How Politics Is Being Changed by the Web

Internet mediated activities in recent years have created a new, diverse and engaged political culture throughout the world. Public awareness of important issues is increasing like never before, due to the increasing participatory social culture, catalyzed at least in part by the Internet as a technological platform of rich social communication. Organization and activism, which used to be primarily isolated to special interest groups, is becoming trivialized with smaller groups being able to utilize the social power of the Internet. This has resulted in social demands for greater levels of government transparency and accountability. This essay focuses on three specific aspects and the effects of the Internet on Politics, the Internet as an Information source, how the Internet has changed political campaigning and the new emerging trends of cultural citizenship.

The virtually ubiquitous adoption of the Internet in most industrialized countries has allowed people to very easily and quickly find and attract large audiences. These audiences are virtual public spheres where geography has little, if any impact. Local stories, which traditionally would stay localized, can become global rapidly, and do so with amazing regularity. Robert Scoble a well-respected American blogger and technical evangelist claimed that the 2008 Chinese Earthquake was being discussed on Twitter up to a full hour before the mainstream press was reporting on it. Traditional media coverage is no longer the only viable way that groups and individuals can be heard effectively. Part of the reason for this is that the Internet is a great equalizer; people have unrestricted access to worldwide audience to share their unique experiences and opinions. Shiky says that the Internet allows people to escape their usual limitations and avail themselves of capabilities previously reserved for professionals. In this way, anyone is able to report or discuss political issues without limitation, difficulty or professional training and as such, everyone becomes a media outlet. Transfers of powers from professional classes to the general public supports a culture of participation. The increased participation allows the public to rapidly coordinate protests and pooled resources. While its probable that most of these synchronized community efforts are usually destructive in nature, focusing on “stop energy” the trend is generally positive because they improve community expectations of the standards and accountability of government.

In 1993 the UK government published a white paper entitled Open Government, in which it stated that an “Open government is part of an effective democracy”. The premise of the paper was to illustrate that while it is often necessary for a government to maintain secrets to ensure public safety, ministers and public servants had an obligation to explain policies and decisions to the public. The Internet provides a perfect platform for the government and the public to communicate transparently. Sites like WikiLeak’s strive to pursue transparency and accountability, and continue to do so despite the wrath of international political forces.

The Internet has also made it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to communal effort without the need for formal management. Burgess & Green recount the story of how citizen journalism rose to a new never-before-seen level of public outrage after video of the tasering of a young UCLA student by campus police was uploaded to the video sharing site YouTube. This became such a politicized issue that it actually reached national US press coverage. Similarly, the 2008 formal Apology to the Stolen Generations speech was uploaded for posterity, but was soon complemented with people uploading their own remixed versions with each individual’s commentary, reactions and emotions about the speech, published to an global audience. Burgess & Green claim that these events transcended the typical viral-culture of Internet media and became a purposeful sphere of public conversation and self-mediated representation, expression and encounters of highly political issues.

These factors mentioned above have also created a platform ideal for top-down and mass grass-roots political campaigning. The proliferation of political campaigning on the Internet is proof of how serious politicians consider the web as a campaigning platform. However, Burgess & Green argues that “the forms of political engagement … has just as much to do with celebrity culture as they have to do with Capital-P political culture- in the same way that tabloid mainstream media focus on individual candidates as media personalities.” This is evidenced by official candidate stances on issues becoming nothing more than a back-story for the ‘gotcha’ moments and sound bites. Politician’s are clearly aware of the use of the Internet in mainstream everyday life and is used, particularly in the case of minor Republican 2008 presidential runner Ron Paul, for driving up the popularity of an underdog candidate. At times during the primaries, Ron Paul was more popular on YouTube than Hillary Clinton or even Barack Obama, which speaks volumes to the Internet being a successful tool in disseminating political rhetoric.

The Internet supports and promotes the idea that contemporary citizenship is not only an individuals and rights obligations to the state, but also the concerns the way individuals participate in matters of collective shared interests. The worldwide web transcends cultures, persuasions and borders and political thought is virtually impossible to control. Even despite employing over 30,000 people to monitor maintain it’s censorship regime the Chinese central government finds it nearly impossible to control the political voice of it’s civilian’s who choose to speak.

In conclusion, the Internet is a perfect, powerful and versatile platform to facilitate this shift in political thinking and ideology, while ultimately will lead to a more egalitarian society for everyone.

This post is a slightly modified version of a piece I wrote for a University assignment for the Curtin University Subject Internet Studies 102/502: The Internet and Everyday Life, answering the question: Describe and explain how everyday life is now experienced through Internet-mediated activities of information and communication with reference to ONE of the six topics (Sex and/or Dating, Music, Health, Games, Faith and Politics) in the first module?

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Politics: Julia Gillard is My Facebook Friend

GetUp!

Democracy literally originates from ancient Latin as “government by the people” and as a system of government, it allows the citizens of a country to directly or indirectly participate and manipulate the legislative process. Only a few short years ago, for a single individual to be heard, required great effort, coordination and some luck. As a result politics evolved many defenses against individuals attempting to disrupt the status quo. This meant that citizen activism was slow, encumbering and difficult to coordinate en mass.

This is changing as the mainstream continues to adopt new Internet technologies and has created for itself “transformative opportunities related to key public sector issues of transparency, accountability, communication and collaboration, and to promote deeper levels of civic engagement.” This has resulted in an unprecedented and transformational level of citizen participation and organization. Where citizen activism used to take days, weeks or even months to coordinate, it can today be organized and executed, quite literally overnight. Getup.org.au (GetUp!) is a community advocacy group dedicated to getting greater community participation on important issues. They take a very strong and active role in Citizen Democracy; not only making suggestions, but also providing specific and intricate instructions on how people can engage in a number of specific political and social agendas. The site provides many examples on its front page, and these are constantly changing with an ever-changing social landscape.

Conversely, the Queensland Government’s Get Involved initiative is more about how the general public can participate in their local communities . There are suggestions towards influencing Government Policies and decision-making, but the bulk of the suggestions involve passive political activities, such as donation and volunteering and are reasonably ambiguous and nondescript. But its not just the underlying vagueness that is the problem with the Get Involved website.

The main issue is one of obviousness and one of timeliness; it provides dated, obvious suggestions for which most people would be already be aware (e.g., volunteering at a local school). However, the Government cannot be seen to be biasing or influencing the public, which stands to reason why the Get Involved website is quite generic in it’s suggestions. However, even after forgiving Get Involved for its politically sensitive content, I think the main reason why GetUp! is more successful, is because it selects highly specific language, which is clearly designed to invoke an emotive reaction as well as the specific links and activities to do something about it. This reduces social hegemony and action paralysis.

It’s indeed a microcosm for politics today; governments and politicians know they need to get engaged in new media, however, Social Media and the Blogosphere often cycle faster than Governments and Politicians can react. It’s interesting to me to see how the political machine will evolve and adapt to a more open and Internet-aware public.


This post is a slightly modified version of a piece I wrote for a University assignment for the Curtin University Subject Internet Studies 102/502: The Internet and Everyday Life, answering the question: Navigate around and discuss two of the following sites in terms of the kinds of involvement they encourage. (www.pm.gov.au, www.tonyabbott.com.au, www.getinvolved.qld.gov.au or www.getup.org.au)

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Political Satire

This is an old political comic I found in a news paper early in 2007, and I just wanted to share it (and store it in the cloud).  While the issues is not really relevant any longer, and despite your personal political views, I do think it accurate encapsulated a major factor as to why Howard lost the 2007 election.

Political Comic - Rudd vs Howard
I’m Kevin, and I’m here to help.

The internets has broke

IN BRIEF |Optus is experiencing a major outage in QLD and northern NSW due to simultaneous network failures. According to reports, a fibre link between NSW and QLD was damaged at the same time as a hardware failure occurred on the redundant path.

The outage is affecting all services, including Internet, mobiles and landlines. Many businesses including telcos, ISPs and others that rely on connectivity are also suffering as a result.

Some ISPs are reporting 1PM as a possible restoration time.

(Source, whirlpool.net.au)

This resulted in the total or partial loss for Optus, VodaPhone and 3 mobiles, internet and telephony services. Since many other ISPs and carriers use (in all or part) of the Optus interstate links (such as iiNet) also suffered from the outage which lasted from 8am this morning until just after 1pm today.

The electronic check-in and baggage handling systems at Brisbane’s international and domestic terminals went offline, delaying flights for up to an hour.

Major banks and hospitals were also affected but the 000 number was not. Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital spokeswoman Kieran Keyes said the Optus outage had minimal impact on the women’s and children’s hospital.

While errors like this are incredibly rare, it does highlight how weak the nation is to possible attacks to our telecommunication infrastructure.  If the government owns none of the telecommunication network, and the telcos are unable to reach peering and fail-over agreements, then the country could suffer a total communications blackout with only a handful of targets needing to be hit.  Since the government is unable to mandate security with the telcos and with Telstra now being fully privatized, how can the government control and secure the networks in times of crisis?

The fact that some public services were effected at all, shows that this is a major national security problem which needs addressing.  Taking down the communication network of a country like Australia, should in our age of technology, be a near impossibility.

Good to see lynch mobs are still alive and strong

From An Onymous Lefty, Lynch mob makes creepy paedophile seem like a victim:

Out of control scenes in Queensland, where the inability of the courts to find an impartial jury has led to a man accused of a child sex offence being released, to the excitement of an angry lynch mob. Their fine mobby work has led to expensive police protection being required to protect the man, since lily-livered modern governments have some kind of weirdo problem with self-appointed gangs of angry people doling out mob “justice” in place of the courts. We don’t need to see the evidence that a court would – he’s done something similar before which obviously means it couldn’t be anyone else who’s done it this time, so why can’t we exact our revenge in whatever bloodthirsty manner seems best to us?

First, I think it’s important to stress that nothing I am about to say should indicate that I condone the activities of this clearly sick individual. NOTHING!

But at the end of the day, this whole morbid story makes me sick to my neck.  It feels like something which could so quickly spiral out of control and end up like the final scene in the “Lord of the Flies”.  But by far the most disturbing thing about this that its exactly this type of fanatical and illogical behavior of the public which has led to the failure of incarceration for this man.  So far, I believe that the Police, the Courts and the Government have acted properly.  As much as my personal feelings are to have this man simply erased from existence, it’s not up to the public to enact on bloody vengeance.

He was placed by the state, approximately 100Kms from the small town of Miles, and provided an extremely low risk of re-offending.  Because he’s literally been “run out of town” the police have been forced to move him to a property in South-East Queensland with much higher population density and constant Police protection costing tax payers, $1000 per day!

The lynch mob have not only failed in getting rid of him (as if there was any place better we could stick/do to him anyway), but instead;

  • Elevated the risk of him re-offending
  • Added a great unnecessary cost of protecting him
  • Reduced the number of Police on the streets
  • Made it virtually impossible to ever convict him, on virtually any crime he has or will commit; and
  • WORST, Turned this animal into a victim

To put all this simply, they shouldn’t be protesting outside the property where he lives, they should be protesting outside Parliament House; where issues like this belong.

Video games are clearly an entry drug

I love the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). They protect me and my family from developing expensive heroin and ice addictions; because everyone knows that video games are clearly a gateway to a life of violence and heavy drug use.

In the interest of protecting Australia from the ruthless thread of animated pixels, Fallout 3, is the most recent game to suffer the mighty wrath of the OFLC; being denied a rating, and thus effectively banning it in Australia. GameSpot AU, broke the news only a few days ago:

Rumours were swirling late last week that Australia’s strict games classification regime had struck its highest-profile victim for 2008, with Fallout 3 apparently being refused a rating. It seems the rumours were true, with confirmation coming tonight that Bethesda’s upcoming postapocalyptic action RPG has indeed been banned for sale in Australia.

So don’t worry folks. The temptation to inject yourself in the arm with someone else’s needle because you’re unable to tell the difference between a post-apocalyptic digital fantasy land and reality is now gone.

Initially the news was just an industry rumor, as it’s not the first time a video game has come under fire in Australia because our leaders lack the intelligence to add an R18+ rating for video games, despite the fact that other media has it. GameSpot AU later updated their post, confirming our fears:

Upcoming Bethesda game refused classification Down Under by ratings body; OFLC report confirms banning is due to showing positive effects of in-game drug use.

I think Jeremy from the An Onymous Lefty blog, sums it up perfectly:

Still, thank God the Board has been forced to apply the Government’s stupidly inconsistent legislation in such a ridiculous way to this major game – maybe this will finally prompt enough outrage from the industry that they will push harder for change. Perhaps this will be the final straw, and idiot SA Attorney General Michael Atkinson will no longer be able to prevent the other AGs from the common sense approach of treating games like any other media that adults enjoy, by implementing an R18 rating.

you can read the whole post here; I highly recommend reading it because its hilarious much like Michael Atkinson’s response to a constituent, arguing “That if you have an R18 classification system, children will get access to that material anyway.”
Perhaps someone should explain the interwebs to him?