In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Internet and Politics

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Early Research Trends
  • Politics at the Physical Layer of the Internet
  • Politics at the Protocol Layer of the Internet

Political Science The Internet and Politics
David Karpf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0169


The relationship between the Internet and politics is both layered and complex. The Internet itself is a still-developing cluster of technologies, many of which can be used toward countervailing political ends. The Internet can be used to empower dissidents, or to track and suppress them. It can be used to the benefit of disenfranchised communities or to reassert existing power dynamics. It can be used to strengthen or to erode public discourse. The Internet of the 1990s consisted of static web pages, e-mail, bulletin board communities, and dial-up phone access. It was still largely an emerging phenomenon, and was often referred to with the metaphor of an “information superhighway.” The Internet of the early 2000s saw the growth of wireless and mobile access in many industrially advanced countries, along with the spread of broadband access, user-generated content and the metaphor of “Web 2.0” and the “social Web.” This decade saw the spread of websites like,, and—social sites whose value was derived from the contributions of a massive, voluntary user base. The Internet of the 2010s is still in the process of developing, but appears to feature significant growth in mobile access via smartphones, which in turn allows for overlaying online data on top of traditionally offline fields of activity. Politics, meanwhile, can be viewed at the local, national, cross-national, and global levels, and can also be viewed through an institutional or a behavioral lens. The Internet’s role in politics is very different for the average citizen in London, Seoul, New Delhi, or Los Angeles. The Internet’s role in international diplomacy and statecraft is a separate matter altogether. The impact of the Internet on politics, then, depends crucially on which Internet and which politics one is seeking to investigate. This bibliographic article will sketch some of the major findings within the various literatures on the Internet and politics. It will highlight and summarize the findings from key books and articles within each of these subfields. These findings do not result in a single cohesive body of knowledge, however, because they concern the interaction of too many distinct layers of the Internet with too many distinct layers of politics.


Given the breadth of the subject area, research on the Internet and politics appears in a wide variety of journals, covering the fields of political science, sociology, communication, computer science, and public administration. Some of the best research can be found in flagship journals of these individual fields – the Journal of Communication, American Political Science Review, or American Journal of Sociology, for instance. Cross-disciplinary reswearch is more often found in a set of newer journals that promote and sustain interdisciplinary findings. Political Communication is the flagship journal of the political communication sections of the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association. Information, Communication, and Society is a major communication journal that regularly publishes special issues associated with Internet Politics conferences and meetings. The Journal of Information Technology and Politics publishes Internet Politics research related to the Information Technology & Politics section of the American Political Science Association. New Media & Society is a key journal that publishes politics-related research and includes research from the more humanistic and cultural traditions. Finally, First Monday is an online, open-access journal that caters to a wide range of academic disciplines. These cross-disciplinary journals should be consulted regularly to remain abreast of new research that spans all the relevant subfields.

  • First Monday. 1996–.

    An interdisciplinary open-access online journal devoted to Internet research. While much of the research published here is not focused specifically on the Internet and politics, it is a key venue for identifying trends and methods in Internet research that have not yet been established among political scientists.

  • Information, Communication, and Society. 1998–.

    Regularly publishes special issues featuring research presented at conferences hosted by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association (CITASA), and the Oxford Internet Institute. Features a wide range of methodological perspectives, all broadly related to communication technologies and social processes.

  • Journal of Information Technology and Politics. 2004–.

    The official journal of the Information Technology & Politics section of the American Political Science Association.

  • New Media & Society. 1999–.

    A highly-ranked journal that draws upon more humanistic and cultural research traditions. Frequently publishes research on the Internet and politics that does not fit neatly within traditional disciplinary boundaries.

  • Political Communication. 1980–.

    The jointly held flagship journal of the political communication sections of the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association. Features a wide range of research on the Internet and politics, most of which focuses on political behavior in established democracies, while some focuses on changing media institutions.

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