Shaping Digital Democracy in the United States: and Participatory Democracy

Shaping Digital Democracy in the United States: and Participatory Democracy

Rachel Baarda (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Rocci Luppicini (University of Ottawa, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9461-3.ch064
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Ethical challenges that technology poses to the different spheres of society are a core focus within the field of technoethics. Over the last few years, scholars have begun to explore the ethical implications of new digital technologies and social media, particularly in the realms of society and politics. A qualitative case study was conducted on Barack Obama's campaign social networking site,, in order to investigate the ways in which the website uses or misuses digital technology to create a healthy participatory democracy. For an analysis of ethical and non-ethical ways to promote participatory democracy online, the study included theoretical perspectives such as the role of the public sphere in a participatory democracy and the effects of political marketing on the public sphere. The case study included a content analysis of the website and interviews with members of groups on the site. The study's results are explored in this chapter.
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In November 2008, Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States was heralded as the beginning of a new era of citizen participation in American politics (Carpenter, 2010; Marks, 2008; Tapscott, 2009). Writers attributed Obama’s victory to his use of the Internet, which he used to engage and mobilize supporters and raise funds (Scherer, 2009; Talbot, 2008). Theorists also argued that Obama’s use of digital media allowed citizens to participate in politics as never before. In 2008, Marc Ambinder wrote in The Atlantic: “Obama clearly intends to use the Web, if he is elected president, to transform governance just as he has transformed campaigning…What Obama seems to promise is, at its outer limits, a participatory democracy in which the opportunities for participation have been radically expanded.” Andrew Raseiej, co-president of, declared shortly after Obama’s victory: “there’s a newly engaged and empowered citizenry that is ready, able, and willing to partner with the Obama administration on rebooting American democracy in a 21st-century model of participation” (Marks, 2008).

Based on the widespread claims about a new age of citizen participation under President Obama, this study explores the use and abuse of digital media in promoting participatory democracy. More specifically, the study examines the ways in which Obama’s social networking site,, influences participatory democracy. The study draws on interviews with members of, as well as the text of the website itself.

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