Through the Network of Networks - The Fifth Estate

21 Pages Posted: 24 May 2008

See all articles by William H. Dutton

William H. Dutton

GCSCC Computer Science University of Oxford

Date Written: October 15, 2007


The rise of the press, radio, television and other mass media has created an independent institution: the 'Fourth Estate', central to pluralist democratic processes. However, the growing use of the Internet and related technologies enables the networking of individuals in ways that create a new source of accountability not only in government and politics, but also in other sectors. Does the Internet create a space for this new form of social accountability? Is it enabling a 'Fifth Estate'? The Internet is a platform for networking individuals in ways that can challenge the influence of other more established bases of institutional authority, and that can be used to increase the accountability of the press, politicians, doctors and academics by offering alternative sources of information and opinion. Questions about the governance of the Fifth Estate are likely to become more prominent as people realize that the Internet is a social phenomenon with such broad and substantial implications for political and social accountability. The vitality of the 'Fifth Estate' rests less on new policy initiatives than on preventing its takeover by the other four estates.

Keywords: Internet, Democracy, Politics, Fifth Estate, Fourth Estate

Suggested Citation

Dutton, William H., Through the Network of Networks - The Fifth Estate (October 15, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

William H. Dutton (Contact Author)

GCSCC Computer Science University of Oxford ( email )

Department of Computer Science
Robert Hooke Bldg 010
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PR
United Kingdom

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