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Abstract

Does information improve deliberation? Proponents of online deliberation argue that the availability of the Internet can solve two longstanding problems of citizen decisionmaking: that preexisting inequalities tend to be reproduced rather than minimized in deliberative forums and that citizen decisionmaking sacrifices the benefits of expertise. Because all deliberators online can access information during their discussion, deliberation should be more informed and more equal. We put those claims to the test by analyzing URL-link posting in an online deliberative forum composed of 25 deliberating groups. On the positive side of the ledger, we show that participants did take advantage of the informational capacities of the web. URL-link posting not only generated more interaction than did opinions posted without links but it also responded to what we call the scale and uptake problems of public deliberation. On the negative side of the ledger, far from equalizing deliberation, the availability of online information may have given additional advantages to already advantaged groups. This was true even in groups that were actively facilitated. The availability of online information may also have fostered discussions, in some instances, that were more opinionated than informed. Information in the Internet age is newly accessible, we conclude, but is also politicized in unfamiliar ways.

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