Democracy dies in darkness? Information, access, and curation as a public good

Platforms like WikiLeaks raise normative questions about how the introduction of new digital technologies changed the relationship between information, accountability, and democracy. The literature in democratic accountability has traditionally conflated information access with information curation, focusing on the utility of the former without considering the latter. We examine what is lost in that conflation through an analysis of the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks, arguing that information is democratically valuable only when and where two processes of curation are triggered. The first is a process of selection (to determine what information should be shared); the second is one of contextualization (to determine how best to share it). Taken together, we argue information must be at least ‘minimally curated’ to be democratically useful. Thus, information platforms ought to be held accountable for decisions about what to distribute, and about how information is presented to the public.