Many agree that digital technologies are transforming politics. They disagree, however, about the significance and character of that transformation. Many of the pioneers of understanding the distinctive dynamics of new digital media platforms—social media and collaborative production—are quite optimistic about the potential for the Internet to dramatically increase the quality of democratic governance. On the other hand, some political scientists who have examined actual patterns of political activity and expression on digital platforms come away skeptical that digital platforms will bring equality or inclusion to democratic politics.
This article brings together these two opposed perspectives by developing six models of how digital technologies might affect democratic politics: the empowered public sphere, displacement of traditional organizations by new digitally self-organized groups, digitally direct democracy, truth-based advocacy, constituent mobilization, and crowd-sourced social monitoring. Reasoning from the character of political incentives and institutional constraints, it argues that the first three revolutionary and transformative models are less likely to occur than the second three models that describe incremental contributions of technology to politics.
International Studies Review (2013) 15, 30–47. PDF.