Net Neutrality| Closing the Technocratic Divide? Activist Intermediaries, Digital Form Letters, and Public Involvement in FCC Policy Making

Jonathan A. Obar


Building upon research suggesting activists enhance public involvement in technocratic policy-making processes through forms of digital intermediation, this study investigates the extent to which digital form letters address the structural and rhetorical subordination contributing to the technocratic divide. The ability of the general public to overcome this efficacy divide is assessed in the context of the FCC’s 2014 network neutrality deliberations. Results suggest that even though activists helped individuals overcome impediments to public involvement, including geographic distance from policymakers, deliberations during the workweek, and access to public comment systems, the finding that many comments were submitted via form letter suggests the public’s voice was largely absent. This raises questions about the ability of “slacktivist” tactics to advance public mobilization efforts and the difficult task faced by intermediaries attempting to bridge technocratic divides while avoiding principal–agent problems.


network neutrality, activism, technocracy, political participation, principal–agent relationships

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