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China and the Fifth Estate: Net Delusion or Democratic Potential?


William H. Dutton ,

Sun Huan,

Weiwei Shen


Arguably, liberal democratic societies are seeing the emergence of a ‘Fifth Estate’ that is being enabled by the Internet. This new organizational form is comparable to, but potentially more powerful than, the Fourth Estate, which developed as a significant force in an earlier period with an independent press and other mass media. While the significance of the press and the Internet to democratic governance is questioned in all societies, there is particular skepticism of their relevance outside the most liberal democratic regimes, which have a relatively free press and more pluralistic political systems, such as in North America and West Europe. Nevertheless, there have been vivid examples of where networked individuals have appeared to assert greater communicative power in the politics of governance, the media and everyday life, even in non-liberal democratic regimes, such as Hong Kong, and in some cases, China. This potential points to the need for more systematic empirical research in a wider variety of economic and political settings worldwide, particularly in states in which the Internet might offer a potential for more democratic governance and greater accountability of government controlled media. This paper examines cases in which networked individuals in China used the Internet to hold governmental and press institutions more accountable. The cases provide support for the relevance of the Fifth Estate concept in China, and also illuminates the process – showing how the Internet can be used to empower networked individuals in more autocratic regimes.

How to Cite: Dutton, W.H., Huan, S. and Shen, W., 2015. China and the Fifth Estate: Net Delusion or Democratic Potential?. IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Política, (20). DOI:
Publicat a 18 Jul 2015.


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