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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Reign Supreme

Sometimes I wish I was a super-hero with the ultimate power of persuasion.  Because then I could call up world leaders and convince them to do things my way (because clearly my way is better)!

On a less narcissistic note, I was thinking about the things I would do to shape the world in my own image – and realised that you can tell a lot about a person about the things they don’t like about the world (or the lack thereof).  To that end, I’ve created a list of the top 10 things I would change:

  1. Make it illegal to charge ANYONE (parents, insurance companies, anyone) for medical care given to children (people under 18).
  2. Rename “marriages” to “civil unions” for everyone (gays, hetros, lesbians) – and make the churches responsible for the “marriages”.  If you want to be joined by law – get a civil union, if you want a marriage, goto a church.
  3. Allow stem-cell research, but with strict oversight.
  4. Roll-out fibre to the home for all residences in Australia.
  5. Tax high-pollution industries and use that Tax to give a rebate for deploying solar power to every household in Australia.
  6. Revoke Scientology’s tax free status.
  7. Pass laws to give woman the right to choose what happens to their own bodies (surrogacy, abortion etc).
  8. Pass laws to protect Doctors and create a proper due-process for people to choose to end their own  lives.
  9. Eliminate years 11 and 12 – either pick a trade and work as an apprentice for 5 years, or study in academia for an additional 2 years in your chosen field.
  10. Create a “guild” system of government.  Several elected officials, with the cabinet of the elected party made up of the people chosen to best represent that industry or sector – so instead of “climate change minister” in cabinet (for example) – it would be a person considered by his peers to be the best climatologist in science – and for these leaders to be separate from political affiliation (too many times we’ve had ministers filling port-folio’s they didn’t have the knowledge or skills to manage).

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.

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.

MySpace & MTV Plan US Presidential Candidate Chats

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

A recent headline from the Australian ABC really grabbed my attention today. Its says:

“MySpace and MTV say they have joined forces to let candidates for the US presidency individually discuss ideas and issues with young people in online webcasts.”

This sort of news really excites me because its seems, like never before just as the audience has the power in the web, the world can now have the power over governments. I’m sure there are many people who will complain about the potential bias of MySpaces cooperate linage – but I am of the optimistic belief that any conversation, especially political direction and debate is ultimately positive.

Its a perfect example I think of social media reaching out to the masses, giving people from all walks, the chance to be heard.

It also got me wondering, how would have the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s been different if we had Social Media and Social Networking resources back then? I wonder if Social Media might put us on path to finally start getting over our differences and start getting the work that needs to be done; done?

One to Make Aaron Sorkin Proud!

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

Sometimes, American politicians confuse me. How do some of these polititions they get enough votes to get into office. Perhaps my expectations are set too high by the banter of Josh Lyman and Jed Bartlet (you know the guys from everybody’s favourite political drama).

But every so often you hear something from people like Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) who like to give us meaningful reasons of why he voted against Net Neutrality and “gave an amazing primer on how the internet works”.

There’s one company now where you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service isn’t going to go through the internet and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let’s talk about you and me. We use this internet to communicate and we aren’t using it for commercial purposes.

We aren’t earning anything by going on that internet. Now I’m not saying you have to or you want to discrimnate against those people […]

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says “No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet”. No, I’m not finished. I want people to understand my position, I’m not going to take a lot of time. [?]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck.

It’s a series of tubes.

And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can’t afford getting delayed by other people.

[…]

Now I think these people are arguing whether they should be able to dump all that stuff on the internet ought to consider if they should develop a system themselves.

Maybe there is a place for a commercial net but it’s not using what consumers use every day.

It’s not using the messaging service that is essential to small businesses, to our operation of families.

The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a viloation of net neutraility that hits you and me.
Oh, so THATs how the Internet works?
Perhps someone should show the Senator which “pipe” google is in. It might help him string a sentence together.