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Princeton University Press
The Myth of Digital Democracy

The Myth of Digital Democracy

by Matthew Hindman
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Is the Internet democratizing American politics? Do political Web sites and blogs mobilize inactive citizens and make the public sphere more inclusive? The Myth of Digital Democracy reveals that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet has done little to broaden political discourse but in fact empowers a small set of elites--some new, but most familiar.

Matthew Hindman argues that, though hundreds of thousands of Americans blog about politics, blogs receive only a miniscule portion of Web traffic, and most blog readership goes to a handful of mainstream, highly educated professionals. He shows how, despite the wealth of independent Web sites, online news audiences are concentrated on the top twenty outlets, and online organizing and fund-raising are dominated by a few powerful interest groups. Hindman tracks nearly three million Web pages, analyzing how their links are structured, how citizens search for political content, and how leading search engines like Google and Yahoo! funnel traffic to popular outlets. He finds that while the Internet has increased some forms of political participation and transformed the way interest groups and candidates organize, mobilize, and raise funds, elites still strongly shape how political material on the Web is presented and accessed.

The Myth of Digital Democracy. debunks popular notions about political discourse in the digital age, revealing how the Internet has neither diminished the audience share of corporate media nor given greater voice to ordinary citizens.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691138688
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 11/16/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Matthew Hindman is assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Chapter One: The Internet and the "Democratization" of Politics 1

Democratization and Political Voice 4

A Different Critique 8

Gatekeeping, Filtering, and Infrastructure 12

The Difference between Speaking and Being Heard 16

Chapter Two: The Lessons of Howard Dean 20

The Liberal Medium? 21

"Big Mo'" Meets the Internet 26

The Internet and the Infrastructure of Politics 27

The End of the Beginning 34

Chapter Three: "Googlearchy": The Link Structure of Political Web Sites 38

What Link Structure Can Tell Political Scientists 41

The Link Structure of Online Political Communities 45

Site Visibility and the Emergence of Googlearchy 54

The Politics of Winners-Take-All 56

Chapter Four: Political Traffic and the Politics of Search 58

The Big Picture 60

Traffic Demographics 67

Search Engines and (the Lack of) User Sophistication 68

What Users Search For 70

Search Engine Agreement 78

How Wide a Gate? 80

Chapter Five: Online Concentration 82

Barriers to Entry 83

Distribution, Not Production 86

Online Concentration 90

Comparative Data, Comparative Metrics 91

A Narrower Net 99

Chapter Six: Blogs: The New Elite Media 102

Blogs Hit the Big Time 103

Bloggers and the Media 105

So You Want to Be a Blogger 113

Blogger Census 118

Bloggers and Op-Ed Columnists 125

Rhetoric and Reality 127

Chapter Seven: Elite Politics and the "Missing Middle" 129

The Limits of Online Politics 131

A Narrower Net 133

Political Organizing and the Missing Middle 139

New Technology, Old Failures 141

Appendix: On Data and Methodology 143

Support Vector Machine Classifiers 143

Surfer Behavior and Crawl Depth 150

Hitwise's Data and Methodology 151

References 155

Index 173

What People are Saying About This

Yochai Benkler

Hindman provides a serious, informed, and methodologically conscientious argument in favor of the position that the Internet has not fundamentally changed the elitist and concentrated structure of the public sphere typical of mass media. He produces significant evidence against both fears of fragmentation of discourse and hopes that we are seeing a more egalitarian and democratic networked public sphere. The contribution is important, and anyone working in this area will have to contend with his data and analysis.
Yochai Benkler, Harvard University

Bruce Bimber

Many authors make claims about the Internet and politics on the basis of some piece of the problem—by looking just at Web sites or blogs, or by examining link structure, or evaluating some aspect of campaigns for office. Hindman has drawn together many pieces of the puzzle into a coherent whole. This is an ambitious book, and it delivers.
Bruce Bimber, University of California, Santa Barbara

Diana Owen

This book makes a significant contribution to the study of political communication. Hindman's approach provides an extensive and multifaceted view of online political content, its producers, and its audiences. This book breaks new ground in important ways, and is likely to become a modern classic in the field of the Internet and politics.
Diana Owen, Georgetown University


An outstanding combination of theoretical and empirical work. Hindman has produced one of the very few best books, ever, on the relationship between the Internet and democracy. Indispensable reading.
Cass R. Sunstein, author of " 2.0"

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