In a thoroughly researched paper from the Journal of Communication, April 2012, Vol 2, Issue 62, pages 249 – 265 “Internet Use and Democratic Demands: A Multinational, Multilevel Model of Internet Use and Citizen Attitudes About Democracy” by Erik C. Nisbet, Elizabeth Stoycheff and Katy E.Pearce, a number of the questions arising from the debate with those advocating the Internet as a tool for democratic change start to be answered. In fact the whole issue of the Journal is dedicated to social media and political change.
The brief Introduction to the edition by Philip N. Howard & Malcolm R. Perks on pages 359-362 notes, among other things that “the contributors […] make clear, popular and academic punditry about the “Facebook Revolution” overlooks the deeper and ultimately more important processes at work. There is a connection between technology diffusion, the use of digital media, and political change. But it is complex and contingent.” They later confirm that “we should not therefore assume that social media are automatically democratizing or that the political discussion they engender is necessarily in line with idealized conceptions of civic discourse”.
Importantly, the paper by Nisbet et al summarises in the conclusion that the “study demonstrates the relationship between the Internet and citizen attitudes about democracy may be more nuanced than previous research has suggested and somewhat contingent upon the technological and political context in which citizens are embedded”. So while we watch this bandwagon roll, lets not jump on it without the correct contextual evidence.