The Structure of the Web and Its More or Less Democratic Effects

By: Roger Bautier  

The objective of this poster is to highlight the main trends of thought about the effects of the structural properties of the Web on the potential for democratic participation in political life. Proponents of Web Science (in particular Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web) have considered the Web to be democratic because it has no central coordination for creating hyperlinks. On the other hand, supporters of Network Science (in particular Barabási) have said that the Web is far from democratic, as shown by the statistical distribution of hyperlinks (the more a node is connected, the more likely it is to receive new links). In fact, Berners-Lee made the basic assumption that the Web is a compromise between stability and diversity, a result of self-similarity or fractality (at any scale, the same configuration). Hence an ideal situation: for all levels, neither too many links, nor too few, to allow a good diffusion of information. Self-similarity on the Web has appeared (for example, to Benkler, who analysed the wealth of networks) as one of the reasons for the emergence of a truly democratic public sphere. But the compromise between stability and diversity may be a thing of the past: there are new limits to the Web, as the dissemination of information can be severely limited by digital platforms. Given the real modalities of intervention in a public sphere transformed by digital social networks, are we experiencing the abolition of initial self-similarity and its democratic benefits?

Web, Hyperlinks, Democratic participation, Self-similarity, Digital platforms, Public sphere
2019 Special Focus: The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age
Poster Session

Roger Bautier

Professor emeritus, Information and communication, Paris 13 University