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Can digital media threaten democracy? The case of the EU-Turkey controversy

Open Panel

Abstract

This paper examines the extent to which digital media can threaten democracy by impoverishing the political debate. As opposed to analogue media, digital media allow for horizontal collaboration of non-experts, and are said to support and reinforce democracy. Web 2.0 applications foster dialogue between politicians and citizens, ICTs help the weakest to get round censorship ... The access to more knowledge and a nearly infinite array of opinions should support democracy and thus must be left uncontrolled, some say. Others disagree and argue that digital media can actually threaten the very heart of deliberative democracies by impoverishing the political debate (the “State blogosphere 2010” study suggests that the primary source of influence of the topics blogged are other blogs themselves). Cass Sunstein also notices few cross-ideological posts on blogs, thereby creating “information cocoons”. Such information enclosure has both technological and psychological roots. Technological, because digital media allow us to filter information easily and to mostly exchange with like-minded friends in a self-reinforcing process. Psychological, because our bounded rationality cannot cope with the amount of information available to us, which tends to cause problems of cognitive dissonance resolved by ignoring contradictory opinions and arguments. This paper is based on an analysis of a much heated on-line debate about the integration of Turkey in the European Union. Tools to map the forces engaged in this controversy will be used to examine whether digital media cold foster debate across supporters and opponents of the much awaited entry of Turkey in the European Union.