What's not to 'like' about the virtual agora? Social media and mechanisms of the digital divide in the context of urban planning and e-democracy in Poland
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The rise of the social media has been hailed as a new opening for participatory and democratic processes. We would argue that socio-economic implications of the use of media in this context are of importance but cannot be overcome by information and communications technology (ICT) alone. Therefore we propose a reassessment of the the issue of the digital divide. It should not be associated solely with the lack of access to the technology or limited digital literacy. As much as urban politics is concerned, the ability to use ICT effectively for achieving political objectives through social discourse becomes a more significant issue. If social network services (SNS) can be understood as extension of real life social linkages, it can be assumed that the exclusionary mechanisms will be also at work. The use of technology, which gives a certain degree of anonymity can also be counterproductive in processes that require direct mediation. Conversely, web-based tools, when used properly, can support access to information or social interaction that is necessary for individuals to become effectively involved in urban debates. Our case study analysis of postsocialist Poland, where processes of democratization of urban decision-making are still maturing and social exclusion is pronounced, is focused on the use of SNS by urban activists dealing with sustainable urban development and promoting participatory governance.
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