September 30 2009
9:55 a.m.
The first speaker for the last day of PCIJ’s 20th anniversary conference on Peace, Human Rights, Good Governance: East Asian Democracies at the Crossroads, is Dr. Zhang Weiyu. Dr Zhang teaches new media at the National University of Singapore.

Dr. Zhang began her talk on Pushing Democracy with New Media with a discussion on the new ways of voting. In 2002, Japan and South Korea adopted an e-voting system where voters used touchscreen terminals in order to cast their vote. It was hoped that the speed of casting ballots would encourage higher voter turnout. Unfortunately, studies in Japan failed to show any significant increase in voter turnout with the new technology.

On the other hand, the use of e-voting has also spurred discussions on other ways of making it easier for voters to cast their ballot. For example, election officials in other countries are now looking at the next level in electronic voting, which is i-voting or internet voting using any terminal connected to the web. Pushing the envelope further is a proposal to enable voting using mobile phones.

The Philippines of course is set to implement its first nationwide automated elections in 2010. However there are significant differences between the experiences of Japan and South Korea with the automated elections in the Philippines next year. To begin with, the Philippines will still use paper ballots that will be counted by an optical scanner, instead of a touchscreen terminal.

Dr. Zhang then discussed the different kinds of cyberactivism, some of which would sound unfamiliar and quite surprising for the uninitiated. For example, the Chinese government has set up an “anti-CNN” website to counter what it calls a pro-western and anti-chinese government bias by the media. In this site, the chinese government publishes stories and posts photos and vidoes that tend to show that the western media is distorting the news on China.

In addition, Dr. Zhang revealed the existence of 50cent activists, who are ordinary people allegedly recruited by the Chinese government to post positive things about the Chinese government. They are called 50cent cyberactivists because they are paid 50 cents per post by the Chinese government.

In the discussion on how the internet is shaping public opinion, Dr. Zhang presented several issues:
1. Information overload: there are hundreds of blogs on everything from fashion to furry creatures to politics to pajama parties. The deluge of information is so overwhelming that there is a danger that because of too much information, a person can end up being uninformed.

2. Lack of Credibility: credibility and formal training and credentials have always been a touchy issue on the net. Does professional training result in a better informed public?

3. The Digital Divide – is it possible that online activists are actually “capitalists” because they have the technology and the knowhow?

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