Week Eight: Transversally

The concept of ‘transparency’ is central to this weeks discussion on politics and new media. Lawrence Lessig (2009) highlights a crucial aspect of this issue, in midst of describing the fervent demands of our ever technologically able society for transparency by our governments and leaders.

“We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse. And I fear that the inevitable success of this movement — if pursued alone, without any sensitivity to the full complexity of the idea of perfect openness — will inspire not reform, but disgust.” (Lessig 2009)

Having grown up on a literary diet of Orwell and Elton, the idea of a dystopian present, where the concealment of information automatically means wrong-doing, was shocking to me. I personally don’t find it to ever be possible, or even sensical, for governments to operate under systems of pure transparency (as described in Lessigs article). To an certain extent, government data available for public consumption will enable a better understanding of what may be within the inner-workings of decisions, making the actions of the government more measurable. On the other hand, public access to everything may induce unnecessary conspiracists, hysteria, and improper use.

The embarrassing result of trial by media was most evident in the recent Boston Maration Bombing instance, whereupon released photos of the scene by the FBI prompted users of social media sharing site ‘Reddit’ to gather their pitchforks and torches in order to locate and identify who they thought the perpetrators to be. Sunil Tripathi was wrongfully accused by mass numbers on the popular social media site, resulting in misdirected threats sent to both his family, and the innocent teen himself.

There remains no doubt, however, that a high level of “transparent, collaborative decision-making is satisfying, even when you don’t get what you want” (Styles, 2009). Perhaps the potential of a more ethical and honest society is on the rise with new media offering alternate streams of truth and information.

Politicians no longer disseminate whatever they want to through mass mediums such as television. The interconnectedness and speed of social media allows for between-the-line messages to be spread, and entire reputations to be shaken within a matter of hours, reducing the governmental power held by political institutions.

Mason writes in his blog for the BBC, “People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news, but on the suppression of narratives and truth. More or less everything you need to now to make sense of the world is available as freely downloadable content on the internet: and it’s not pre-digested for you” (2011).


Lessig, Lawrence (2010) ‘Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government.’, < http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency?page=0,0 >

Mason, Paul (2011) ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere’, Idle Scrawls BBC, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html >

Styles, Catherine (2009) “A Government 2.0 idea – first, make all the functions visible’, < http://catherinestyles.com/2009/06/28/a-government-2-0-idea/ >


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