Civil Society, the Public Sphere

and the Internet



Rory O’Brien


Course: LIS3725Y

Professor: Andrew Clement

Date: February 25, 1999




This paper examines the idea of civil society as a social entity comprised primarily of non-governmental organizations, set in opposition to both government and the corporate sectors. The role of the public sphere as a forum for debate and information sharing is discussed, and a disturbing decline in civic engagement is explained by the increasing influence of corporate consumerism promoted through the medium of television. The potential for the Internet to function as a renewed public sphere is illustrated by four local and global instances of citizens networking online around social issues. Finally, a case is made that civil society focus its attention on the corporate sector, and that the Internet be used more to support the work of shareholder activists as they seek to improve corporate social responsibility.


Table of Contents


Introduction *

Development of the Idea of Civil Society *

Civil Society As The Third Way *

The Public Sphere *

Decline in Civic Engagement *

The Internet and Public Discourse *

Local public spheres *

Citizens for Local Democracy *

The New Media Forum - the CRTC's online public consultation *

Global public spheres *

The APC *

The Zapatista Movement *

A Need to Focus on Corporate Accountability *

Conclusion *

Works Cited *


"Whenever . . . any number of men so unite into one society as to quit everyone his executive power of the Law of Nature, and to resign it to the public, there and there only is a political or civil society. And this is done whenever any number of men, in a state of Nature, enter into society to make one people one body politic under one supreme government. . . . This puts men out of the state of Nature into that of commonwealth." (John Locke, Second Treatise)



As the population of humans on the planet continues to grow, with the majority of us choosing to live in cities and towns in close proximity to one another, it is a wonder that we are as tolerant and co-operative in our interactions as we are. The willingness to be considerate of other people as we pursue our own individual ends is the basis for a civil society. But there are signs that the increasing power of large corporations to promote individual ends based on the purchase of material goods and services is reducing our ability to respond to collective needs, particularly those that are not commodifiable, such as a clean environment, sustainable resources, and equitable distribution of wealth. One of the fundamental prerequisites of a civil society is that of the free and open dialogue among and between people, both as citizens and as representatives of the institutions in which they work. Such a discourse demands the functioning of a strong and vital Public Sphere, a means by which the goals, activities and effects of government and corporate policies and decisions are made available for public comment.

In this paper, I look at the concept of Civil Society and situate its main current proponents, voluntary sector organizations, in opposition to both the state and corporate sectors. I argue that the increasing power of large corporations to focus people's attention on marketplace consumption, especially through the mass medium of television, has meant a decline in civic engagement. I discuss the nature and importance of the Public Sphere and contend that the new medium of the Internet holds some promise as a means of enhancing public discourse. Following several illustrations of successful use of the Internet as a renewed public sphere, I present the case that civil society must focus more attention on the corporate sector, and call for more research on Internet usage to support shareholder activists.


Development of the Idea of Civil Society

The idea of civil society has had a long and distinguished history. Since the days of the early Greeks, philosophers and other social scholars have contemplated the relationship between the individual and society as a whole. The main problem has been how to reconcile individuals pursuing their own personal interests while at the same time ensure that collective needs are met (Delue 1997).

The creation of 'the state' as a means of governance is an important step in this reconciliation, for it is the means by which society is kept 'civil', enacting laws to bring about undesirable consequences to any offending party that abrogates the rights of others. But the individuals who lead the governing state must also be restrained from becoming all-powerful, lest they use that power to oppress others for their own benefit. This is the basis for democracy, wherein citizens collectively choose their political leaders, subject their policies to public scrutiny, and periodically replace anyone whose performance fails to meet the expectations of the majority of the people.

During the formation of the modern democratic state, which was instituted by overthrowing the monarchial systems of the 17th and 18th centuries, another powerful player emerged on the social scene, that of the business class. Originally considered the main constituent of civil society, as defined as an opposition to an all-powerful state, it used its own increasing powers to influence government policies to ensure favourable conditions for trade and commerce. On the domestic front, laws were passed to promote the interests of the industrialists over those of the workers, and, in the international arena, to promote colonialism as a means of ensuring a supply of cheap raw materials and ever-expanding markets for exported goods.

Recently, the idea of civil society has become popular once again among social intellectuals. But they no longer view the commercial sector as being a benign ally against the state, but rather differentiate civil society as the middle ground, or third way, between the political interests of the state and the economic interests of business. This conceptualization has been picked up by the rising number of non-governmental and nonprofit organizations operating both at the local and at the global levels. Their main concern is that the state and the large corporations are pursuing their increasingly mutual interests to the detriment of the collective needs of the world's citizenry for social justice and a healthy environment.


Civil Society As The Third Way

There have been two main factors in the renewed interest in the concept of civil society. The first was the emergence of grassroots organizations in European communist countries whose primary purpose was the political evolution of their governments away from totalitarianism and toward democracy. In this instance, civil society is defined primarily in terms of being anti-government, though they were careful to distance themselves from capitalist economic interests as well (Geremek 1991).

The second influence was the rise of the NGO movement, which saw the proliferation of non-governmental organizations throughout the world as a way to provide social services that neither government nor the private sector were willing or able to provide. Though such social organizing has provided forums for political discussion, particularly in third world countries, this movement emphasizes the 'civil' aspects of civil society, i.e., providing aid to one's fellow citizens, particularly the poor and oppressed.

The sense that proponents of civil society as 'the third way' have of themselves in opposition to the entrenched powers of state and business has been eloquently stated by Find.

"The common ground of civil society theory is that it places civil society on the side of agency, creativity, activity, productivity, freedom, association, life itself. In contrast to the vital properties of civil society, it identifies the properties of the economic and political systems in essentially moribund terms: conformity, consumerism, passivity, privatization, coerciveness, determination, necessity are the words which prevail. Through this opposition between life and death, activity and passivity, agency and structure, civil society theory justifies the primacy of civil society over the political and economic spheres." (Fine 1997 :9)

A plethora of local voluntary associations has long been seen as both a cause and consequence of strongly democratic governments. Alexis de Toqueville, a French social philosopher writing in the early 1800s, held the fledgling United States in high regard for the number and variety of citizen groups operating at that time (Delue 1997). Putnam et al. (1992), in their study of civic institutions in Italian towns in the 1980s, also concluded that a high degree of citizen involvement in small-scale associations produced the 'social capital' needed for effective government and a productive economy. The civic virtue of the citizenry lay in their mutual trust and willingness to interact in a civil manner to overcome common problems.

Now that we have looked at the makeup of civil society, we will turn now to the arena in which civil society informs itself and enters into dialogue with the other powers in society, that of the public sphere.



The Public Sphere

Political communications in ancient Athens, according to Seligman (1992), were predicated on freedom of assembly of individuals in a public, physical space (in the agora of the polis - the marketplace of the city). This worked as long as the number of people were small, but when the number of citizens grew, representative democracy was needed, and communication became mediated, with the emphasis on the message, rather than the messenger. This necessitated a move toward ‘objective’, rational discourse, leading to an assumption of the equality of the communicators, and universal rights of the citizen.

This emphasis on public discussion of issues in order to arrive at a consensus, or at least a majority opinion, is a cornerstone of a democracy. It presupposes that, as no single person can know all the facts or anticipate all the consequences of a proposed policy or action, having an open process of public input and debate will result in a better decision. Such a forum for public involvement has been termed the "public sphere". Jurgen Habermas, a German social philosopher, has been very influential in defining this concept. His description of the public sphere can be summarized as

"a kind of forum which was established from the end of the seventeenth century onwards and which is situated as it were between the private sphere (consisting of the economy and family) and the sphere of the public authorities (formed by the state and the judiciary). Analogous to classical Greece, the private citizens meet at this "public forum" to discuss state matters." (Verstraeten 1996)

According to Verstraeten, there are three primary elements to Habermas' concept:

"1. The public sphere requires a "forum" that is accessible to as many people as possible and where a large variety of social experiences can be expressed and exchanged.

2. In the public sphere, the various arguments and views are being confronted through rational discussion. This implies that "rational" political choice is possible only if the public sphere first offers a clear insight into the possible alternatives from which one can choose. At the same time, the media should offer the widest possible range of interpretation frames, so that the citizen is also aware of what he did not choose .

3. Systematically and critically checking on government policies is the primary task for this public sphere." (Verstraeten 1996)

In his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989), Habermas explains how the public sphere developed as a social institution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and was an important factor in the transition from monarchy to parliamentary democracy. In Germany, England and France, many educated and well-to-do citizens gathered in coffee houses, salons and table societies to discuss the affairs of state. In doing so, and in making use of the printing press to widely distribute their ideas, these individuals became an effective opposition to the governing powers.

The main aim of the public sphere is to have a rational critical discussion among citizens about the common good, leading to the formulation of a course of action that will serve the interest of the public. In order to ground such debate, it is important to 'publicize' the policies and actions of the state, as well as any alternatives emanating from the involved public.

One of the pillars of an effective public sphere has been the mass media, notably in its focus on the dissemination of news and critical analysis of the workings of government. Over the past century, however, the rise in the use of advertising has led to the transformation of the public sphere, according to Habermas. It no longer facilitates an interaction among members of the public, designed for mutual enlightenment through dialogue. Instead, he argues, the control over the media exerted by large corporations has led to the equation of the public interest with corporate interests. This has also helped foster a passivity and conformity on the part of citizens, who are more likely to participate vicariously in political affairs by following the commentaries of media-supplied pundits, the range of whose arguments is constrained by the interests of the media owners. Others (Schiller, 1973, Chomsky and Herman, 1983) have commented on this agenda-setting function on public debate.

The usurpation of the public sphere by corporate interests has done more than just foster a focus on individual consumption. It has, at least in the United States, also apparently led to a decline in civic engagement.


Decline in Civic Engagement

Civic engagement refers to the voluntary participation by individuals in the social and political life of their community. Though the number of non-governmental organizations seems to be on the increase throughout the world (Greene, 1998), it does not necessarily imply an increase in voluntary association on the part of individual citizens. Such associationism, for example, has been on the wane for the past 30 years in the United States. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital (1995), states:

"Evidence for the decline of social capital and civic engagement comes from a number of independent sources. Surveys of average Americans in 1965, 1975, and 1985, in which they recorded every single activity during a day--so-called "time-budget" studies--indicate that since 1965 time spent on informal socializing and visiting is down (perhaps by one-quarter) and time devoted to clubs and organizations is down even more sharply (by roughly half). Membership records of such diverse organizations as the PTA, the Elks club, the League of Women Voters, the Red Cross, labor unions, and even bowling leagues show that participation in many conventional voluntary associations has declined by roughly 25 percent to 50 percent over the last two to three decades. Surveys show sharp declines in many measures of collective political participation, including attending a rally or speech (off 36 percent between 1973 and 1993), attending a meeting on town or school affairs (off 39 percent), or working for a political party (off 56 percent)."

Galston and Levine (1997) also found that "[t]he past 25 years have seen a marked decline in the share of people who belong to committees and serve as officers of local groups, a trend that parallels declines in such forms of local political activity as attending school board meetings and participating in political parties." (p. 25)

It is an emphasis, by business and government, on individual over collective rights that has led to a decline in public morality, according to the Council on Civil Society, which recently released a report on its two-year study of social values in the U.S. (Whitmire 1998)

Putnam, however, has put forth one of the more convincing explanations for the decline in civic engagement. After carefully considering numerous potential explanations and systematically rejecting them with well-reasoned arguments, he concludes that it is television that is to blame.

"In 1950 barely 10 percent of American homes had television sets, but by 1959, 90 percent did… By 1995 viewing per TV household was more than 50 percent higher than it had been in the 1950s… Most studies estimate that the average American now watches roughly four hours per day… This massive change in the way Americans spend their days and nights occurred precisely during the years of generational civic disengagement."

There are several reasons why television contributes to non-participation, according to Putnam. First, it displaces the time that might otherwise be spent in civic engagement - "Television is…the only leisure activity that seems to inhibit participation outside the home. TV watching comes at the expense of nearly every social activity outside the home, especially social gatherings and informal conversations. TV viewers are homebodies."

Secondly, Putnam says, it has an effect on the outlooks of viewers - "heavy television watching may well increase pessimism about human nature", as well as "induce passivity". A steady visual diet of violence and conflict-ridden social interaction has been linked to an increasing mistrust and fear of others. (Gerbner, 1996a)

Finally, it is a major influence in the socialization of children, who are particularly heavy television watchers. Putnam writes, "the most reasonable conclusion from a welter of sometimes conflicting results appears to be that heavy television watching probably increases aggressiveness (although perhaps not actual violence), that it probably reduces school achievement, and that it is statistically associated with psychosocial malfunctioning."

The linkage between the decline in civic participation and the increasing power of corporations to control the public agenda, notably through the privatization of leisure time and pursuits, is an important one. The corporate world superficially fosters pluralism when it promotes a plurality of choice in the marketplace, but it reduces people’s role in society to that of consumer, rather than citizen. As people increasingly look after their individual welfare, there is less emphasis on the collective welfare of society. This presupposes that everyone will be able to meet their own needs through their own actions, but there are many in society who are not strong enough to meet their individual needs, nor have those needs met by other individuals such as friends or family. It also presupposes that the way to meet individual needs is through the purchase of something, ignoring the fact that many important things in life, such as a clean environment or spiritual enlightenment, cannot be bought. Such invaluable common ‘goods’ can only be realized via a shift in attitudes and actions away from individual consumerism and toward social participation.

Kothari, lamenting a similar breakdown in democratic civil society in the Third World, comments, "It is indeed sad that we have moved towards a juncture where democracy is equated with consumer choices and not with political freedoms and social justice, far less with ecological justice." (Kothari, 1996)

Are there any signs that this erosion of the public sphere can be reversed and people induced to once again identify themselves first and foremost as citizens concerned with the public interest rather than as consumers looking after their immediate self-interests alone? There are a few, and they are related to the new medium of the Internet.


The Internet and Public Discourse

The Internet is a medium that has allowed equal opportunity for all participants to share information. In this sense it has functioned as a mass medium without the limitations imposed by other forms of mass media. Television and newspapers, in particular, require large and expensive infrastructures, and are therefore restricted in who can afford to own and operate them. The invention of the World Wide Web has meant anyone online, with a minimum of effort, can publish their knowledge and views for any and all to see. In this sense, it holds the promise of fostering public discourse on a wide variety of issues related to the common good.

It is quite apparent that the Internet has replaced libraries as the main public repository of government information. The cost-effectiveness of electronic storage and dissemination of the myriad number of government documents, coupled with the ease and timeliness of updating those documents, has meant that the Internet has been welcomed by governments at all levels as an excellent means of keeping the public informed. The Strategis system in Canada, and the Thomas system in the U.S., are two examples of government-maintained websites acting as an online portal to searching and retrieving almost every piece of public information created or collected by federal civil servants. Though there are still issues around disparities in ability to access these electronic documents, most freedom of information and right-to-know advocates have welcomed the use of the Internet in this way.

But merely obtaining such information is only half the story - for a fully functioning public sphere, it is also necessary to have discussion and feedback from the citizenry. Since the Internet was originally established as cooperative, non-hierarchical, communications system, it was designed to facilitate the sharing of information both between individuals and among groups of individuals. This capability, plus the fact that the underlying digital technology supports the whole gamut of multi-media communications, has made the Internet the first general purpose, interactive medium available to the average person (at least in the industrialized nations). As such, it seems natural that it have a propensity to foster activity in the public sphere.

The following are a few illustrative examples of how electronic networks and the Internet have recently aided discussions of social issues, both at the local and global levels.


Local public spheres


Citizens for Local Democracy

In 1996, the Conservative government of the province of Ontario, Canada, announced that it intended to pass legislation amalgamating 6 cities in the Greater Toronto Area into one 'mega'-city. Citizen-activists of those cities, who opposed this legislation, immediately began to use the Internet as a means of mobilizing public opinion to defeat the bill. A website was established, and in the period leading up to the vote on the amalgamation bill, became the 'command central' for the movement. Messages were contributed by a multitude of people and included notices of special meetings, rallies and protest marches; fax and letter campaigns; protest song lyrics; newsletters; news articles; updates on speeches and depositions; and instructions on how to get involved.

Though a set of referendums were held, in which 76 percent of the citizenry voted against the bill, it succeeded in being passed into legislation. The aroused citizens, however, continued their organizing, both online and off, mounting opposition to more than seven other controversial bills, and keeping the public spotlight on the governing conservative representatives. The Citizens for Local Democracy movement has shown that the Internet can be used effectively to solicit and maintain public participation in the political arena.


The New Media Forum - the CRTC's online public consultation

In 1998, the Canadian Radio, Television, and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), with the assistance of the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto, established its first official public consultation within an online environment. From September 22 to November 22. 1998, the New Media Forum website received public input on the implications arising from the rapidly expanding, and increasingly available, range of communications services collectively known as 'new media.'

Over 200 people were active contributors to the Forum, representing a wide diversity of participants, including women and men, members of various cultural communities, different levels of experience with the internet, and rural as well as urban residents from most provinces. The experiment proved successful, with a variety of opinions being shared in both French and English. The contributors generally posted "short, blunt messages", though others "developed their points at greater length, and sometimes engaged in sustained debates on key topics" (Jeffrey, 1998). Whatever the level of interaction, by the end of the submission period, a considerable number of themes had emerged, most of which showed a definite polarity of major and minor opinions.

This CRTC initiative reveals that as well as engaging citizens in discussion on matters that affect the public interest, the Internet can potentially involve far more people than holding traditional face-to-face hearings, and at a fraction of the cost, due to its aspatial and asynchronous nature.


Global public spheres



Civil Society organizations have long been making good use of computer networks as an integral part of their operations. Well prior to the introduction of the World Wide Web and the discovery of the Internet by government and the business community, there were thousands of social change activists sharing information online. O'Brien (1992) and Frederick (1992) have both pointed out the facilitative role played by the national and regional member networks of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), who provided the technical infrastructure, training, and consulting for their users. The APC, formed in 1990, were hosting hundreds of public and private computer conferences on subjects ranging from toxic chemicals to détente to nuclear weapons testing. Participants, who used the conferences as a means of keeping their colleagues up to date on issues, were situated in dozens of different countries around the globe, making this system one of the first on-going global public forums on matters pertaining to the common good that could be accessible to anyone with a computer and a modem.

It is, however, in their support for the series of global summits convened by the United Nations that the APC succeeded in expanding the influence of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the various governments represented there. From the 1992 'Earth Summit' on Environment and Development in Rio, to the 1995 United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, the APC collectively provided the communications venues for disseminating official government policy documents, background reports, and negotiating stances of the NGOs. In this way, the thousands of attendees to these conferences were better able to understand the issues, comment on them, and follow up on any actions required, before, during and after these huge international gatherings. It was easily discernable to all participants that the use of computer communications as an adjunct to the regular networking channels gave an identity and power to the international coalitions of organizations seeking to change social policy that they had never experienced before (Preston 1994).


The Zapatista Movement

In January 1994, immediately following the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched an armed rebellion in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Though the insurgents were few, and the rebellion was readily contained by the massive counter-assault by the Mexican army, the resulting publicity created a political storm that saw unprecedented concessions on the part of the government. In their recent book, Ronfeldt and Arquilla (1998) argue that it was because the EZLN and their supporters used the Internet as a means of mobilizing networks of civil society activists throughout the world that they became as powerful as they did. In their words, the Zapatista movement "provides a seminal case of "social netwar"".

The social justice and human rights activists made good use of the Internet to keep themselves informed of the situation and to organize action. In addition to making the relatively minor armed struggle into a political cause celebre and maintaining it on the media agendas in their respective countries, they also expressed solidarity by arranging to physically travel to Chiapas to help protect the peace process. Hundreds of representatives of non-governmental organizations, both foreign and Mexican, actually formed a cordon for several days around the building in which the peace accord was being negotiated between the EZLN and the Mexican government.

How successful was the Internet-facilitated publicity and mobilization of international solidarity networks? Ronfeldt and Arquilla conclude that

"Overall, the netwar has helped impel the Mexican government to continue down the road of reform. It added to the pressures on Mexico’s leaders to enact political and electoral reforms; to make the political party system more transparent, accountable, and democratic; to take human rights more seriously; to accept the rise of civil society; and to heed anew the needs of indigenous peoples."

The public sphere is no longer only a venue for discourse. The Internet's capability to support multi-party communication fits in well with the loose, non-hierarchical networks of autonomous organizations that are the hallmark of modern civil society. The result is not just that information is shared, but that it results in action, and that action is coordinated online.

That the Internet provides civil society with a renewed public sphere is clear. The above illustrations are not isolated cases - all over the planet, non-governmental organizations and social change activists are making good use of the 'net' to influence public opinion and coordinate action in the public interest. However, there is a need for civil society to engage with corporate powers, as well as government, to promote the common good.


A Need to Focus on Corporate Accountability

The public sphere has traditionally been thought of as the arena in which civil society enters into discourse on the workings of governments. This neglects somewhat the issue of the rising power of the corporate sector as a major influence on society. If, as Putnam has argued, television, with its emphasis on consumption, is one of the main factors in the decline of civic engagement, it becomes obvious that the corporate powers behind that medium must be targeted for change if the public sphere is to be strengthened.

David Korten, in his book When Corporations Rule the World (1995), argues cogently that large multi-national corporations have become the dominant institutions on the planet, capable of molding government policies and laws to meet their needs. He is disturbed that with their lobbying resources and domination of the media, they have appropriated political power to suit their own priorities of increasing size and profit, and giving short shrift to the negative social implications of their actions, such as unemployment, pollution or social injustice. Such conclusions have been echoed by several critical media theorists (McChesney, 1997, Mosco 1996, Bagdikian, 1992) and researchers into corporate accountability (Monks and Minow 1996).

Given the fact that governments are unlikely to impose restrictions on corporate activities, particularly at the global level, is there anything being done that might have an influence on corporate policies and practices? The answer to that question is yes - there is a growing movement of people demanding an increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility. There are four related streams that converge on this issue. The first is the environmental - led by groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which seek to publicize the worst excesses of pollution caused by industry. Next are those, primarily in academe, that are concerned with Business Ethics, much of which informs policy as a means of avoiding costly lawsuits. The third is a push, mostly by large institutional investors, for more accountability in corporate governance. And the fourth is the demand made for improving corporate social performance by the social investment community, of which the main proponents are the shareholder activists.

It is the last group that perhaps has the most potential for making use of the Internet as a public sphere that focuses attention and action on the corporate sector. Shareholder activism is mainly predicated on two related activities, corporate engagement and shareholder resolutions made at annual general meetings. Corporate engagement refers to the practice of contacting the senior managers and members of the Board of Directors of a company and bringing issues to their attention, along with suggested actions. Should this tactic fail to bring about change, shareholders can submit their demands in the form of a resolution at the company's annual meeting of shareholders. If the resolution receives a majority vote, it must be enacted by management.

The Internet can facilitate these avenues for corporate improvement in a number of ways. Corporate engagement can occur at individual levels, such as a shareholder sending a single electronic message to the CEO of a corporation, or at a campaign level, in which hundreds or thousands of shareholders are mobilized to inundate the company's fax and e-mail systems with standard messages on particular concerns. Efforts can also be coordinated online to ensure that the media becomes involved in the issue. Websites can provide the background information, as well as act as a central area for operational logistics. As far as shareholder resolutions are concerned, the Internet is ideal for soliciting and compiling the proxy votes of those unable to attend the meeting in person. And finally, as in the case of government, the online environment can act as a repository and exchange for information on corporate actors, policies, behaviours and effects.

But all this is still in the very formative stages. Research has shown that while the social investment community as a whole has integrated the Internet into their operations, few organizations involved in shareholder activism as their main activity have done much more than obtain an e-mail address (O'Brien 1998). More work in this area is definitely required if the Internet is to reach its potential as a renewed public sphere targeting corporate accountability.



A civil society is one in which the citizens do more than just seek ways to resolve conflicts peacefully. A civil society provides a means by which all citizens are able to submit ideas, facts and opinions in order to bring about a common definition of the public good and the ways to achieve it. A strongly functioning public sphere is a necessary requisite for civic engagement. But while television has generally been seen as an integral part of the public sphere due to its functioning as a major means of news distribution, there is an indication that it has also led to a decline in civic engagement and a promotion of self-interest because of its utilization by corporations seeking to promote consumption through advertising.

The Internet is a relatively new medium, yet it has the potential to act as an important component of a revitalized public sphere. It is ideally suited to information collection and dissemination, as well as fostering multi-party discourse on public issues. It is also very useful in coordinating action on the part of civil society organizations. The Citizens for Local Democracy and the CRTC New Media Forum, as well as the APC / UN Summits and the Zapatista Movement, are good examples of this.

The increasing influence of the corporate sector to affect the public interest, however, indicates that civil society must focus more attention on promoting corporate social responsibility. Shareholder activists, especially, must begin to make better use of the Internet if they are to succeed in improving the social performance of companies that would otherwise concentrate solely on maximizing profit.

For the public sphere to be effective, it must engage with those who have the power to shape social development, ensuring that the common good remains the most important goal. For the public sphere to be efficient, civil society proponents must make use of the latest communication technology, particularly that of the Internet.





Works Cited


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2. Chomsky, Noam, and Edward S. Herman. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon Books, 1988.

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8. Geremek, Bronislaw. "Civil Society and the Present Age." The Idea of a Civil Society. November 1991. (3/12/1998).

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15. McChesney, Robert W. Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. The Open Media Pamphlet Series. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997.

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18. O'Brien. "The Social Investment Community and Its Communications Venues." 6/1 1998. (22/2/1999).

19. ---. "The APC Computer Networks: Global Networking for Change." Canadian Journal of Information Science 17.2: 16-24.


21. Putnam, R., R. Leonardi, and R. Y. Nanetti. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

22. Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital." Journal of Democracy 6.1: 65-78.

23. Ronfeldt, David, and John Arquilla. "The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico." 1998. (21/2/1999).

24. Schiller, Herbert I. The Mind Managers : How the Master Puppeteers of Politics, Advertising, and Mass Communications Pull the Strings of Public Opinion. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.

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26. Verstraeten, Hans. "The Media and the Transformation of the Public Sphere." 1996. (15/6/1998).

27. Whitmire, Tim. "Report: Democracy Can't Survive Without Public Moral Philosophy." Amarillo Globe-News. 28/5 1998. (14/12/1998).



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