Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Myth of Digital Democracy

The Myth of Digital Democracy

Matthew Hindman
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 198
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Myth of Digital Democracy
    Book Description:

    Is the Internet democratizing American politics? Do political Web sites and blogs mobilize inactive citizens and make the public sphere more inclusive?The Myth of Digital Democracyreveals that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet has done little to broaden political discourse but in fact empowers a small set of elites--some new, but most familiar.

    Matthew Hindman argues that, though hundreds of thousands of Americans blog about politics, blogs receive only a miniscule portion of Web traffic, and most blog readership goes to a handful of mainstream, highly educated professionals. He shows how, despite the wealth of independent Web sites, online news audiences are concentrated on the top twenty outlets, and online organizing and fund-raising are dominated by a few powerful interest groups. Hindman tracks nearly three million Web pages, analyzing how their links are structured, how citizens search for political content, and how leading search engines like Google and Yahoo! funnel traffic to popular outlets. He finds that while the Internet has increased some forms of political participation and transformed the way interest groups and candidates organize, mobilize, and raise funds, elites still strongly shape how political material on the Web is presented and accessed.

    The Myth of Digital Democracy. debunks popular notions about political discourse in the digital age, revealing how the Internet has neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3749-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. One The Internet and the “Democratization” of Politics
    (pp. 1-19)

    In March 1993, a group of college students at the University of Illinois posted a small piece of software onto the Internet. The program was called Mosaic, and it was the world’s first graphical Web browser. Prior to Mosaic, the World Wide Web, invented a few years previously by an English physicist working in Geneva, was but one of a number of applications that ran on top of the Internet. Mosaic changed everything.¹ Unlike the cumbersome text-based programs that had preceded it, Mosaic made the Web a colorful and inviting medium that anyone could navigate. The Internet was soon transformed...

  6. Two The Lessons of Howard Dean
    (pp. 20-37)

    If we want to understand how the Internet is changing the political voice of citizens, there’s no better place to start than with Dean, whose name remains synonymous with Internet politics. This is one case, I argue, where the conventional wisdom is correct. The evidence for the Internet’s influence on the Dean campaign is even stronger than many have supposed. The rise and fall of Dean’s candidacy shows us much about what the Internet can do for candidates—and what it cannot.

    Dean’s meteoric path through the 2004 presidential primaries seems in some ways predictable. Long-standing political science wisdom suggests...

  7. Three “Googlearchy”: The Link Structure of Political Web Sites
    (pp. 38-57)

    In studying political voice, social scientists have examined many types of citizen participation. They have studied who volunteers for political campaigns, who writes letters to their elected representatives, who joins advocacy groups, who donates money to political causes—and of course, which citizens vote, and for whom. It was these traditional political activities along with their online analogues that were the focus of the previous chapter. Dean won the attention of Internet enthusiasts and skeptics alike because his campaign showed that the Internet could impact these long-standing concerns. Every campaign hopes for numerous volunteers; Dean showed that volunteers could be...

  8. Four Political Traffic and the Politics of Search
    (pp. 58-81)

    The previous chapter discussed the link structure of political sites on the World Wide Web. Link structure can provide a microscopic view of Web content, allowing us to survey the haves and have-nots within even the tiniest of online niches. If we take seriously claims that the Internet is a narrowcasting medium, this sort of method for small-scale analysis is indispensable. Still, the patterns seen in political communities in chapter 3 raise as many questions as they answer. To understand the Web’s political impact, we need not just a microscope but also a big picture view of traffic on the...

  9. Five Online Concentration
    (pp. 82-101)

    From law to public policy, democratic theory to party politics, interest in the Internet has begun from the belief that the Web is democratizing the flow of information. Chapters 3 and 4 have looked at patterns of online attention at both the macro- and microlevels. This chapter goes further, directly challenging the notion that Web audiences are less concentrated than those for traditional media. If true, this fact alone should shift our expectation about who gets heard online.

    This claim—that audiences are as concentrated online as off-line—will be controversial, and in part the previous two chapters have been...

  10. Six Blogs: The New Elite Media
    (pp. 102-128)

    Those who have been enthused about the Internet’s political implications, as well as those who have looked at the new medium suspiciously, have begun by assuming that the Internet will funnel the attention of the public away from traditional news outlets and interest groups and toward countless small-scale sources of political information. As previous chapters have shown, this assumption is problematic. Winners-take-all patterns in the ecology of the Web—both in its link structure and traffic—do not fit with what many have assumed.

    Nonetheless, the concentration we find online does not mean that the Internet merely supports politics as...

  11. Seven Elite Politics and the “Missing Middle”
    (pp. 129-142)

    Big changes in U.S. communications have rarely had immediate impacts on U.S. politics. Ten years passed between the release of the Mosaic browser and Dean’s use of the Internet to break campaign fund-raising records. Significant numbers of U.S. households started buying televisions in 1949 and 1950; yet it was not until the Kennedy-Nixon debates a decade later that political scientists had clear evidence that television had changed presidential politics (Kelley 1962). The future influence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats was hardly obvious when radio was the province of teenage boys swapping music. From the beginning, there was a lively...

  12. Appendix On Data and Methodology
    (pp. 143-154)
  13. References
    (pp. 155-172)
  14. Index
    (pp. 173-181)