In This Article Cyberpolitics

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Datasets and Research Projects
  • Journals

Communication Cyberpolitics
by
Philip Howard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0049

Introduction

Cyberpolitics is a domain of inquiry into the role of new information technologies in contemporary political life. It is an exciting domain of inquiry because not all of the things that communication scholars learned by studying mass media systems and interpersonal communication hold up in digital media environments. Studying cyberpolitics usually means one of two things. It can mean investigating the ways in which political actors use new technologies in creative—and sometimes problematic—ways. Some voters use digital media to improve their knowledge of public affairs, others use the same media to limit the flow of news and information. The Internet allows some journalists to do more research and track down more sources, but such digital media has had a significant impact on the organization of the newsroom and the features of the news market. Politicians and candidates for elected office use the Internet to reach out to new voters, but they also use it for data mining and manipulating public opinion. But studying cyberpolitics can also mean investigating the less overt political machinations that go into setting telecommunications standards and making decisions about how to engineer information infrastructure. Allocating the public spectrum, setting privacy standards into law, building universal broadband access, or deciding which information packets may be more important than others are technical issues with significant implications for political life.

Textbooks and Anthologies

There are few notable, purpose-built textbooks on cyberpolitics. Many of the traditional textbooks on media and politics have simply been revised with additional chapters about infrastructure politics and online campaigning. But because the research terrain is so rapidly evolving, a few edited collections, handbooks, and anthologies often serve as textbooks for undergraduate and graduate courses in cyberpolitics. As Chadwick argues, several methodological traditions contribute to research on cyberpolitics—from rhetorical criticism to experimental techniques (Chadwick 2006). Moreover, these diverse tools have found wide-ranging impacts of new technologies on political institutions, behavior, identity, and law, and this range of impacts is explored in Chadwick and Howard 2010. The impact of new media on politics is not consistently positive, with censorship and surveillance being notable negative outcomes. One of the most high-profile public scholarship projects about cyberpolitics is the OpenNet Initiative (cited under Datasets and Research Projects) at the University of Toronto. Two books from the team, Deibert 2008 and Deibert 2010, offer an intriguing range of case studies of censorship and the politics of infrastructure design from around the world, arguing that the Internet has had immense implications for the business of political campaigns, and the way politicians reach voters may be fairly straightforward. Much more difficult, however, is tracing the ways in which the definition experience of contemporary citizenship may have evolved, something well done by Mossberger, et al. 2008. An important part of the critique of traditional mass communication research has been that it undervalues the domain of cultural politics and the politics of cultural production (Webster 2001).

  • Chadwick, Andrew. 2006. Internet politics: States, citizens, and new communication technologies. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The closest thing to a single authored textbook on cyberpolitics, Chadwick’s book is an accessible literature review of research on both the politics of information infrastructure and the political impact of digital media.

  • Chadwick, Andrew, and Philip N. Howard, eds. 2010. Handbook of Internet politics. London: Routledge.

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    This recent collection of chapters from leading political communication scholars offers some original research but also detailed literature reviews on specialized areas of inquiry into the impact of the Internet on political life.

  • Deibert, Ronald. 2008. Access denied: The practice and policy of global Internet filtering. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    One of the interesting attributes of this cyberpolitics research is that the team has the technical sophistication to demonstrate the importance of infrastructure politics through experimental and unobtrusive network research methods.

  • Deibert, Ronald. 2010. Access controlled: The practice and policy of global Internet filtering. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Follow-up to Deibert 2008.

  • Mossberger, Karen, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Ramona S. McNeal, eds. 2008. Digital citizenship: The Internet, society, and participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This edited collection offers concrete case studies of what it means to be a modern citizen and examples of the serious impact of being excluded from digital citizenship.

  • Webster, Frank, ed. 2001. Culture and politics in the information age. London: Routledge.

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    This collection of essays offers concrete examples of why changes in the system of cultural production, consumption, and control are themselves deeply political.

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