Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
24 January 2004

Here’s a topic that continues to run and run. Will Davies compares Internet-mediated ‘democracy’ to the ‘democratic’ governance of, for example, foundation hospitals and warns that the quality of the results depends on wide participation. He also says, ‘any democratic society rests partially on an undemocratic element, such as the US Supreme Court’, suggesting that moderators may keep things running in a similar way in online discussions. While apathy is indeed a barrier to widespread political participation online I think Will understates the importance of the digital divide here as well.

His musings were prompted by Clay Shirky’s oddly upbeat musings implying that the occasions where online polls come up with results that are unrepresentative (as with the Radio 4 “let us shoot burglars” poll) are part of the ‘glory of this medium’.

For the gloomier side of this picture, check out this depressing posting from Dan (ex Up My Street) about how vociferous local racists are taking over that brave experiment in giving local communities a voice. He blames a lack of moderators and the fact no system of user-managed moderation is possible.


  1. I seem to have expressed this less clearly than I intended. I don’t at all think that an increase in participation does anything to increase the legitimacy of these quasi-democratic polls. No matter how many people are using the internet, and participating in polls of one sort or another, there is still a lack of a clear *electorate* to be represented. No matter how many people participate, it remains only a simulation of universal suffrage, rather than the real thing, because universal suffrage is a legal principle not a bottom-up groundswell.

    Comment by Will Davies — 25 January 2004 @ 6:09 pm

  2. […] national-level discussion. I found this post by one of those who developed the UpMyStreet site via David Brake’s blog. David there cites Clay’s earlier views that occasions when online polls come up with results […]

    Pingback by Socialreporter | Clay Shirky: online crowds aren’t always wise — 4 February 2009 @ 2:10 pm

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