Have We Entered the Digital Age of Politics?
Politics, as a field, has been with us ever since we formed our first communities. However, every time there have been major changes in communication technology, they’ve had an effect on politics. The printing press made the written word available to the masses for the first time, and it allowed politicians to distribute their messages on a wider scale than ever before. The same was true of radio, then television, and politicians had to adapt themselves to sound good, and then to look good, in order to win over voters.
The Internet is more than just a new way of playing the same old game; it’s a whole new game, with a whole new set of rules. Consider, for example, the archival effect of the Internet. A politician who says something ridiculous in a televised speech might catch some heat for it for a few days, perhaps a week, but in the past it was likely to be forgotten, and replaced by more recent clips. Thanks to the Internet, though, not only can that embarrassing gaffe be broadcast all over the world to a huge variety of devices, but it can be archived indefinitely.
And that is just the start of how the Internet has changed politics.
Consider, for a moment, the history of political movements and parties. In the past it required a huge amount of time, resources, and people in order to be taken seriously as a political movement (or at least for people to have heard of you). Thanks to the Internet, and particularly social media, it’s now possible for smaller groups of politically like-minded people to find each other, and to magnify their voices. While this has the effect that more people than ever before have been able to share their thoughts on the political process, it’s also meant that fringe and extreme ideologies have been able to seem larger than they are, and to be heard in ways they were never heard before.
When it comes to using the Internet to leverage voters, most of the stories we hear are about how inept older politicians are when they try to say something to their base. However, there have also been success stories which have been chalked up to successful Internet outreach. President Obama’s two-term success, for example, was influenced by his online presence, and the number of voters he reached through this non-traditional media.
So what does all of this mean? Well, on the one hand, it means that as the world shrinks thanks to technology that we are able to voice more political opinions across the board, and that it is now possible for politicians to target more voters in more specific groups than they ever could. However, the Internet is making it more difficult for the old system to see success, and in many cases it is just now being recognized as a game changer.
So, in short, the Internet has gone from, “that thing the kids share pictures and play games on,” to a tool that will be a more and more necessary part of future political success stories.
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