Internet and Democratic Accountability – The Rise of the Fifth Estate

Routledge released recently “Frontiers in New Media Research”  -  a book edited by Francis L.F. Lee, Louis Leung, Jack Linchuan Qiu, Donna S.C. Chu. The chapters “examine the implications of new media technologies on everyday life, existing social institutions, and the society at large at various levels of analysis”.

Among the chapters include Prof. Dutton’s Internet and Democratic Accountability – The Rise of the Fifth Estate. The chapter builds upon earlier work conducted by Bill Dutton who is Professor of Internet Studies (formerly Director) @ Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and Fellow of Balliol College.  The concept of “the Fifth Estate” was launched in his inaugural lecture in October 2007 that was entitled ‘Through the Network (of Networks) — the Fifth Estate’ (webcast) . Since then, the Arab Spring and SOPA within the US has generated much attention toward what Andrew Rasiej calls the “Internet Public”.

According to OII, Prof. Dutton’s project of a Fifth Estate can be described as follows:

“The rise of the press, radio, television and other mass media enabled the development of an independent institution: the ‘Fourth Estate’, central to pluralist democratic processes. The growing use of the Internet and related digital technologies is creating a space for networking individuals to provide a new source of accountability in government, politics and many other sectors of networked societies. This project is centered on the emergence and sustainability of this ‘Fifth Estate’ and why it could challenge the influence of other more established bases of institutional authority.”

The Chapter goes beyond conceptual definitions and aims to provide evidence of the establishment of a Fifth Estate including  the “changing patterns of everyday Internet use around the world”, and the emerging “trust in the Centrality of the Internet as a New ‘Space of Flows’ (building upon Manuel Castells concept of the Internet as Space of Flows)”.  Dutton also points to the growing threats to the “Fifth Estates” from other societal “estates” – such as Government surveillance and censorship, as well as capture by economic elites. To preserve the vitality of the Internet, Dutton advocates a governance structure based upon notions of self-regulation.

Slide Show on “the Fifth Estate”

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