In order to assess the impact of something like digital media on democracy, you need a definition of democracy. We used a definition of democracy adapted from the framework developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit for their Democratic Index report, and the definition used by Jamie Bartlett in his book ‘The People vs Tech’.

The five features of democracy in our definition are:

  • Electoral process and pluralism: including whether elections are free, fair and trusted.

  • Active citizens: alert, informed citizens who are capable of making important moral judgements, including measures of equity and diversity in representation.

  • Shared democratic culture: enough societal consensus, cohesion and willingness to compromise for a stable, functioning democracy. In New Zealand, this includes compliance with te Tiriti o Waitangi, on which our democratic culture is founded.

  • Civil liberties and competitive economy: a functioning competitive economy and civil society, including protection of human rights and free, independent media.

  • Trust in authority: a trustworthy government, parliament and judiciary and elected representatives accountable to the people.

Defining democracy is complex. Defining digital media is almost as difficult. Digital media technically includes all digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks. This could include text, audio, video, and images. So content from print or broadcast media outlets can fall into this category when it is presented on a website or blog.

The focus of this research was on social media, online forms of communication that people use to share and exchange information with interested audiences, and within that, a specific focus on the major digital platforms, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. However, interviewees also talked about the impact of other forms of digital media on democracy, including blogs, online forums and digital forms of traditional media.