Panel discussion during the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009 on the socially egalitarian and politically democratic potential of social media. Have they lived up to the promises?
Theorists such as Yochai Benkler have suggested that the accessibility and inherently social nature of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, social networking and wikis mean that we might expect them to enhance our democratic freedoms through the opening of new channels for debate and collaboration. Academic research suggests that such new opportunities have not been equally taken up, and that in many areas, new social media are simply being used by old elites. At the same time, blogs and social media are having significant effect in enhancing accountability and transparency, particularly in repressive regimes like Burma and China. This session will ask whether we should be so quick to dismiss the socially egalitarian and politically democratic potential of social media or whether there might equally be more mundane but significant social impacts which have so far been ignored.