Measuring the deliberative qualities of online instances of discussion is good – but the framework of measurement could be expanded, so that “instead of discarding non-deliberative posts as conceptual detritus, the framework would allow them to be contextualized alongside deliberative content.” So argues Deen G. Freelon in his recent article published in New Media and Society.
Based on the works of Dahlberg and Habermas, Freelon suggests that we should create a framework incorporating the liberal individualist, communitarian and deliberative conceptual models of democracy. (Habermas in Between Facts and Norms talks of the liberal, republican and deliberative models.)
In this framework, particular features of online discussion are associated with one of the three models: for instance, “monologue” as a structural feature is understood as most likely to be embodying the liberal model; “ideological homophily” is conceptualized as a trait of the republican model, while “rational arguments” are of course associated with the deliberative model.
In doing so, we can better understand how particular online discussions can be seen as contributing to (which) democracy. For instance, we can describe a conversation as “mostly communitarian, with certain deliberative aspects,” or “solidly liberal individualist.”
I think Freelon’s conceptual framework could indeed be useful, regardless of whether one only accepts the deliberative model as a legitimate way towards realizing democracy. Or in other words, the article points out that the opposite of “deliberatively democratic” is not necessarily “undemocratic.” (D’uh.)
What could perhaps be debated is how well founded the association is between the three different models and their indicative metrics; mostly for the fact that certain traits of discussion could be seen as underlying every meaningful interpretation of democracy. And the list of metrics could perhaps be extended or reduced as well – according to whatever necessity would arise through empirical studies. But in general- good food for thought.
Freelon, Deen G. (2010): “Analyzing online political discussion using three models of democratic communication,” in: New Media and Society 12(7), 1172-1190.