engagement, social involvement, and young generations’ voice in the decision impacting the future. The discussion of these issues and the criticism of the article are provided in the consecutive parts of the paper.
Digital Platforms Contributing to Political Processes
As contemporary political agents in their own right, digital platforms offer users much quicker access to developments in political processes than traditional media. Indeed, traditionally, people accessed political news from local newspapers, national news magazines, or national television networks. Through such conventional means of information exchange, the opinions were shared at a slower pace without the opportunity for people to express their opinions fast. Moreover, the chances to be heard were low due to the diminished power of influence allocated to citizens through traditional means. However, today, people can track political developments and engage with them accordingly almost instantaneously using digital platforms. Indeed, politicians also use this tendency to influence people’s voting and political opinions while monitoring and analyzing people’s moods expressed online. They state that they “are engaging voters where they consume their news, talking about what we’re fighting for” (Bernstein & Brice, 2020, para. 11). In such a manner, a greater population has an opportunity to express their opinions and be heard. This access allows for contributions from everyone, regardless of how great or how little their actual knowledge or understanding of political issues.
Young People’s Engagement in Politics
Many political and nonprofit groups are recruiting more young people online to play significant roles in their organizations. Indeed, while people under 18 do not have the right to vote and express their political opinion through access to online platforms (Royer, 2021). In any other circumstance, without access to digital means, the opinion of two young individuals would not be valid or even taken into consideration by decision-makers at a national level. However, the inclusion of young people in political and nonprofit organizations gives them a platform to air their political opinions. For example, the project CrowdLaw gives young people opportunities to engage in the legislative process using technology (Royer, 2021). In such a manner, young people who represent the generation of future political decision-makers obtain an invaluable opportunity to build a society in which they want to live. Indeed, the remote working induced by the COVID-19 social isolation helped politicians “find new ways to reach young voters” through social media and other online platforms (Bernstein & Brice, 2020, para. 1). Thus, the engagement of young people in civic engagement can help bring forth relevant solutions to real-life problems.
Misinformation in the Digital Space as the Drawback of the Emerging Virtual Politics
The biggest challenge of using digital platforms for civic engagement is the risk of misinformation. The unregulated nature of digital platforms makes it easy for people with sinister intentions to spread misinformation. Indeed, the viral nature of content sharing online might serve an adverse purpose of pursuing the interests of political groups with negative intentions (Bernstein & Brice, 2020). Digital platform users may be biased towards information that confirms what they want to believe or feeds their anger or conspiracy-theory vulnerabilities (Mitchell, 2021). One of the examples of such an adverse power of virtual politics is the role online platforms played in the dissemination of anger posts by Trump’s administration that yielded social unrest on the basis of race and borders (Mitchell, 2021). Since online platforms have no defined censorship, the content cannot be accurately checked for its truthfulness, which imposes a high level of risk of misinformation and bias. Thus, misinformation may result in significant societal divisions along the lines of politics, race, culture, and religion.
Digital platforms are predisposed to redefining the essence of civic engagement since they accelerate the political participation of diverse demographics, which ultimately shapes political decision-making processes at a state and federal level. With the advent of the internet, people no longer have to write letters to editors – that might or might not be printed – whenever they want to speak out about political issues that affect them. Social media and other virtual forums allow citizens to publish their opinions directly to the internet and receive feedback or criticism almost instantaneously from other users. The ease and freedom of opinion-sharing help more individuals influence the ultimate political decision-making. Moreover, since technological advent appeals to younger generations, the opinions of youth on politics and their civic engagement are reinforced, which might not be achieved under traditional means. However, virtual politics impose a risk of misinformation that might be used by some political forces to pursue their biased interests. Nonetheless, the power of digital platforms is significant, and their influence on the future of politics is inevitable.
Bernstein, S., & Brice, M. (2020). Kept home by COVID-19, U.S. politics goes virtual with digital dance parties and avatars. Reuters. Web.
Mitchell, C. L. (2021). Virtual political reality’s dilemmas in creating political persona unconnected to antecedent imagination about politics. In 2021 Virtual International Political Science Association 26th World Congress., 12(4), 341–343.
Royer, K. (2021). Virtual politics. MIT Technology Review, 124(4), 20-21.