The Myth of Digital Democracy
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Is the Internet democratizing American politics? Do political Web sites and blogs mobilize inactive citizens and make the public sphere more inclusive? The Myth of Digital Democracy reveals that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet has done little to broaden political discourse but in fact empowers a small set of elites--some new, but most familiar.
Matthew Hindman argues that, though hundreds of thousands of Americans blog about politics, blogs receive only a miniscule portion of Web traffic, and most blog readership goes to a handful of mainstream, highly educated professionals. He shows how, despite the wealth of independent Web sites, online news audiences are concentrated on the top twenty outlets, and online organizing and fund-raising are dominated by a few powerful interest groups. Hindman tracks nearly three million Web pages, analyzing how their links are structured, how citizens search for political content, and how leading search engines like Google and Yahoo! funnel traffic to popular outlets. He finds that while the Internet has increased some forms of political participation and transformed the way interest groups and candidates organize, mobilize, and raise funds, elites still strongly shape how political material on the Web is presented and accessed.
The Myth of Digital Democracy. debunks popular notions about political discourse in the digital age, revealing how the Internet has neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens.
that my collaborators and I call Googlearchy: the rule of the most heavily linked. Building on previous research and the data referenced above, this theory offers several claims. First, Googlearchy suggests that the number of links pointing to a site is the most important determinant of site visibility. Sites with lots of inbound links should be easy to ﬁnd; sites with few inlinks should require more time and more skill to discover. All else being equal, sites with more links should receive more
scientists need to understand these larger phenomena before grafting traditional models of politics onto the online environment. The theory of Googlearchy suggests that online concentration comes from the sheer size of the medium and the inability of any citizen, no matter how sophisticated and civic-minded, to cover it all. In many areas of political science, it is common to assume that most citizens know little about politics and take drastic shortcuts in the processing of political
has to compete with millions of other voices. Those who come out on top in this struggle for eyeballs are not middle schoolers blogging about the trials of adolescence, nor are they a ﬁctitious collection of pajama-clad amateurs taking on the old media from the comfort of their sofas. Overwhelmingly, they are welleducated white male professionals. Nearly all of the bloggers in our census were either educational elites, business elites, technical elites, or traditional journalists. It is therefore
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12, 102, 141– 42 pointcasting (narrowcasting), 38, 56, 150. See also narrowcasting polarization, political: blogs and, 111; Internet and increased, 9–10, 138 political Web sites: and advocacy groups, 66; blogs as, 66, 104; as deﬁned for Hitwise data, 64–66; demographics of visitors to, 81; low level of relative trafﬁc to, 60–66, 179 62, 74, 131; most popular, 63; as niche market, 100; and online forums, 66; search-engine referrals and trafﬁc to, 70, 74–77; trafﬁc among top ﬁfty, 65–66, 66–67