Internet and Politics

The Internet, when it became popularized in the early 1990s, created an opportunity for an increased connection to politics. The extent to which people have been influenced to become more involved is, however, still disputed. Critics on both sides claim, respectively, that it has made a significant impact, or the Internet will stimulate interest in politics among people who are apathetic.

What is relevant is that citizens of a country now have the possibility of gaining access to considerably vast amounts of information that would previously have been unavailable. Moreover, people also have channels for venting their opinions on political and other matters, via websites, bulletin boards, blogs, and increasingly, through social media networks.

On the other side of the coin, the Internet provides political candidates with a platform from which to advocate their positions and theoretically, to reach a broader audience. Having a website is now commonplace, and candidates may utilize the media in this way to present a higher profile. At the same time, candidates can communicate with their voters more easily via the Internet, especially by email. Given the proliferation of mobile networking, this practice has gained further ground, with candidate-voter communication possible by clicking on an instant message service, or by connecting to the web from any location .

Some critics believe that the Internet has not provided a safe ground for politicians or lobbyists to present their case, as any statement posted on the Internet can be misinterpreted and distorted. These critics claim that the Internet plays a role in polarizing the political arena and creating further divides between peoples and nations. It is not clear, therefore, whether the Internet has played its part in advancing democracy or in creating new schism, or whether people hold certain views irrespective of the Internet. What is clear is that Internet technology, particularly in the first decade since its inception, has been exploited as an online for political campaigning, advertising and fundraising.

Like-minded people may search for causes and groups with which they share common goals personally, politically and ideologically. While they may find what they are looking for on online sites, there is also a chance that the search will yield additional information presenting alternative views.

Research has indicated that the Internet, by giving online information and news, and by virtue of its communicative contact, has increased voter participation in elections. Although there may be numerous reasons involved as to why or for whom someone votes, the fact that knowledge and communication is ubiquitous appears to be a pertinent factor.

The new applications that have become available with technological advances affect the dynamics of the relationship between the Internet and politics. YouTube has contributed significantly to this phenomenon by publicizing videos that present political messages. Blogs, in addition to websites, give further opportunities for raising public support for a particular cause.

Social networks, such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, have revolutionized the way people address politics, while mobile technologies like the BlackBerry and other devices offer around-the-clock, instant access, at any location in the world. The ease and speed with which mobile technology and Internet networking can effect political change was seen most starkly in the revolution in Egypt that took place in early 2011. Popular opinion is that the uprising that ultimately led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak was coordinated via the Internet, on social networking sites.

The groups that instigated the riots that swept the United Kingdom in August 2011 used Twitter to disseminate information and updates to mobilize the demonstrators, although organizers claimed that Twitter itself was not responsible for activating the unrest. What is clear is that the speed with which the uprisings were organized, and the capacity for reaching an extremely wide group almost instantaneously, exemplifies the role that the Internet can play in certain political situations.

As technology continues to evolve, it appears that Internet applications have the potential to strengthen people's connection with politics. Whereas previously, it may have been difficult to gather people together to protest against an issue, or to promote change, a "tweet" or a look at what is "trending" has the capacity to bring together vast numbers of people with a shared political interest, at the click of a button, at great speed.

Internet and Politics: Selected full-text books and articles

Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections By Bruce Bimber; Richard Davis Oxford University Press, 2003
Internet Freedom & Political Space By Olesya Tkacheva; Lowell H. Schwartz; Martin C. Libicki; Julie E. Taylor; Jeffrey Martini; Caroline Baxter Rand, 2013
Digital Activism Decoded: The New Mechanics of Change By Mary Joyce International Debate Education Association, 2010
Millennial Makeover: Myspace, Youtube, and the Future of American Politics By Morley Winograd; Michael D. Hais Rutgers University Press, 2008
Public Diplomacy 2.0: A Case Study of the US Digital Outreach Team By Khatib, Lina; Dutton, William; Thelwall, Michael The Middle East Journal, Vol. 66, No. 3, Summer 2012
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Canadian Politics in 140 Characters: Party Politics in the Twitterverse By Small, Tamara A Canadian Parliamentary Review, Vol. 33, No. 3, Autumn 2010
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