A Scientific American podcast entitled “Small Group of People Dominate Some Internet Discussions” is developed from an academic paper entitled “Civil Society and Online Political Discourse: The Network Structure of Unrestricted Discussions” . The actual paper (for which a link is provided in the Scientific American introduction) is drawn from research involving 207, 419 participants in 35 newsgroups over 6 years. The research focused on groups dealing with philosophy and politics.
The paper makes an excellent analysis of the literature around civil society including the views of Habermas and others. It then goes into a detailed analysis of the data from the newsgroups. What is revealed from this on page 19 is that “the ability to influence and thus benefit from discussion spaces is highly unequal, as a few participants attracted much more attention than others. Internet technology may have egalitarian potential but when users take advantage of the opportunity to participate in online discussion fora, patterns of interaction indicate a sharp inequality among participants”.
I’m not sure whether this is a criticism of e-participation or the bigger subject of particpative democracy. Will the louder voices rule whatever the media? Is this an argument for representative democracy? More research here I think!