Critique of the Democratic Potentials of the Internet: A Review of Current Theory and Practice

  • Yana Breindl Université Libre de Bruxelles
Keywords: Internet politics, activism, public sphere, social capital, democracy, mobilisation, dichotomies.


Many scholars have hailed the democratic potential of the internet. For some the network of networks would empower individuals and foster genuine political discussions, for others, it was perceived as a threat, a Machiavellian tool that would inevitably lead to increased State surveillance and monitory of its citizens. After the turn of the century, a growing body of literature reveals the gap between the supposed democratic potentialities of the internet and the practices that are emerging in the field. This paper reviews recent literature on online activism and e-mobilisation and argues that each potentiality recovers a continuum rather than a binary division. In order to deconstruct the democratic potentialities of the internet, we base this reflection upon the three axes proposed by Vedel for making sense of the political uses of the internet (2007): information, discussion and mobilisation. For each of these dimensions, evidence can be found that assesses an empowering aspect of the technology (e.g.: increased access to information can lead to a better informed citizenry) while similarly containing a demobilisation aspect (informational access also leads to issues of information overload and practices of disinformation).

Author Biography

Yana Breindl, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Ph.D Candidate

Department of Information and Communication Sciences