arrowSection 8.2 - Democracy & Cyberspace

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Peter M. Shane

Print Page

Cyberdemocracy: Background Information and Resources

Global interest in the potential impacts of new digital information and communications technologies (ICTs) on democratic practice spawned a field of research and initiative in the 1990s variously called "cyber-," "digital," "electronic," "virtual," or just "e-," "democracy." Since the advent of the World Wide Web, projects in this domain have generally pursued four different, albeit related directions:

  1. The use of ICTs to enhance political processes that were already conventional in our form of representative government, e.g., raising money, distributing candidate information, providing voter education, or facilitating letter-writing to public officials;
  2. The use of ICTs to facilitate community organization, political protest, or other forms of political activity that occur primarily in "real space";
  3. The use of ICTs to enhance the capacity of citizens to consult or collaborate directly with government officials in the making of public policy; and
  4. The use of the Web as a medium for political protest itself — often called "hacktivism."

It is still early to determine how initiatives along these lines will affect the course of electoral politics. For example, in 2000, the most innovative use of the Internet in the presidential election was an effort to get Nader supporters in "swing" states to exchange presumably unenforceable pledges to vote in their states for Gore, in return for the equally unenforceable pledges by Gore supporters in solidly Republican states to vote for Nader. The effort was designed to increase Nader's chances for achieving a level of electoral support nationally that would secure his federal funding for 2004, while reducing the likelihood that the Nader campaign would deprive Gore of the electoral votes needed to win. The fact that neither objective succeeded does not belie the inventiveness of the effort, which would hardly have been conceivable without the Internet.

The following resources offer an introduction to the world of cyberdemocracy:

Up-to-Date briefings on developments in cyberdemocracy around the world:

Online avenues to cyberdemocracy research:

Good examples of online U.S. political practice:

Background reading:

Anderson, David M. And Michael Cornfield, eds., Online Politics and Democratic Values ( Rowman & Littlefield 2003).

Coleman, Stephen & John Gøtze, Bowling Together: Online Public Engagement in Policy Deliberation (2001)

Froomkin, Michael A., Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace , 116 Harv. L. Rev. 749 (2003), available from

Hague, Barry And Brian D. Loader, eds., Digital Democracy: Discourse and Decision Making in the Information Age ( Routledge 1999).

Johnson, Dennis W., Congress Online: Bridging the Gap Between Citizens and Their Representatives (Routledge 2004).

Shane, Peter M., ed., Democracy Online: The Prospects for Political Renewal Through the Internet (Routledge 2004).

Tsagarousianou, Roza, Damian Tambini and Cathy Bryan, eds., Cyberdemocracy: technologies, cities and civic networks (Routledge 1998).