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Critiques of the Internet's Effects on Democracy


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In this class, we read from Matthew Hindman's book "The Myth of Digital Democracy" and Eli Pariser's book "The Filter Bubble," and discussed their respective critiques. Hindman says the web is reproducing a system where elites dominate public discourse because while anyone can publish online, only a few get to be heard. Pariser points out how platforms and social networks like Google and Facebook have inordinate (and often hidden) power to shape what knowledge we encounter, and asks if we can trust how this power is being used.

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Critiques of the Internet's Effects on Democracy

  1. 1. DPI-665Politics of the Internet Mar 21, 2012The Myth of Digital Democracy And The Filter Bubble Critiques Micah L. Sifry Audio: CC-BY-NC-SA
  2. 2. Topics for discussion• At the societal level, is the Internet empowering more ordinary people, or hyper- empowering some elites?
  3. 3. Hindman’s key points• Politics is a relatively low level concern of American web users;• Most web users don’t know how to use search well and generally rely on the top results they get when they search;• There is a power law distribution of attention online and web traffic to political sites is highly concentrated;• Successful political bloggers tend to be highly educated and upper middle-class; and• The barrier to entry against the biggest sites is quite high.
  4. 4. “Googlearchy”• Rule by the most heavily linked• Online speech follows “winner-take-all”• “Putting up a political Web site is usually equivalent to hosting a talk show on public access TV at 3:30am”• Is this problematic?
  5. 5. Responding to Hindman• The web, like life, is unfair. Early movers, people with capital, have advantages.• You still need a compelling message, yes. But money?• The functional role of bloggers is different, more independent, more interactive• The new media ecosystem is more fluid than the old ecosystem (see his top 50 sites)• Online collaboration hubs multiply power of ordinary people (DailyKos, Reddit)• Sufficiency principle
  6. 6. Pariser’s key points• Personalization, or the “filter bubble,” is subtly distorting our view(s) of the world• Shared dialogue about common knowledge is undermined• Too much power in the hands of a few platforms and filters
  7. 7. If code is law, what kind?• What are some of Google and Facebook’s unwritten powers?• Are these “political” questions?• What should we do about them?