Does Online Selectivity Create a Threat to Deliberative Democracy? Cyber Skepticism Reconsidered

Ms. Magdalena Wojcieszak
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The proliferation of the internet has altered the conceptualization of the role the media play in democratic society. Some 'cyber optimists' claim that the structural features of the Net, such as decentralization and end-to-end reciprocal communication, contribute to a more democratic society. Others point to dangers. The predominant concern of the skeptics pertains to the unprecedented individual control over exposure to content in the online environment. Internet users allegedly seek idiosyncratically interesting topics, avoid opposing viewpoints and look for opinions that confirm their preexisting opinions. The internet thus leads to limitations in knowledge, thwarts discussion between diverse public, decreases shared experiences, and leads to societal fragmentation, polarization and balkanization of knowledge.

This paper directly addresses the above notions and juxtaposes them with empirical data. The results of several surveys by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Pew Research Center are analyzed. Other quantitative and qualitative studies are also considered. The aim of the paper is to check whether the evidence corroborates the association between the alleged online selectivity and decreased exposure to challenging opinions, decreased role of general interest intermediaries and increased polarization. The analysis of methodologically diverse data does not support 'cyber-skeptics' assumptions but it does not provide determined counterevidence. Therefore this paper also poses some questions and proposes directions for future research.

Keywords: Internet, Selectivity, Deliberative Democracy
Stream: Technology in Community
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Does Online Selectivity Create a Threat to Deliberative Democracy?

Ms. Magdalena Wojcieszak

Doctoral Student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Magdalena Wojcieszak is a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her MA in Sociology at the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the Warsaw University in 2002. As a winner of the EU Socrates Erasmus fellowship she also studied at the Universita' degli Studi di Urbino. She was an intern at the Research and Analyses Department of the Polish Public Television and volunteered at the Grade the News Organization affiliated with Stanford University. Her research interests include the role of new media in democratic societies, the interaction of online social networks with online networks and political deliberation in the new information and communication environment.

Ref: T05P0290