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The Empowered Citizen? Online Political Discussion in the United States

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Across many sectors, the common wisdom is that online political forums create a more egalitarian space for the deliberation of citizens. Research, however, shows that in the United States, these spaces are often dominated by those who control many political spheres: white, educated males. While the internet has provided a means for citizens to express their opinions, it may ultimately be creating a dialogue which is actually more reflective of the values of dominant elites. At the same time, large media conglomerates and political institutions can utilize these political forums as a means to promote their own commitment to democratic processes, to demonstrate they are committed to “the average Joe!” It is vitally important then, to understand the process of political discussion on forums, the limited sphere of influence these forums maintain, and the internal processes on American political forums that continue, (deliberately or unintentionally) to promote the agenda and values of traditional power holders. Access to political forums is not prevented and is often promoted on a large-scale, but the factors that have led to a stratified social system and differing relationships to the democratic process translate into the structure of the Internet. Again, the mythos of the Internet and its participatory capacity can shade the true structure of those with influence. The technology requires training, knowledge, and the ability to actively engage with other internet users and those in power. This paper explores five American political discussion forums during August 2012—a key month in the United States presidential election. This exploration finds that discussion forums (even those promoting values of openness, equality, and freedom of expression) follow patterns mimicking the dominant hegemonic values prevalent in the United States—individualism, competition, consumerism, and reductionism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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