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Debate: Whether the Internet Threatens Democracy

The founder of Wikipedia will be among the participants in a Miller Center National Debate on whether the Internet is threatening democracy. The debate, produced by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, in partnership with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and the National Press Club, will take place Tuesday, May 18 at 7:00 p.m. ET at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Debating the resolution, "Democracy is threatened by the unchecked nature of information on the Internet," participants will take sides on whether the Internet fulfills the ideals of a direct democracy or whether it generates, in the words of Google CEO Eric Schmitt, a "cesspool" of erroneous information.

Arguing for the resolution are:

- Andrew Keen, author, "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture"
- Farhad Manjoo, "Slate" technology columnist, author, "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society"

Arguing against the resolution are:

- Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia
- Micah Sifry, Editor, Personal Democracy Forum

Paul Solman, business and economics correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," will moderate the debate.

The debate will be webcast live at www.millercenter.org, and there will be updates on the Miller Center's Twitter account. Viewers and followers can submit questions for the debaters by e-mailing [email protected] or by tweeting @Miller_Center. You can also post questions on the Miller Center's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/millercenter.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the Internet surpassed newspapers last year as Americans' source of national and international news, nearly doubling that from the previous year.

Supporters say the Internet has mobilized an unprecedented number of people around various campaigns and causes, including Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, which channeled the power of digital media to reach millions of voters. They also point out that the Internet has been critical for democratic movements, including in Iran where students have used Twitter to galvanize forces for demonstrations and to send pictures of rallies to the world. Supporters also say that the Internet has given voice to more journalists, including citizen journalists, to report and comment on the news.

The other side argues that, while information is now at everyone's fingertips, so is misinformation. They also say that the rise of the Internet as a source of information has undercut the economic model of professional journalism and that, as a consequence, there is less support for objective news produced by journalists – the type of information upon which democracy depends. They add that, as bloggers gain larger followings, the number of professional journalists is diminishing and citizens are getting an ideological slant on their news and less frequently confronted with perspectives that challenge their beliefs.
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