Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Politics







Publisher Name

The University of Chicago Press

Publisher Location

Chicago, IL


While there is disagreement as to the severity of the digital disinformation problem, scholars and practitioners have largely coalesced around the idea that a new system of safeguards is needed to prevent its spread. By minimizing the role of citizens in managing their own communities, however, I argue that these gatekeeping approaches are undemocratic. To develop a more democratic alternative, I draw from the work of Harold D. Lasswell and John Dewey to argue that we should study the organization of digital publics. For citizens to engage in democratic inquiry, publics must be organized so that they can (1) easily identify their common interests and (2) regularly encounter variety. I then analyze Facebook, showing how the News Feed and Facebook Groups together create a platform on which propagandists can effectively target and manipulate specific publics. I conclude by turning to Reddit to suggest alternative forms of organizing digital publics more democratically.


Author Posting © Southern Political Science Association, 2020. This article is posted here by permission of The University of Chicago Press for personal use and redistribution. This article was published open access in Journal of Politics, VOL.83, ISS.1, (December 3, 2020),

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License