Centralized and decentralized gatekeeping in an open online collective

Aaron Shaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


This paper presents a study of gatekeeping in the U.S. political blog "Daily Kos." Open online collectives like Daily Kos use relational mechanisms, such as gatekeeping, to manage organizational boundaries and filter the contributions of participants. However, neither prior theories of gatekeeping nor the existing analyses of open online collectives account for the character or implications of gatekeeping in the Daily Kos community. Using qualitative evidence as well as statistical analysis of a large sample of comment threads on the site from 2008, I argue that gatekeeping on Daily Kos takes centralized and decentralized forms, and that both modes depend critically on relational boundary work among site participants. Centralized gatekeeping proceeds through actions by high-status members of the community. Decentralized gatekeeping, by contrast, consists of more numerous and small-scale interactions between community members, who filter and moderate each other's participation. Both forms of gatekeeping enhance the ability of site leaders and incumbent community members to regulate access to privileges and agenda-setting responsibilities on the site. These findings imply that the egalitarian ethos of open online collectives exists in tension with the mechanisms through which participation and status inequalities emerge among participants. How collectives engaged in mobilization and discursive production resolve this tension will shape the long-term impact of online participation and blogs on the political and public spheres.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-388
Number of pages40
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Gatekeeping
  • Internet
  • Organizations
  • Politics
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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