The Architecture of Political Spaces: Trolls, Digital Media, and Deweyan Democracy
by Jennifer Forestal, Stockton University
The problem of trolls exemplifies the challenges of building democratic communities in the digital environment of social media. Distinguishing trolls from activists can be difficult; democratic theorists have yet to adequately address how to prevent the former while remaining open to the latter. In this article, I outline a theory democratic politics that takes space as a central element in shaping these kinds of democratic interactions. Drawing from the work of John Dewey, I identify two key characteristics of democratic space: boundedness and flexibility. Using these criteria, I then evaluate Kinja, Gawker Media’s commenting platform, both before and after trolls attacked the site in 2014. I find that in altering its boundaries to successfully protect against trolls, Kinja introduced a new problem: a lack of flexibility that continues to affect the possibility for democratic discourse on the platform. I conclude by suggesting how this theory of democratic space might shape future research.