Miller Center National Debate on Whether the Internet Threatens Democracy

May 14, 2010 — The founder of Wikipedia will be among the participants in a Miller Center National Debate on whether the Internet is threatening democracy.

The debate, produced by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs in partnership with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, will take place May 18 at 7 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington.
 
Debating the resolution, "Democracy is threatened by the unchecked nature of information on the Internet," participants will take sides on whether the Internet fulfills the ideals of a direct democracy or whether it generates, in the words of Google CEO Eric Schmitt, a "cesspool" of erroneous information.

Arguing for the resolution are Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture," and Farhad Manjoo, Slate magazine technology columnist and author of "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society."

Arguing against the resolution are Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Micah Sifry, editor of Personal Democracy Forum.

Paul Solman, business and economics correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," will moderate the debate.

The debate will be webcast live at www.millercenter.org, and there will be updates on the Miller Center's Twitter account. Viewers and followers can submit questions for the debaters by e-mailing debates@virginia.edu or by tweeting @Miller_Center. You can also post questions on the Miller Center's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/millercenter.

According to the Pew Research Center, the Internet has surpassed newspapers and radio in popularity as a news platform on a typical day and now ranks just behind TV.
 
Supporters say the Internet has mobilized an unprecedented number of people around various campaigns and causes, including Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, which used the power of digital media to reach millions of voters. They also point out that the Internet has been critical for democratic movements, including in Iran where students have used Twitter to galvanize forces for demonstrations and to send pictures of rallies to the world. Supporters also say that the Internet has given voice to more journalists, including citizen journalists, to report and comment on the news.

The other side argues that, while information is now at everyone's fingertips, so is misinformation. They also say that the rise of the Internet as a source of information has undercut the economic model of professional journalism and that, as a consequence, there is less support for objective news produced by journalists – the type of information upon which democracy depends. They add that, as bloggers gain larger followings and the number of professional journalists shrinks, citizens are getting an ideological slant on their news and are less frequently confronted with perspectives that challenge their beliefs.

Founded in 1975, the Miller Center of Public Affairs is a leading nonpartisan public policy institution aimed at bringing together engaged citizens, scholars, members of the media and government officials to focus on issues of national importance to the governance of the United States, with a special interest in the American presidency.