The best overview of the idea and practice of The Fifth Estate is my recent book with Oxford University Press, entitled The Fifth Estate: The Power Shift of the Digital Age (OUP 2023). The Fifth Estate has been a long-term personal research project designed to understand the Internet’s role in enabling new forms of democratic social accountability and voice, comparable to the Fourth Estate enabled by the press in an earlier era. I first presented the basic research underpinnings of this work in my 2007 Oxford Inaugural Lecture Through the Network (of Networks) – the Fifth Estate (webcast). It is anchored in themes emerging from, and studied through, the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) and related empirical research. The concept has been further developed in a series of publications and forms the basis for a set of ongoing spin-off research projects and publications, culminating in my most recent book on the Fifth Estate (OUP 2023).
The Concept of a Fifth Estate
The rise of the press, radio, television and other mass media enabled the development of an independent institution: the ‘Fourth Estate’, central to pluralist democratic processes. The growing use of the Internet and related digital technologies has created an evolving space for networking individuals to provide a new source of accountability in government, politics and many other sectors of networked societies. My work on the Fifth Estate is centred on the emergence and sustainability of this development and why it could challenge the influence of other more established bases of institutional authority, reconfiguring personal and institutional influence in the digital age.
The project addresses ways the rise of this new social and political phenomenon could support the vitality of liberal democratic societies, build a theoretical framework for understanding this phenomenon, refine empirical research on its role, and examine threats posed by ‘enemies’ of such a Fifth Estate, often from other estates of the Internet realm.
Activities and Targets
The idea of a Fifth Estate was developed to sensitise people to a wide array of concrete trends and developments around the societal implications of the Internet. In the early years, my work on this concept was further developed and presented in a variety of forums. In latter years, I followed a number os case studies in an effort to refine and generalise this concept, and link this concept to a wide ranging synthesis of research on democracy, social accountability, and the Internet. Most recently, I’ve sought to understand how the Fifth Estate is being shaped by the changing context of the Internet, primarily a rising tide of dystopian rhetoric. My book seeks to bring my work on this concept together, up-date my thinking over the years, and ground the notion more comprehensively in a range of empirical settings and case studies for a wider audience. My work on and about the Fifth Estate can be found on your favourite online book shop, and online through my blogs and related links to research and discussion of this work.
Work on the Fifth Estate is linked with a number of related research projects. The project benefits from support of the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) and World Internet Project (WIP), both of which undertook empirical research that underpins the concept of a Fifth Estate. I was associated with a research project at the Danish Technology University (DTU), entitled The Governance and Design of Collaborative User-driven Innovation Platforms, which was funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research. This project built on my work on collaborative network organisations, which is one central aspect of the development of the Fifth Estate. I also collaborated on a project at the University of Jyväskylä, entitled ‘The Fifth Estate – Case Finland’ with Professor Epp Lauk, Turo Uskali, and Niina Niskala, where colleagues developed case studies in Finland. Later, while at the Quello Center at MSU, I was supported by Google Inc in a study of how people get access to political information across seven nations, the Quello Search Project, which enabled me to collect additional data about Internet users that further refined and updated my understanding of the Fifth Estate. My continuing work with the OII and the GCSCC at Oxford almost inevitably built on the underpinnings of this idea, which frames most of my thinking about internet use, policy, and practice.
Through the Network (of Networks): The Fifth Estate
Recorded on: 15 October 2007 Duration: 00:48:27
The Internet and web are creating a new space for networking people, information and other resources: this has the potential to become an important ‘fifth estate’ to support greater accountability in politics, the media and other institutional arenas.
This project has not been supported by any major grant, but has been sustained by my interest in the topic and peripheral work on a number of other grants. However, it has had some support such as through a DTU project, and has been sponsored since 2009 by gifts from June Klein, Chief Executive Officer of Technology & Marketing Ventures, Inc., a US firm that created and implemented Electronic Board Room TMVI(R) Solutions. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has provided matching funds for these gifts.
Dutton, W. H. (2023), The Fifth Estate: The Power Shift of the Digital Age. New York: Oxford University Press.
Articles on the Fifth Estate
Dutton, W.H. (2008) Harnessing Internet User Power. eStrategies Europe 2 (4) 36-37.
Dutton, W.H. (2009) The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks. Prometheus 27 (1) 1-15.
Dutton, W.H. and Eynon, R. (2009) Networked Individuals and Institutions: A Cross-Sector Comparative Perspective on Patterns and Strategies in Government and Research. The Information Society 25 (3) 1-11.
Newman, N., Dutton, W. H., and Blank, G. (2012) Social Media in the Changing Ecology of News: The Fourth and Fifth Estates in Britain. International Journal of Internet Science 7(1) 6-22.
Dubois, E., and Dutton, W. H. (2012/4), ‘The Fifth Estate in Internet Governance: Collective Accountability of a Canadian Policy Initiative’, Revue française d’Etudes Américaines RFEA, 4, pp. 81-97.
Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate: The Internet’s Gift to Democratic Governance’, InterMEDIA, Volume 41, October, pp. 20-24.
Dutton, W. H., SUN, Huan, Shen, Weiwei. (2015). ‘China and the Fifth Estate: Net Delusion or Democratic Potential?’, pp. 1-19 in Balcells, J., Battle, A., Padró-Solanet, A. (coord.), The Impact of Social Media in Politics and Public Administrations (online special issue). IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Política. No. 20, pp. 1-19. Available at: http://elcrps.uoc.edu/index.php/idp/article/view/n20-dutton-huan-shen/2797
Sormanen, N. and Dutton, W.H. (2015), ‘The Role of Social Media in Societal Change: Cases in Finland of Fifth Estate Activity on Facebook’, Social Media + Society, July-December: 1–16.
Robertson, C. T., Dutton, W. H., Ackland, R. & Peng, T-Q. (2019), ‘The Democratic Role of Social Media in Political Debates: The Use of Twitter in the First Televised US Presidential Debate of 2016’, Journal of Information Technology & Politics, DOI: 10.1080/19331681.2019.1590283
Chapters on the Fifth Estate
Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘The Fifth Estate: Democratic Social Accountability through the Emerging Network of Networks’, pp. 3-18 in Nixon, P. G., Koutrakou, V. N., and Rawal, R. (Eds), Understanding E-Government in Europe: Issues and Challenges. London: Routledge.
Dutton, W. H. (2012), ‘The Fifth Estate: A New Governance Challenge’, pp. 584-98 in Levi-Faur, D. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dutton, W. H. (2012) The Internet and Democratic Accountability: The Rise of the Fifth Estate. In F.L.F.Lee, L.Leung, J.L.Qui, and D.S.C.Chu (eds) Frontiers in New Media Research. Abingdon: Informa, Taylor and Francis / Routledge.
Dubois, E., and Dutton, W. H. (2012), ‘The Fifth Estate in Internet Governance: Collective Accountability of a Canadian Policy Initiative’, Revue française d’Etudes Américaines RFEA, 143, (4): 81-97.
Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Internet and Democratic Accountability: The Rise of the Fifth Estate’, pp. 39-55 in Lee, F.L.F., Leung, L., Qui, J. L., and Chu, D.S.C. (eds), Frontiers in New Media Research. Abbingdon: Informa, Taylor and Francis/Routledge.
Huan, S., Dutton, W. H., and Shen, W. (2013) The Semi-Sovereign Netizen: The Fifth Estate in China. In Nixon, P., Rawal, R., and Mercea, D. (eds) Politics and the Internet in Comparative Context. London: Routledge.
Dutton, W. H., and Dubois, E. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate of the Digital World’, pp. 131-43 in Youngs, G. (ed.), Digital World: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. London: Routledge.
Dutton, W. H. with the assistance of Elizabeth Dubois (2014) (ed.) Politics and the Internet, Volumes 1-4. Abingdon: Routledge.
Dubois, E., and Dutton, W.H. (2014), ‘Empowering Citizens of the Digital Age: The Role of a Fifth Estate’, pp. 238-53 in Graham, M., and Dutton, W. H. (eds), Society and the Internet. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dutton, W. H. (2015), ‘The Internet’s Gift to Democratic Governance: The Fifth Estate’, pp. 164-73 in S., Moss, G., and Parry, K. (eds), Can the Media Save Democracy? Essays in Honour of Jay G. Blumler. London, Abington: Palgrave Macmillan. [Adapted and updated from Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate: The Internet’s Gift to Democratic Governance’, InterMEDIA, Volume 41, October, pp. 20-24.]
Dutton, W. H. and Dubois, E. (2015), ‘The Fifth Estate: A New Pluralistic Force of Accountability’, pp. 51-66 in Coleman, S., and Freelon, D. (eds), The Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Robertson, C. and Dutton, W. H. (2020), ‘The Fifth Estate Joins the Debate: The Political Roles of Live Commentary in the First Televised Presidential Debate of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’, pp. forthcoming, in John M. Jones and Michael Trice (eds), Platforms, Protests, and the Challenge of Networked Democracy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dutton, W. H. (2020), ‘The Fifth Estate: Canaries in the Institutions of Liberal Democracies’, pp. 59-65 in Melanie Nagel, Patrick Kenis, Philip Leifeld, and Hans-Jörg Schmedes (Hrsg.), Politische Komplexität, Governance von Innovationen und Policy-Netzwerke: Festschrift für Volker Schneider. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-30914-5
Dutton, W. H. and Dubois, E. (2023), ‘The Fifth Estate: A New Source of Democratic Accountability’, Chapter 18, pp. 265-79 in Coleman, S., and Sorenson, L. (eds), Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
- Dutton, W. (2007) Through the Network (of Networks) – the Fifth Estate. Presented at ‘Through the Network (of Networks) – the Fifth Estate’, University of Oxford, 15 October 2007.
- Dutton, W.H. (2007) The Rise of Electronic Democracy and the Fifth Estate: Lessons Learned from Thirty Years of Research. ‘Electronic Democracy’, a European Science Foundation and Linköping University Conference, 21-25 November 2007. Vadstena Klosterhotell, Vadstena, Sweden.
- Dutton, W.H. (2007) The Rise of Electronic Democracy and the Fifth Estate: Lessons Learned from Thirty Years of Research. Presented at ‘Electronic Democracy’, a European Science Foundation and Linköping University Conference, Vadstena, Sweden, 21-25 November 2007.
- Dutton, W.H. (2008) e-Government and the Rise of the Fifth Estate. ‘E-Leaders Conference 2008’ on the Future of e-Government – Agenda 2020, 6-7 March 2008. Steigenberger Kuhaus Hotel, The Hague, Netherlands.
- Dutton, W.H. (2008) e-Government and the Rise of the Fifth Estate. Presented at ‘E-Leaders Conference 2008 on the Future of e-Government’, The Hague, Netherlands, 6-7 March 2008.
- Dutton, W.H. (2008) The Fifth Estate: Democratic Social Accountability Through the Emerging Network of Networks. Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 18 October 2008.
- Dutton, W.H. (2009) The Rise of the Internet and the Fifth Estate. Internet Research Conference, 4 November 2009. World Internet Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
- Dutton, W.H. (2010) The Fifth Estate of the Internet Realm. Networking Democracy: New Media Innovations in Participatory Politics, 25 June 2010. Universitatea, Babes-Bolyai, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
- Dutton, W.H. (2011) The Fifth Estate of the Internet Realm. The Centre for Research in the Arts, 24 February 2011. Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge Digital Humanities Network, Cambridge University.
- Dutton, W.H. (2011) The Future of the Internet and the Fifth Estate. Alpbach Technology Forum, European Forum Alpbach, 25-27 August 2011. Alpbach, Austria.
- Invited Keynote, ‘The Future of the Internet and the Fifth Estate: The Internet’s Gift to Democracy’, General Online Conference, Mannheim, Germany, 6 March 2013.
- Invited speaker, ‘The Fifth Estate’, for Oxford University Society, Cumbria, 23 March 2013.
- Invited speaker, ‘The Fifth Estate”, for the 750th Anniversary, Balliol College Master’s Seminar Series on Major Global Issues, San Francisco, CA, USA, 28 June 2013.
- Invited speaker, ‘The Fifth Estate’, for Citizenship and Social Inclusion: a Multidisciplinary Dialogue’, Kingston University, UK, 5 September 2013.
- Invited speaker, ‘The Internet’s Fifth Estate: a New Business Reality’, Presentation for faculty, students & guests of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Business, Copenhagen, 31 August 2015.
- Invited speaker, ‘The Internet’s Fifth Estate: Net Delusion or Democratic Potential’, a seminar for faculty, students & guests of the School of Communication, and Institute for Creativity, Hong Kong Baptist University, 16 October 2015.
- Invited speaker, ‘Why Journalism Needs the Fifth Estate: Networked Individuals in the War for Information’, presentation delivered via video conferencing for several hundred students of the Free Journalism School, Kiev, Ukraine, 29 October 2015.
- Invited speaker, ‘Power Shift: Rise of the Internet and a Fifth Estate’, a presentation for the Rob Kling Center of Social Informatics and the Department of Informatics and Library Science, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, 13 November 2015.
- Windsor Lecture, ‘Power Shifts and the Rise of a Fifth Estate’, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 14 March 2016.
- ICA Fellows Lecture, ‘Communication Power Shifts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate’, presentation for the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Fukuoka, Japan, June 10, 2016
- Dutton, W.H. (2010) The Fifth Estate Emerging Through the Internet and Freedom of Expression. In A News Future and the Future of the Journalism Profession: An IPI Report, pp. 22-25. International Press Institute and the Poyntner Institute.
- Dutton, W. H. (2011), ‘A Networked World Needs a Fifth Estate’, Wired Magazine, 22 October, www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/11/ideas-bank/william-dutton