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

Introduction

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 Wikipedia.org, YouTube.com, and Yelp.com—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.

Journals

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.

Early Research Trends

Much of the initial research on the Internet and politics originated outside of traditional social scientific disciplines. Legal scholars played a particularly important role in assessing the implications and potential impact of the new media technology. While the traditional disciplines of political science, sociology, and communication mostly overlooked the emerging digital landscape, scholars like Lessig 1999, Sunstein 2001, and Benkler 2006 charted the political landscape. Within political science, early researchers viewed the Internet with a mix of hopeful and fearful expectations. The first wave of Internet research was largely defined by “cyber-optimist” and “cyber-pessimist” camps, with the cyber-optimists like Castells 1996, Hague and Loader 1999, and Rheingold 2002 arguing that the Internet would initiate political transformation to a more egalitarian society, and cyber-pessimists like Margolis and Resnick 2000 arguing either that existing elites would capture the system (political normalization) or that the Internet would undermine the foundations of mass political knowledge (cyber-balkanization). Later research by Bimber 2003 and others sought to draw upon insights from both these perspectives. More recently, Zittrain 2008 raised questions about the multiple layers of the Internet, and the role of openness and competition at each of these layers.

  • Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    Benkler’s account of how the “networked information economy” (p. 106) differs from the information regime that preceded it. The book discusses the new viability of “commons-based peer production” (p. 62) and the emergence of new organizational solutions to traditional economic and public goods problems.

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    • Bimber, Bruce. Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511615573Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Bimber carves out theoretical space between the cyber-optimists and cyber-pessimists. He argues that digital communication represents a “fourth information regime” (p. 23) in American politics, and offers a historical analysis of how the three previous information regimes have technologically influenced politics. Also noteworthy for its discussion of “postbureaucratic” political organizations that establish thinner relationships with their supporters.

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      • Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

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        The first book in Castells’s “Information Age” trilogy. Castells is the most influential of the 1990s-era cyber-optimists, offering a wide-ranging theory of the implications of the then-emerging digital information landscape that he termed the “network society.” Charts early theorizing around the implications of networked communication for global politics.

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        • Hague, Barry, and Brian Loader, eds. Digital Democracy: Discourse and Decision Making in the Information Age. New York: Routledge, 1999.

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          One of the first scholarly edited volumes on the promise and potential of digital democracy. Includes insightful essays from a wide range of scholars, and offers a window into how the Internet was viewed by the first wave of researchers on the topic.

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          • Lessig, Lawrence. Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

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            Lessig highlights some of the key characteristics of the new media environment, and discusses “four forces” that shape social institutions: Norms, Laws, Markets, and Architecture. The architecture of the Internet changes through distinctly different processes than the architecture of previous media regimes, resulting in novel legal and political challenges.

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            • Margolis, Michael, and David Resnick. Politics as Usual: The Cyberspace “Revolution.” Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000.

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              Margolis and Resnick penned a wide-ranging challenge to the boundless Internet optimism of many journalists and practitioners during the first Internet bubble. The benchmark “cyber-pessimist” work, focusing on the various ways that we should expect existing elites and institutions to resist, co-opt, or undermine the revolutionary potential of digital media.

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              • Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2002.

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                Focuses on how mobile phones enable new forms of mass citizen action. Particularly useful for the discussion of the 2001 “People Power II” protest in the Philippines. Organized via text messaging, the mass demonstration led to the resignation of President Estrada. Rheingold’s work is emblematic of the early “cyber-optimist” camp.

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                • Sunstein, Cass. Republic.com. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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                  Sunstein raises the specter of cyber-balkanization, in which citizens develop online “information cocoons” (p. 44) and only encounter information that confirms their preconceptions. Given the increase in legislative partisanship in US politics during the early 21st century, Sunstein’s work has sparked a lengthy academic debate over information.

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                  • Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet (And How To Stop It). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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                    Jonathan Zittrain offers the definitive treatment of the Internet’s structure. He describes the Internet as including multiple layers: A physical layer (the wires or airwaves over which data flows), protocol layer (computer interoperability standards), an application layer (the World Wide Web, e-mail, etc.) and a content/social layer (services available through the application layer).

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                    Politics at the Physical Layer of the Internet

                    At the physical layer—the cables, wires, fiber, and “pipes” that facilitate networked communication—the most important impacts have centered around the digital divide, discussed by Norris 2001; Internet filtering, discussed by Deibert, et al. 2008 and Deibert, et al. 2010; uneven provision of broadband service, discussed by Mossberger, et al. 2012; and the mix of regulatory and market-based incentives that can best promote continuous innovation, discussed by Wu 2010 and Crawford 2013. The digital divide is a particularly relevant concept: any civic, economic, and political advantages the Internet affords will be directed at those citizens who have access to the Internet (see also Hargittai 2002, cited under the Internet and Political Polarization). The unequal spread of the medium thus threatens to exacerbate inequality. Many researchers initially expected that the digital divide would be a short-term problem, resolved as the new communications technology was adopted by broader swaths of society. But continued innovation at the physical layer of the Internet has resulted in ongoing digital divide–related concerns, both at the domestic, cross-national, and international levels.

                    • Crawford, Susan. Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

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                      Crawford offers a broadside critique of the telecommunications industry in America, arguing that the construction of regional monopolies has fostered anticompetitive practices that leave American citizens paying higher prices for slower Internet connections than can be found in other developed nations. She argues for stronger regulatory oversight as a remedy.

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                      • Deibert, Ronald, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds. Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008.

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                        This edited volume discusses the practice of Internet filtering. By controlling information access at the physical and protocol layers of the Internet, individual countries are able to exert control over the content that citizens can access. Understanding Internet filtering is particularly important for comparative researchers, as the metaphor of the open, borderless Internet does not translate well across national contexts.

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                        • Deibert, Ronald, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds. Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010.

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                          A sequel volume to Deibert, et al. 2008, this book discusses advances in global Internet filtering that move beyond country-based firewalls such as China’s so-called “Great Firewall.” The book explores newer, aggressive filtering techniques that include distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, targeted computer viruses, and deep packet inspection.

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                          • Mossberger, Karen, Caroline Tolbert, and William Franko. Digital Cities: The Internet and the Geography of Opportunity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

                            DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812936.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            A deep empirical look at the unequal spread of high-speed broadband across American cities. Wealthy neighborhoods receive much better service than poor neighborhoods in major American cities, leaving poorer residents with limited Internet access which, in turn, further limits individual opportunities for social mobility.

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                            • Norris, Pippa. Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

                              DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139164887Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Norris coined the term “digital divide” in this pioneering book. The book explores the digital divide at the global level, exploring both the different access levels between industrialized and developing nations and also exploring within-country disparities between the rich and the poor.

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                              • Wu, Tim. The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Knopf, 2010.

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                                Wu provides an historical analysis of information industries in America, including the telegraph, telephone, radio, film, and television. He argues that information technologies tend to risk capture by corporate monopolies that, in turn, can stunt further innovation. The final section of the book applies the historical patterns to the current dilemmas of Internet innovation.

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                                Politics at the Protocol Layer of the Internet

                                At the protocol layer—the established computing languages, routines, and network operations that allow networked computers to share and spread information—politics takes on a very different character. Denardis 2009 defines this as “Protocol politics,” which features competition and collaboration among traditional governmental actors and nongovernmental standard-setting institutions. It is heavily biased in favor of software engineers and other technical sophisticates, and requires substantial technical expertise that presents a barrier-to-entry for many interested parties. Goldsmith and Wu 2008 suggest that crucial decisions over the protocols employed when internetworked machines speak to each other are made by organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium, raising questions about just who holds power in the digital age. Mueller 2004 and Mueller 2010 are two of the key research works in this area, focusing on the politics of the protocol layer of the Internet under the framework of international relations theory.

                                • Denardis, Laura. Protocol Politics: The Globalization of Internet Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009.

                                  DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262042574.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Denardis’s book uses the global debate over transitioning the technical architecture of the Internet Protocol (IP) addressing system from IPv4 to IPv6 to explore the complex negotiations that occur among governments and technical elites in determining how global network standards should be established.

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                                  • Goldsmith, Jack, and Tim Wu. Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                                    Goldsmith and Wu examine contentious legal battles fought between Yahoo, Google, and eBay and individual governments around the world. They argue that nation-states maintain substantial power in affecting the practices of Internet-related businesses, because those businesses must obey national laws in order to operate on a global scale.

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                                    • Mueller, Milton. Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2004.

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                                      Mueller applies the framework of institutional economics to explore how new global regimes are formed to address issues such as trademark and copyright protection, content regulation, and domain name registration.

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                                      • Mueller, Milton. Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010.

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                                        Expanding upon his work in Mueller 2004, applies international relations theory to the problems of global Internet governance, demonstrating some of the ways that global engineering institutions can subvert and challenge top-down Internet control by nation-states.

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                                        Major Debates at the Application, Content, and Social Layers of the Internet

                                        Most political science research has focused on the application layer of the Internet. This has included major debates over (1) the digital provision of government services; (2) citizen information-gathering, political polarization, and the danger of so-called “filter bubbles” or “cyber-balkanization”; (3) the Internet’s effect on existing political and journalistic institutions; (4) the Internet’s impact on democratic elections; (5) the Internet’s role in supporting or destabilizing repressive nondemocratic regimes, and (6) the role of digital media in supporting new forms of collective action and social movement organizations. I discuss each of these debates below.

                                        E-Government

                                        Some of the earliest research on the Internet and politics focused on the potential for transforming citizen–government interaction and government service-provision in established democracies. Fountain 2001 argues that digital tools can make it easier for citizens to access government services, and also can promote government transparency and overhaul government-led citizen engagement processes. Chadwick 2006 looks at the actual track record of these “e-government” initiatives and finds that their results have been mixed, often disappointingly so. As West 2007 notes, while many government agencies have made significant headway in digitally streamlining their service delivery functions (you can now pay parking tickets and access government forms from the comfort of your own home), calls for increased transparency, openness, and citizen participatory engagement have had limited success. Noveck 2009 offers promising insights from the successful peer-to-patent e-government initiative, and O’Reilly 2010 provides a call-to-arms of sorts, which has inspired civic technologists and engaged technology critics.

                                        • Chadwick, Andrew. Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                          This wide-ranging book covers many facets of Internet politics, extending well beyond the e-government arena. Chapter 8, “Executives and Bureaucracies: E-Government,” is particularly noteworthy for its summation of the limited successes within the field: “. . . with the notable exceptions of some community networks . . . the road to e-democracy is littered with the burnt out hulks of failed projects” (p. 102).

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                                          • Fountain, Jane. Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

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                                            Fountain highlights the promise and potential of new information technologies to improve government services and improve interactions with the mass public. This is a foundational early text in the e-government literature.

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                                            • Noveck, Beth. Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009.

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                                              Noveck shares the story of her successful creation of the peer-to-patent system—arguably the most successful e-government initiative to date. She highlights the broader set of challenges and opportunities that policymakers and policy analysts face in trying to reshape government processes to take advantage of the affordances of digital communication.

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                                              • O’Reilly, Tim. “Government as a Platform.” In Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice. Edited by Daniel Lathrop and Laurel Ruma, 11–41. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010.

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                                                Tim O’Reilly is responsible for coining the term “Web 2.0.” He is considered one of the most influential thinkers among Internet intellectuals and entrepreneurs. This essay offers a positive vision of “Government 2.0,” which has become a rallying cry for open government practitioners and software engineers.

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                                                • West, Darrell. Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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                                                  West surveys e-government practices and demonstrates that there has been substantially more success in simple service provision than in the more complex areas of citizen engagement and deliberation.

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                                                  The Internet and Political Polarization

                                                  Beginning with Cass Sunstein’s book Republic.com (Sunstein 2001, cited under Early Research Trends), scholars have debated whether the Internet contributes to political polarization. Prior 2007 argues that in the broadcast media environment of television, newspapers, and radio, a limited set of journalistic institutions played a gatekeeper role, determining the news agenda for the broader public. As Baum and Groeling 2008 document, with the rise of the Political Blogosphere, a wider range of options became available to consumers. Digital media gives way to a new type of “network gatekeeping,” in which a wider range of individuals and institutions play key roles in the diffusion of news and information. This has led to fears, articulated in Pariser 2011, that citizens would form “information cocoons” or “filter bubbles,” in which they only encountered news about civic and political matters that reinforced to their existing political preferences. The early 21st century has indeed been a period of intense political polarization. The extent to which the Internet is responsible for this polarization remains a subject intense debate. Prior 2007 has demonstrated that an expansion of media choices allows information consumers to act upon their “relative entertainment preferences,” leaving liberals to select liberal media, conservatives to select conservative media, and the politically disinterested to avoid civic and political news altogether. The threat of information and preference reinforcement is very real. Ryan 2012 furthermore finds that anger-based messaging is particularly effective at encouraging information-seeking behavior, further exacerbating these tensions. But Bakshy, et al. 2015 provides empirical evidence that the largest social media site (Facebook) exposes even strong partisans to some news that does not fit their political predispositions. Since most citizens maintain friendships and network ties outside the confines of their tight political predisposition, it appears that the social layer of the Internet may support higher levels of cross-partisan news diffusion than Sunstein and Pariser feared. The normative question of whether the current levels of cross-partisan news sharing are enough to sustain a healthy democracy still remains. A parallel line of research examines the polarizing impacts of the Internet between the already politically engaged and the broader mass public. Several researchers, including Hargittai 2002 and Schlozman, et al. 2010 have provided evidence that digital media may exacerbate participatory inequalities by making it easier for the already advantaged to act upon their advantages, while simultaneously letting political mobilizers more effectively avoid citizens who are demographically unlikely to engage.

                                                  • Bakshy, Eytan, Solomon Messing, and Lada Adamic. “Exposure to Ideologically Diverse News and Opinion on Facebook.” Science 348.6239 (2015): 1130–1132.

                                                    DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Published by Facebook researchers, examines the social-sharing and news-viewing habits of strong partisans on Facebook. Finds that, through a combination of algorithmic influence and personal self-selection, strong partisans are exposed to a limited diet of news that challenges their preconceptions. This limited news diet is nonetheless substantially higher than would be predicted by Pariser, Prior, or Sunstein. Available online by subscription.

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                                                    • Baum, Matthew, and Tim Groeling. “New Media and the Polarization of American Political Discourse.” Political Communication 25.4 (2008): 345–365.

                                                      DOI: 10.1080/10584600802426965Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Compares the news agendas of online news sources, including the websites of mainstream wire services, political cable outlets, and partisan blogs. Finds strong evidence of partisan filtering at political blogs and cable outlets, while traditional news media continue to rely on standard newsworthiness criteria in their online reporting.

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                                                      • Hargittai, Eszter. “Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills.” First Monday: Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet 7.4 (2002).

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                                                        Hargittai revisits the topic of the digital divide and finds evidence of a digital skills divide. Even after poor and minority communities receive Internet access, they remain at a significant disadvantage because of a lack of online skills, knowledge, and training. This second-level digital divide can result in increased gaps not between liberals and conservatives, but between socioeconomic haves and have-nots.

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                                                        • Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin, 2011.

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                                                          Pariser’s concept of the “Filter Bubble” is an updated and expanded version of Sunstein’s concerns in Republic.com. The Filter Bubble turns attention to digital platforms (Google and Facebook) that algorithmically shape the information citizens are exposed to. The Facebook newsfeed algorithm is a set of decisions made by software engineers regarding what types of news and information are most relevant to an individual user. These algorithms have substantial power in promoting or reducing the potential polarizing effects of the digital information environment.

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                                                          • Prior, Markus. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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                                                            Prior’s book discusses how the expansion of options beyond broadcast television allows citizens to act upon their “relative entertainment preferences” (p. 96). This allows politically interested citizens to select (valenced) news programming, while simultaneously letting disinterested citizens avoid political news altogether. Prior demonstrates a range of effects of this phenomenon upon citizen political knowledge and various forms of civic participation.

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                                                            • Ryan, Timothy J. “What Makes Us Click? Demonstrating Incentives for Angry Discourse with Digital-Age Field Experiments.” Journal of Politics 74.4 (2012): 1138–1152.

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                                                              Through a series of field experiments, Ryan finds that anger-based messaging is more effective at driving information-seeking behavior among American citizens. Put another way, uncivil and angry rhetoric may have become a hallmark of 21st century politics because political elites have learned that this rhetoric works. Polarization may be both bad for long-term democracy and effective for short-term mobilization.

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                                                              • Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady. “Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet.” Perspectives on Politics 8.2 (2010): 487–509.

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                                                                Builds upon the authors’ classic 1995 study of participatory inequality in America, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), with 2008 survey data that includes Internet-related participation. Finds that the Web has slightly ameliorated the participatory deficit among young people, but also finds disturbing evidence of ongoing socioeconomic participatory inequality.

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                                                                The Internet and Media Institutions

                                                                The research community has also invested substantial energy in the study of the Internet’s effect on the traditional “fourth estate.” This has included a line of research surrounding the blogosphere (see the Political Blogosphere), as well as research on the evolution and/or disruption of existing media organizations. McChesney and Pickard 2011 draws together a collection of major researcher contributions concerning disruption of the news industry in the United States, while Kuhn and Nielsen 2013 complicates these US-based findings through a comparative perspective. Chadwick 2013 advances a theory of an increasingly “hybrid” media system, while Boczkowski and Mitchelstein 2013 looks at the changing gatekeeping function of news organizations and journalists. Anderson 2011 also explores how information technology changes the news production processes of journalistic organizations, and the polarizing effect these new processes might have on journalistic production. Much of this research conversation has been focused within the boundaries of American political journalism; more recent cross-national research has found that journalism is less threatened in other countries, but that digital news techniques create new editorial and reporting pressures.

                                                                • Anderson, C. W. “Deliberative, Agonistic, and Algorithmic Audiences: Journalism’s Vision of its Public in an Age of Audience Transparency.” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 529–547.

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                                                                  Anderson provides insight into the various ways that alternative news organizations conceive of and measure their audience. This study helps bring together research on Internet politics and journalism in the sociology of newsrooms and the emerging politics of algorithms and analytics.

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                                                                  • Boczkowski, Pablo, and Eugenia Mitchelstein. The News Gap: When the Information Preferences of the Media and the Public Diverge. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2013.

                                                                    DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262019835.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Finds empirical evidence of gap in news values between major media organizations and their online readership across multiple nations. News organizations prioritize political and economic news, while readers prioritize topics like sports and entertainment. Similar to Prior’s research on relative entertainment preferences, this results in cross-pressures within the newsroom with troubling long-term implications for the public service provided by the fourth estate.

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                                                                    • Chadwick, Andrew. The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199759477.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Chadwick provides a broad theoretical assessment of what the blurring boundaries between news organizations and their sources, competitors, and readers implies for political institutions. He also introduces the notion of the “political information cycle” (p. 62), a refinement of older concepts like the 24-hour news cycle, which helps situate the interaction between newer media and older media in the production of political controversies.

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                                                                      • Kuhn, Raymond, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. Political Journalism in Transition: Western Europe in a Comparative Perspective. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

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                                                                        Offers an important addition to the essays in McChesney and Pickard’s volume. The newspaper crisis in the United States is not, in fact, a global news crisis. Based on research in Western Europe, we can conclude that the particular economic arrangement of the American news industry has left it in peril, not the mere existence of digital alternatives.

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                                                                        • McChesney, Robert, and Victor Pickard, eds. Will The Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done To Fix It. New York: New Press, 2011.

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                                                                          This edited volume includes several dozen provocative essays about the collapse of news organizations in America. Includes reprints of essays by many other high-profile commentators. It provides a window into a wide-ranging debate regarding the value of the news, the economics of the news industry, and the potential options for saving it.

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                                                                          The Political Blogosphere

                                                                          Early research on the political blogosphere, represented here by Davis 2009 and Dutton 2009, mostly focused on the role of blogs as competitors to existing media and political institutions. For scholars anchored in the cyber-optimist perspective, blogs appeared to be a potential democratizing force that removed traditional gatekeepers and allowed all citizens to act as their own journalists and political opinion leaders. Indeed, the early history of the political blogosphere in America featured several noteworthy episodes of bloggers acting as “citizen journalists” and contesting elite news media frames or driving stories into the news that major journalistic institutions failed to cover. Karpf 2010 notes that some of these blogs operate as political mobilizers, rather than quasi-journalistic outlets, and they can be responsible for raising significant money and attention for preferred political candidates. A later wave of empirical research has tamped down much of the enthusiasm over the political blogosphere, though. Most noteworthy is the Hindman 2008 demonstration in the Myth of Digital Democracy that the capacity to freely speak online cannot be equated with the capacity to be heard online. Likewise, Lawrence, et al. 2010 provides evidence that political blogs tend to only reach strong partisans who are already politically active. They augment the news diet of the politically interested, rather than replacing political news institutions in the eyes of the mass public. The latest wave of blog-related research, particularly Nahon and Hemsley 2013, has focused on blogs’ role as information hubs, critical to the viral spread of political (and nonpolitical) memes.

                                                                          • Davis, Richard. Typing Politics: The Role of Blogs in American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                                                                            This book provides a clear overview of how the leading American political blogs on the left and the right interact with journalistic and political institutions.

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                                                                            • Dutton, William. “The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks.” Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation 27.1 (2009): 1–15.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/08109020802657453Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Dutton argues that digital technologies are creating a space for networked individuals to demand accountability from government and politics. He contrasts the fifth estate against the traditional role reserved the press and mass media as the “fourth estate.”

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                                                                              • Hindman, Matthew. The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

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                                                                                Hindman empirically demonstrates that online traffic tends to adopt a power law (“rich get richer”) distribution, in which a small number of sites amass tremendous amounts of traffic, while the vast majority of sites receive virtually no attention. He cautions that the new digital media has not removed the need for political elites, it has simply replaced some old elite institutions with newer elite institutions.

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                                                                                • Karpf, David. “Macaca Moments Revisited . . . Electoral Panopticon or Netroots Mobilization?” In Special Issue: YouTube and the 2008 Election Cycle in the United States. Edited by Michael Xenos. Journal of Information Technology and Politics 7.2–3 (2010): 143–162.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/19331681003748891Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Karpf offers a comparative case study of two well-known moments where YouTube is credited with impacting the outcome of elections. He finds that the most important driver of this impact comes from politically engaged blogging communities that operate more like activist groups than like citizen journalists.

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                                                                                  • Lawrence, Eric, John Sides, and Henry Farrell. “Self-Segregation or Deliberation? Blog Readership, Participation, and Polarization in American Politics.” Perspectives on Politics 8.1 (2010): 141–157.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S1537592709992714Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    A survey of the readership of major political blogs which finds that political blog readers are more active, and more partisan, than non-blog readers. Most of them also tend to read blogs that agree with their political predisposition.

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                                                                                    • Nahon, Karine, and Jeff Hemsley. Going Viral. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013.

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                                                                                      Nahon and Hemsley expand their attention beyond the political blogosphere to look more broadly at how and why some content “goes viral” and attracts that mass attention that scholars like Hindman point out is so rare. One of their key findings is that elite blogs play a central role in this process. Their finding confirms and extends Hindman’s research on online power law dynamics and the increased importance of new digital political elites.

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                                                                                      The Internet and Democratic Elections

                                                                                      The initial wave of cyber-optimism extended beyond social movements to include hopes for revitalized elections. Many hoped that the lowered transaction costs of digital communication would lead to increased knowledge, participation, and competition in democratic elections. Gibson, et al. 2003, for instance, is an early edited volume that provides a largely optimistic set of case studies of the Internet’s potential for campaigns. Bimber and Davis 2003 challenged the foundations of this optimistic perspective. Most digital technologies—websites and e-mail communications in particular—prove ineffective at reaching undecided voters. The only people who visit a candidate website or sign up for an e-mail list are strong partisans who have already decided to support the candidate. Even though any potential candidate can launch a website, major parties have substantial advantages over their upstart competitors. The larger impact of the Internet on democratic elections has come through the transformation of campaign operations. Howard 2005 describes how improvements in digital targeting of communications can lead to “political redlining” in which campaigns narrowcast their communications and, through increased communications efficiency, avoid engaging the mass public. Kreiss 2012 highlights how the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign raised millions of dollars and mobilized millions of volunteers through “computational management,” in which the outputs of online testing helped campaign leadership make new strategic decisions. Stromer-Galley 2014 highlights that this “controlled interactivity” (p. 2) falls far short of the democratizing potential we had once envisioned. Outside the boundaries of the United States, Vaccari 2013 has tracked the spread of digital tools across multiple democratic systems and shows that the impact of the Internet on electoral outcomes is mediated by the existing electoral system and political culture. Anduiza, et al. 2012 also addresses the political impacts of the Internet from a cross-national perspective.

                                                                                      • Anduiza, Eva, Michael Jensen, and Laia Jorba, eds. Digital Media and Political Engagement Worldwide: A Comparative Study. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                        This edited volume provides valuable cross-national perspective on the Internet and political engagement. Individual chapters cover both elections and social movements, across multiple continents.

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                                                                                        • Bimber, Bruce, and Richard Davis. Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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                                                                                          Provides key empirical evidence of the limitations of political websites in persuading undecided voters. Since political websites are “pull” media—individuals must actively choose to visit them—they only attract existing supporters. Websites do a poor job of replicating the advantages of television or direct mail advertising, which operate as “push” media and reach individuals who have not independently chosen to seek out political information.

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                                                                                          • Gibson, Rachel, Paul Nixon, and Stephen Ward, eds. Political Parties and the Internet: Net Gain? New York: Routledge, 2003.

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                                                                                            An early edited volume that documents the use of the Internet by political parties in eight countries that span four continents.

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                                                                                            • Howard, Philip N. New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511615986Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Howard warns of the danger of “political redlining” (p. 101). As electoral campaigns improve their targeting and are better able to identify persuadable citizens, there is a distinct danger that elections will move further away from the ideal of mass deliberation. Campaigns provide a public good by inefficiently spreading messages to the mass public in an effort to garner votes and win election. As campaign technologies became more efficient, there is the danger that this public good will be underprovided.

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                                                                                              • Kreiss, Daniel. Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199782536.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Kreiss finds that the Dean and Obama campaigns used the Internet to raise millions of dollars, shape news stories about their candidates, and deliver votes on Election Day. Particularly focuses on the lessons that alumni of the failed Howard Dean campaign learned, and how these same individuals applied these lessons to the successful Barack Obama campaign, developing a new style of “computational management” along the way.

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                                                                                                • Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis. “Mundane Internet Tools, Mobilizing Practices, and the Coproduction of Citizenship in Political Campaigns.” New Media & Society 13.5 (2011): 755–771.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1461444810380863Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Based on ethnographic research with congressional campaigns in the United States, Nielsen argues that mundane Internet tools (like e-mail) are much more important than emerging or specialized tools (like social media or campaign websites), even though it is the specialized tools that both journalists and public intellectuals often focus their attention on.

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                                                                                                  • Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis, and Cristian Vaccari. “Do People ‘Like’ Politicans on Facebook? Not Really: Large-Scale Direct Candidate-to-Voter Online Communication as an Outlier Phenomenon.” International Journal of Communication 7 (2013).

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                                                                                                    Despite a small number of charismatic politicians who have attracted mass followings on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the vast majority of candidates in competitive races for the United States House of Representatives have tiny followings on social media—far too small to affect the outcome of an election. Social media instead play a role in facilitating indirect communication about politics, by connecting with journalists and other networked gatekeepers who rely on social media to shape their impressions of the political landscape.

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                                                                                                    • Stromer-Galley, Jennifer. Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199731930.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      Similar to Kreiss’s work, but with an expanded time horizon, this book examines the Web presence of every presidential campaign from 1996 through 2012. Stromer-Galley finds that campaigns in America have rejected the two-way interactivity that online communication potentially makes possible, instead focusing on a more limited type of “controlled interactivity” that asks less of citizens, and gives less back to them in return.

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                                                                                                      • Vaccari, Cristian. Digital Politics in Western Democracies: A Comparative Study. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                        Vaccari analyzes both the production and consumption sides of online electoral behavior across seven advanced Western democracies over the course of four years of elections. He challenges the common scholarly prediction that online campaigning will lead to homogenized American-style politics. Instead he finds that electoral systems and political cultures play key mediating roles.

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                                                                                                        The Internet and Nondemocratic Regimes

                                                                                                        There is an ongoing debate among scholars of the Internet and international politics regarding whether, on balance, digital media acts as a “technology of freedom” or a “technology of oppression.” Substantial research attention has been paid toward Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “Internet freedom” speech in Morozov 2011 and to the “Arab Spring” of 2011, as seen in Tufekci and Freelon 2013, and in Lynch 2013. The heart of the issue is that the same lightweight technologies that protestors can use to organize resistance to governing regimes can also be used by those regimes to monitor and oppress activists. Howard 2010 argues that digital media has a positive net impact on the spread of democratization, but here it is particularly important to recognize the multilayered structure of the Internet; state actors can engage in deep-packet inspection to monitor and intercept communications. King, et al. 2013 shows how states can block websites, censor keywords, and even shut down digital communications mechanisms at the height of protest activities. The Internet is a tool both for nondemocratic regimes and for citizens who wish to challenge those regimes; additionally, as exemplified in Livingston and Walter-Drop 2014, a recent line of research examines the use of digital technologies in areas of “limited statehood.” The uses and impacts of the new medium are still being investigated.

                                                                                                        • Howard, Philip N. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199736416.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Written prior to the “Arab Spring,” this cross-national study of Islamic nations (including both democratic and nondemocratic regimes) examines digital media alongside a range of factors that can influence democratization processes, and concludes that the introduction of digital media, although not independently responsible for the spread of democratization in the Muslim world, nonetheless is a central, positive factor in democracy’s spread.

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                                                                                                          • King, Gary, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts. “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression.” American Political Science Review 107.2 (2013): 326–343.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0003055413000014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            A sophisticated, multimethod study of Chinese online censorship practices. The authors find that the government does not focus on censoring criticism of government officials, but instead expends energy curtailing collective action or pushes for social mobilization.

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                                                                                                            • Livingston, Steven, and Gregor Walter-Drop, eds. Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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                                                                                                              This edited volume covers a range of digital initiatives in nondemocratic regimes that fall outside the realm of contentious politics between dictators and dissidents. They instead explore the use of cellular telephony and other information and communication technologies (ICT) that allow communities to knit together state-like functions in areas of limited statehood.

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                                                                                                              • Lynch, Mark. The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013.

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                                                                                                                An authoritative account of the Arab Spring, placing digital media within a broader political context. This is a particularly useful text for Internet scholars who want to develop a deeper familiarity with what is now the most recognizable case example in the study of the Internet and nondemocratic regimes.

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                                                                                                                • Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.

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                                                                                                                  A vocal and provocative cyber-pessimist public intellectual, Morozov takes aim at Secretary Clinton’s “Internet Freedom” address, arguing that digital media can be far more beneficial to dictators than to dissidents.

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                                                                                                                  • Tufekci, Zeynep, and Deen Freelon, eds. Special Issue on New Media and Social Unrest. American Behavioral Scientist 57.7 (2013): 843–847.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/0002764213479376Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Tufekci and Freelon coedited a special issue of ABS devoted to the Internet and social unrest. The seven articles in the special issue cover the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and broader trends in online protest behavior. Taken together, the articles provide a balanced introduction to multiple perspectives and research techniques that Internet politics scholars apply to global protest and contention. Available online by subscription.

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                                                                                                                    The Internet and Social Movements/Collective Action

                                                                                                                    Perhaps the largest debate surrounding the Internet and politics has focused on the expected impact of digital communication on collective action. Early research by McCaughey and Ayers 2003 and van de Donk, et al. 2004 collected case studies of digital media used in social movement efforts. Several works, including Lupia and Sin 2003, Bimber, et al. 2012, and Bennett and Segerberg 2013 have revisited Mancur Olson’s field-defining work, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), and investigated how changes in available information technology might impact the character and potential of mass citizen collaboration. Debates have first centered around whether new communications technologies make organizations less central to mass participation; Shirky 2008 and Earl and Kimport 2011 argue that they largely do. Secondly, there is the question of whether the Internet gives rise to new types of social movement organizations. Karpf 2012 contends that changes in information technology lead to a generational shift among advocacy organizations, and Costanza-Chock 2014 highlights new types of transmedia activism. Finally there are the potential negative and/or unintended implications of digital activism; Gladwell 2010 draws particular attention to this topic.

                                                                                                                    • Bennett, Lance, and Alexandra Segerberg. The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139198752Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Bennett and Segerberg argue that digital media represents a break from the traditional Olsonian boundaries of collective action dilemmas. They argue that 21st century social movements make use of two parallel logics: the logic of collective action and the logic of connective action. Connective action is more personalized, involves shorter-term connections, and has the potential for mass, viral scaling.

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                                                                                                                      • Bimber, Bruce, Andrew Flanagin, and Cynthia Stohl. Collective Action in Organizations: Interaction and Engagement in an Era of Technological Change. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511978777Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Bimber, Flanagin, and Stohl develop a theory of “Collective Action Space,” measuring how the engagement styles of very traditional membership organizations (American Legion, American Association of Retired Persons) differ from the engagement style of much newer digital organizations such as MoveOn.org. They find that information technology is limited on its own, but becomes valuable when it serves as context for broader engagement strategies.

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                                                                                                                        • Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2014.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028202.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Costanza-Chock draws upon field research with the immigrant rights movement in America and explores how social movement networks and organizations mix newer and older media to produce cross-platform tactical repertoires that are neither exclusively “online” nor “offline.”

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                                                                                                                          • Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262015103.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Sociologists Earl and Kimport explore the implications of digital media for traditional social movement theories. They argue that the lowered costs of online collective action have two main types of impact: “supersizing” traditional activist tactics and “social movement theory 2.0” (p. 13) that enables novel tactical repertoires.

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                                                                                                                            • Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” The New Yorker. 4 October 2010.

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                                                                                                                              Gladwell’s article is representative of the “clicktivist” critique of online collective action, which maintains that the low barrier to online action produces little social change while leaving potential activists with a false sense of social accomplishment. He argues that social media is only useful for building weak ties among activists. Since successful social movements also require strong activist ties, he dismisses online political engagement as ineffective and even counterproductive.

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                                                                                                                              • Karpf, David. The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199898367.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                Karpf challenges both Shirky’s and Gladwell’s interpretations of the digital activism landscape. He argues that, rather than organizing without organizations, digital media has instead given rise to organizing with different organizations. He explores the strategic and organizational logics underlying the new generation of “netroots” political organizations in the United States, comparing them to the older generation of “legacy” organizations that continue to represent citizen interests in a variety of issue areas.

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                                                                                                                                • Lupia, Arthur, and Gisela Sin. “Which Public Goods are Endangered? How Evolving Communication Technologies Affect the Logic of Collective Action.” Public Choice 117.3–4 (2003): 315–331.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1023/B:PUCH.0000003735.07840.c7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Lupia and Sin offered the first assessment of how the lowered costs of online interpersonal communication ought to change the traditional Olsonian logic of collective action. Operating within a rational choice framework, they determine that several of Mancur Olson’s predictions should be revisited.

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                                                                                                                                  • McCaughey, Martha, and Michael Ayers. Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                    Another early influential collection of case studies, mostly from the late 1990s, documenting activist experimentation with digital technologies.

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                                                                                                                                    • Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                      Shirky argues in this book that the lowered transaction costs of the Internet enable new forms of “organizing without organizations.” He claims that the bureaucratic form of social movement organizations is a product of an earlier information era. He offers evocative case examples of complex collective action occurring outside the context of traditional interest groups or political associations.

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                                                                                                                                      • van De Donk, Wim, Brian Loader, Paul Nixon, and Dieter Rucht, eds. Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens, and Social Movements. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                        An early, influential collection of case studies documenting the use of digital media for protest actions across a range of countries and social movements.

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