Internet: Friend or Foe of Democracy?



Is Democracy Threatened by the Unchecked Nature of Information on the Internet?
Miller Centre of Public Affairs, University of Virginia


The author reviews the various debates as to whether the internet and the rapid roll-out of digitally networked technologies are having a positive or negative impact on democratic participation, and the quality of political and policy debate.

He lists some of the negatives as follows:

  • Diminution of Professional Journalism: the internet is dismantling traditional mass media and in the process undermining standards of professional journalism which include telling both sides of a story and relying on credible sources of information gathering and fact-finding.
  • Echo Chambers: the internet channels users into digital forums which are more likely to attract people with similar views and opinions. This creates an 'echo chamber' effect in which users amplify each other views, creating more extreme and polarised opinion.
  • Information Inequality: greater reliance on the internet as forum to participate in political debate risks margainalising those with little or no reliable access to the internet, compounding existing levels of political inequality.

In terms of the positives, the authors outlines them as follows:

  • Increased Citizen Participation: the internet provides an easily accessible way of citizens to access political and policy information, as well as accessible forums to have their say on issues important to them beyond traditional forms of political participation
  • More Available Information: the internet provides a vastly wider range of information which allows citizens to be more informed through access to international media, smaller producers of political and policy information as well as the opinions of other citizens
  • Citizen Journalism: access to digital information and a variety of digital platforms to capture and distribute information and opinion is leading to rise of citizen journalism, where citizens can produce and distribute news on issues which they believe are important to them, rather than relying on mass media to create agendas.


Thumbnail image: dawolf/Flickr

Bruce Williams

University of Virginia

Published Date
April 10, 2010