What remains of digital democracy? Contemporary political cleavages and democratic practices

Authored by: Brian D. Loader

Routledge Handbook of Digital Media and Communication

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138672093
eBook ISBN: 9781315616551
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315616551-17

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Abstract

Once regarded as the savior of the democratic polity, digital media and communications have more recently come to be seen as its nemesis. The disruptive capacity of the Internet has in the past been variously championed for undermining authoritarian regimes, providing alternative independent media channels, enabling citizen journalism, as well as offering the prospect of casting a transparent light into our darkened representative chambers through a new dawn of participatory democracy. In recent times however it seems as if these turbulent digital affordances have opened a Pandora’s box of anti-democratic forces. It is claimed that both the outcomes of the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU) and the 2016 US presidential election may have been influenced by disinformation, and, even by malicious hacking by foreign agencies. In the hands of populist parties and leaders, social media has been effectively used to spread propaganda, create public fear and target potentially gullible supporters. Moreover, the monopolistic and unaccountable power of the giant commercial organizations that own the digital infrastructure, and thereby control much of the collection, processing and use of big data, is seen as further evidence of the dangers posed by the digital media ecology to democratic politics. So, what now remains of the promise of digital democracy?

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