The political science of the Internet

by Henry Farrell on May 24, 2012

in IT and politics

A few months ago, I posted a draft article on Politics and the Internet that was forthcoming in the Annual Review of Political Science. The final version is now out, and available (via a paywall passthrough: let me know if you are a non-academic reader and this doesn’t work for you) here – with acknowledgment to Monkey Cage readers for helpful suggestions. Again, thanks.

Political scientists are only now beginning to come to terms with the importance of the Internet to politics. The most promising way to study the Internet is to look at the role that causal mechanisms such as the lowering of transaction costs, homophilous sorting, and preference falsification play in intermediating between specific aspects of the Internet and political outcomes. This will allow scholars to disentangle the relevant causal relationships and contribute to important present debates over whether the Internet exacerbates polarization in the United States, and whether social media helped pave the way toward the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Over time, ever fewer political scientists are likely to study the Internet as such, as it becomes more and more a part of everyday political life. However, integrating the Internet’s effects with present debates over politics, and taking proper advantage of the extraordinary data that it can provide, requires good causal arguments and attention to their underlying mechanisms.

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