Activating the Fifth Estate: Bill C-30 and the Digitally-Mediated Public Watchdog

19 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2014 Last revised: 1 Oct 2014

Jonathan A. Obar

York University; Quello Center - Michigan State University

Leslie Shade

University of Toronto - Faculty of Information

Date Written: July 23, 2014

Abstract

Operating outside the framework of traditional systems of governance and civic engagement, the digitally-mediated, networked society referred to as the ‘Fifth Estate’ presents the general public with a unique opportunity to reinvigorate the public watchdog role. While previous discussions of the Fifth Estate have emphasized that the communicative power it enables can help to hold government to account, specific strategies have yet to be clearly identified. This paper presents three strategies for activating a digitally-mediated Fifth Estate: 1) building an online community of networked individuals, 2) shaping pre-existing digital platforms to enable members of the public to contribute focused and pointed user-generated content, and 3) developing targeted content to be shared and distributed. These strategies are presented in the context of the successful media reform battle to defeat Canada’s Bill C-30, an attempt by the Canadian government to expand upon its cyber-surveillance capabilities. The Stop Online Spying Coalition is presented as an example of the first strategy; online petitions, digital form letters and the #TellVicEverything Twitter attack are among the examples of the second strategy; and Openmedia.ca’s Stop Online Spying web materials, various online videos and the Vikileaks Twitter attack are examples of the third strategy.

Keywords: social media, activist, activism, Fifth Estate, Twitter, surveillance

Suggested Citation

Obar, Jonathan A. and Shade, Leslie, Activating the Fifth Estate: Bill C-30 and the Digitally-Mediated Public Watchdog (July 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2470671 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2470671

Jonathan A. Obar (Contact Author)

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

Quello Center - Michigan State University ( email )

East Lansing, MI 48824
United States

Leslie Shade

University of Toronto - Faculty of Information ( email )

140 St George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G6
Canada

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