The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Internet just helped a staggering number of people engage with their government

The Post’s Matt Zapotosky explains where the court battle over President Trump’s travel ban stands. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The Internet gets a bad rap sometimes. Often blamed for the dumbing down of society, the fracturing of our media landscape and the polarization of our politics, only rarely is the Web recognized for helping advance the cause of civic education and government transparency.

But for a little over an hour on Tuesday, it did an amazing thing. The Internet brought an enormous number of people together to hear a federal appeals court deliberate over President Trump's entry ban.

We're talking about oral argument. In a federal court. Where there wasn't much to see besides a black background and the court's logo.

Considering how complex the discussion quickly became, it's all the more stunning how the feed kept attracting new viewers rather than losing them as time went on. At its peak, more than 135,000 people had tuned in to the audio-only proceeding on YouTube — and that's before you count those who were watching the court's live stream from other sources, such as cable TV and Facebook.

Legal experts may differ on the finer details of the arguments, which saw Washington state face off against Trump's Justice Department over the legality of the ban. Of course, other courts stream their hearings live, too. And 135,000 viewers is still a drop in the bucket compared with the number of people who, for example, watched BuzzFeed crush a watermelon on live video with nothing but rubber bands.

Nevertheless, more than a hundred thousand people still showed up. That's pretty extraordinary — and another sign that in today's digitally connected world, the best technologies make accessible what was previously inaccessible.

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