Government and International Relations Honors Papers

Smart People, Stupid Networks: The Internet’s Equalizing Influence on Political Discourse and Engagement

Joseph D. Backer, Connecticut College

Document Type Honors Paper


This study explores the impact and influences of the Internet on formalized political discourse and engagement during the last decade. It traces the traditions and conventions of predominantly top-down and elite-dominated methods of information dissemination and citizen mobilization, beginning with newspapers at the turn of the nineteenth century and progressing to the professionalization and specialization experienced during the twentieth century. These sustained patterns of limited influence for non-elites had a marginalizing effect on participation and understandings of democratic responsiveness. Since the emergence of the Internet as a widespread medium of communication, however, prevailing hierarchies of control over discourse and engagement have been challenged on a number of fronts. This study highlights many such challenges and argues that the Internet is an equalizing force that is counteracting the disproportionate levels of power held by political elites. It further underlines the complementary nature of the Internet to traditional forms of political expression, and the necessity of policies that will equip Americans with the confidence and experience necessary to realize the Internet’s potential as a political forum.


The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.