Politics 2.0

The influence of new media on current day politics

An essay by Bas Grasmayer

The 20th century was the age of mass media. The impact of radio during the first half of the century and that of television during the second brought politics closer to home. Starting from people grouping around the one radio in their neighbourhood, to the radio in their street, until the point that everyone had a radio in their home. The same happened for television and through these media politics entered the living room. Through sound at first, but later through moving images which became more detailed and more accurately coloured over the course of the last century.

We’re now close to ten years into the new century. Television and radio are still important, but there is a new player in the field of mass media: the internet. This essay will look at how the internet has already influenced politics and hopes to answer, in part, the following question:

How is the World Wide Web as a medium influencing
politics and the government right now?

New Media

In the 2008 US Presidential elections, politicians were seen embracing new media. Barack Obama became microblogging service Twitter’s most followed user and YouTube set up a site called You Choose ’08 dedicated to the elections. On the latter, campaign teams posted videos hoping they would go ‘viral’, a term used to describe the phenomenon of certain content on the internet being spread out through huge networks of users, which is often initially an exponential process. Ron Paul, who was running to become the Republican presidential candidate, had so much support on the internet that TIME magazine at one point commented that due to “his  success  recruiting  supporters  through  new  social  media  channels” he was “the  new  2.0  candidate”.

2.0

TV and radio offered us a type of communication labeled one-to-many. The internet has offered us a new mass medium, but instead of one-to-many, the internet has a many-to-many quality due to its highly interactive nature. The idea of Web 2.0 came up in the last 5 years and is used to describe the increasing interactivity and interconnectivity of the internet . In the past, the World Wide Web was used mostly as a tool for information retrieval, but nowadays, many internet users engage in posting user-generated content on blogs, social networks like Facebook or MySpace, YouTube, or photosharing sites like Google’s Picasa and Flickr. 2.0 is often added as a suffix to indicate the rising interactivity regarding a certain phenomenon, hence the phrase ‘Politics 2.0’.

How is the World Wide Web as a medium influencing politics and the government right now?

There are a lot of individual examples of politics 2.0, but to answer this question in a substantial manner, trends have to be identified and analyzed. This part looks into two of the many trends out there and answers the above question. Two important trends have been chosen, to give a glimpse of the full scope of the World Wide Web’s current impact.

Citizen Journalism

According to new media theorist Terry Flew, the rise of citizen journalism can be attributed to 3 elements; open publishing, collaborative editing and distributed content . This means that the playing field of the power of spreading a message between traditional mass media outlets and citizens is getting levelled, meaning that the message is no longer as controlled by the media elite as it has been in the past.

One of the most powerful examples of citizen journalism directly affecting a country’s politics occurred in South Korea in 2002. OhmyNews, a citizen journalism platform with more than 50,000 freelance contributors, played a big role in unseating the former president during the elections in South Korea, as so-called ‘Netizins’ (internet citizens) used OhmyNews to offset the effects the traditional, and in their eyes biased, media had on the current elections.

“The new president owed his dramatic victory in 2003 largely to Korea’s online next generation of “wired red devils”. On December 19, 2002, a very cool election day in Seoul, exit polls had forecast that the 56-year-old reformist candidate, an early favorite among Korea’s youth, was losing the election.” (Asia Times)

Politics Gets Interactive

“I came back too late from New York to go to the council of ministers, but the scarf joined me to the UN” , says Maxime Verhagen, Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs on social micro-blogging tool Twitter in reply to another Twitter user after getting welcomed back by him from his trip to the United Nations in New York. Verhagen explained his use of Twitter by saying he wants to “show that there doesn’t have to be a gap between citizens and politics.”

This is a perfect example of the increasing interactivity of politics. It’s also interesting to note that as media gets more interactive, politics apparently also does. Due to the interactivity and interconnectivity of the World Wide Web, our social relations also appear to be getting more interconnected. Websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace make it very easy to manage ones social network and get introduced to new people within ones broader networks. The growing popularity and usage of websites like this indicates an increasing demand of social interconnectivity.

Proponents of open source governance call for creating democratic, wiki-like online platforms which consist solely of user-generated content. For instance, a local community could govern itself and all members of the community can contribute to a particular policy by adding on to it. The three aforementioned critical elements of citizen journalism – open publishing, collaborative editing and distributed content – are vital to this system. This is not some futuristic concept, but it is happening now.

A Swedish political party called Aktiv Demokrati, aiming for the national parliament, believes that “all citizens from different parts in the society should be able to influence important issues both directly and indirectly straight into parliament through an internet based democracy system.” And they’ve enacted such a system for their own party already.

Another example of this is the Trots Op Nederland (TON) (Proud of The Netherlands) party founded by Rita Verdonk, a prominent Dutch politician. The party doesn’t use the traditional membership system, as is common in The Netherlands, instead the party invites people to participate using its Wiki-system. This Wiki-technology is also the basis of popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. “In the Wiki of TON, you can deliver your own contribution to the first eight main themes that TON is focussing on.” (TON)  In this way Dutch citizens can contribute to the party’s political programme. The party is currently not part of the Dutch parliament, as Rita Verdonk founded it after a post-election boot from her former party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. Although prognosis at one point were that TON would be the second biggest party if elections were held at that point, the party has now dropped to a prognosis of becoming one of the smallest parties in the parliament.

A final example of this type of e-democracy is the global Metagovernment project which is involved in developing open source (‘free’) software “which will run the Metagovernment and potentially any other community wishing to govern itself through open source governance.” It “makes the basic assumption that the participating parties are on some level willing to cooperate with each other and work towards common solutions, at least to the extent that they recognize they are members of some common community.” If the participating parties meet up to that, the software should “make discussion within and among large communities viable and effective.” (all info to be found here)

Concluding

Through the increasing availability of internet to the point it’s considered fairly normal to have internet on your mobile phone, the pervasiveness of the web has become a force to reckon with for politicians. The demand for openness and transparency, which are very important to ‘Netizens’, is increasing, as is the visibility of politicians. No longer do politicians rely solely on the publicity of the traditional media outlets, because the power new media grants citizens can in some cases exceed the impact of mainstream publicity, as was the case in South Korea. It’s becoming increasingly important for politicians to start adhering to the rules of the net, which seem bound to be able to make politics more transparent, more interconnected, and most importantly: more interactive.


BasBasBas.com is about my life as a Dutch student living in various countries. I regularly write about my adventures in the Balkans and travels in the region. If you’d like to stay up to date, you can subscribe to my RSS feed or get email updates in your inbox. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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One Response to “Politics 2.0”

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