The (Broken?) Promise of Digital Democracy

T11 3

Views: 256


The empirical data are just beginning to emerge about how the internet is actually being utilized for political means. With the answers to some of the descriptive questions becoming available, it is now also possible to begin addressing its normative impact. The question now is whether the internet’s use as a new medium for political discourse actually measures up to the hopes of those who argue that it has the potential to improve political discourse and democratic politics. In other words, although the internet certainly makes better politics possible, is it actually being used in a way that meets the normative expectations currently being placed on it? To answer this question, it is necessary to have some normative standard to appeal to. In this case, Habermas’ concept of discourse ethics and his contribution to the theories of deliberative democracy are a fruitful foundation from which to build. After clarifying how Habermas’ concepts can provide a standard for evaluation and considering some of the recent empirical literature, I conclude that based on the current evidence, much of the political discourse on the internet is not consistent with Habermas’ notion of ideal speech. Because of this, I argue that the idea that the internet is providing a qualitatively better form of political discourse is difficult to sustain.