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Politics Online: Democratising or Distracting

18 October 2011

Image of an iPhone Media School debate questions the internet’s influence in political spheres.

There is a longstanding academic debate about whether the internet influences the sphere of politics, and whether political dialogue exchanged online actually has an impact in the real world. Do these discussions actually escape ‘cyber ghettoes’ and can the internet facilitate democracy or does it simply provide political ‘infotainment’ to the subjective consumer?

The Media School at Bournemouth University (BU) tackled these questions this week in a debate entitled ‘Politics Online: Democratising or Distracting?’

BU researcher Dr Kris Erickson examined the global differences in the relationship between mainstream news outlets and political bloggers, stating that in the United States and the UK, bloggers seem to mirror what mainstream political reporters and government sources are saying.

On the other hand, in places with a less established free press like Russia, the majority of bloggers are doing the opposite and digressing from the mainstream political news agenda.

Dr Darren Lilleker raised the point that when MPs engage in digital channels, their constituents feel far more informed. “No media revolutionizes everything & no revolution is total, but people can feel more empowered,” he said.

The debate moved on to examine whether the internet distorts how much power extremist groups such as the ‘far right’ have, and how online mediums combined with a small amount of citizen action can have impact though its aesthetic appeal and easy audience access.

The point was raised whether ‘liking’ something on Facebook is now considered satisfactory action, as opposed to active campaigning.

Kris counter-argued that the platforms which provide social media function in a capitalist market, so user comments are often submitted to private ownership, and in the cases of Google based platforms, there is a concern of corporate interests and advertising revenue shaping the political discourse.

Darren concluded that the smaller, unmediated blogs are where the most politically honest discourse is taking place. Referring to data sourced himself, Kris demonstrated that there are many citizen sites engaging in political discussion, but they receive far less traffic than the mainstream informers.

View details of other upcoming Media School debates.

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