Monday, May 21, 2007

Does the Internet Move Voters or the People who Move the Voters?

If you click on the link in this entry's title, you will read a post by Jill Miller Zimon who has the blog Write Likes She Talks. In the post, she linked to a report from the Milwaukee Journal-Senteniel about the use of the internet in politics. In the comments section, we left the comment that while we don't see the internet as moving the average voter, we see it as a tool that will move the people who move the voters.

Here's what we mean by that: people obsessed by politics are like any other group of obsessives, they are relatively small in number. Most people don't really pay attention to politics near as much as those of us who blog about politics, or who donate to politicians, or who volunteer for campaigns. We are, by definition, fanatics. This is why we pay a lot of attention to what happens online.

It isn't the average voter, however, who is reading all the political news on the internet or combing through the blogs. It is the people who are, for want of a better term, "activists" or, as stated above, fanatics, who are using the internet to organize politically and advance ideas on the web. This is not to say that voters who aren't so fanatical about politics won't use the internet to get information. They do, and they will, and tools such as campaign websites and news media websites will be more and more important for such voters.

Which brings us back to our original idea that we put on Writes Likes She Talks. The power of the internet isn't to move the average voter. The power of the internet is to help move the people who help move the average voters.

That power, of course, is what makes it so dangerous to the mainstream media. The internet totally changes the power relationship between the reader and the provider of political information. It used to be that it was impossible to organize without using mail, or phone, or newspapers, or electronic media. As a result, political organization was relatively expensive for the average person. It was relatively expensive for the unorganized to become organized.

Now you can organize by creating and hosting a blog, or by email, or by using a website, or posting a video on You Tube. As broadband increases in popularity and becomes cheaper, as it will, the ability to use the internet to organize politically will become even more important.

People who concentrate just on the numbers of people who use the internet to get political information are missing the point. The point is not just the number of people, it is also the type of people.


Jill said...

Incredibly insightful analysis with which I agree completely. Would you also say that your analysis shows us why it's so important to reduce and eliminate the digital divide, so that more people who might be latent activists can participate in the communication tools on the Internet? I would think so, yes?

And thanks for giving me labels!! Wow. :)

Team Member said...

Yes, I think you are absolutely right on that score. I was really happy to read of the efforts to develop a cheap laptop computer for the third world since we could also use it here in America. You are welcome about the tagging. :)