Handbook of Digital Politics
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Handbook of Digital Politics

Edited by Stephen Coleman and Deen Freelon

It would be difficult to imagine how a development as world-changing as the emergence of the Internet could have taken place without having some impact upon the ways in which politics is expressed, conducted, depicted and reflected upon. The Handbook of Digital Politics explores this impact in a series of chapters written by some of the world's leading Internet researchers. This volume is a must-read for students, researchers and practitioners interested in the changing landscape of political communication.
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Chapter 15: Creating spaces for online deliberation

Christopher Birchall and Stephen Coleman


Contemporary political democracy is faced with two formidable challenges. Firstly, there is the problem of underinformed, unconfident citizens who find it difficult to make up their minds on many of the important policy issues that face society. They rarely talk about politics because they think that nobody in authority will take any notice of them; and they are seldom listened to because they rarely talk about politics. We could compel such people to vote on issues, regardless of whether they feel able to form a competent judgement; we can offer them opportunities to follow parties and leaders which serve as containers of composite values and preferences; or we might leave them to disengage from politics, allowing those who feel confident that they are well informed to make decisions for them. While such minimal terms of political engagement would be compatible with a highly parsimonious model of democracy, they would fall short of the norms of citizenship as formulated by participatory democrats. Secondly, there is the problem of dogmatic and inflexible citizens who have made up their minds on nearly all issues, often in accordance with an overarching ideological bias, and are open to neither new information nor ethical influence to change their rigidly held values and preferences. Such people satisfy the normative democratic requirement of being willing to enter the political fray, but the quality of their engagement tends to be inconsistent with the democratic principle of intellectual openness and adaptability.

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