BLOG 9: The Politics of the Internet
According to Facebook, the ultimate arbitrator in all things Internet, 2,316,678 is the number of people who “like” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Colbert Report falls a little behind with 1,787, 316 “likes”. As far as political activism goes, clicking the “like” button is hardly a taxing endeavor. However, it does bring to light the importance of the Internet to the new political system.
Now liking a status or choosing to attend an online-based solidarity event isn’t exactly the same as volunteering to phone bank for your favorite candidate, organizing fundraisers to raise money for international relief efforts, or participating in a political rally in person. Participating in politics in “real life” is a time-consuming process which requires some measure of sacrifice–whether that’s money or time. Political participation as it exists on the Internet doesn’t necessarily require either.
However, that’s not to say that it is any less important than “real life” engagement.
The fact of the matter is that the Internet provides an enormous resource for political participation. It stems beyond just liking Facebook statuses and Facebook pages or retweeting what CNN posts on Twitter. Between Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs such as LiveJournal, Blogspot, and WordPress, the Internet provides a forum for political debate and action. The Internet offers instantaneous news which can be engaged with in multiple ways–the news can be consumed, it can be shared immediately, it can be commented on, it can be analyzed, it can be satirized in an Internet meme. The sacrifice here isn’t volunteer hours or money, but, ideally, time spent creating and spreading ideas. It might be seen as less of an activist participation and more of an intellectual participation, but it is participation regardless.
Take, for example, Oh No They Didn’t! Politics on LiveJournal. An Internet blogging site that is community-centric, ONTD_Political offers a forum whereby users can post news and discuss and debate through comments to one another. This is far more than simply liking a status on Facebook, this is actually the creation and dissemination of ideas with people around the country and around the world. It gives political engagement a more global approach–something that is not entirely possible in “real life” when the people you can engage with are simply the people closest to you geographically.
The Internet offers this global forum to political discussions, but to solidarity movements as well. During the Iranian elections a year ago and the Egyptian Revolution this past February and the Libyan situation now, the Internet has allowed the connection of many “participants” to these events. It is certainly not the same as being there, on the ground, taking part in the riots and risking life and limb for liberty, but that is certainly not something that is feasible to ask of citizens around the world. Living in Missouri, without the Internet to discuss what’s going on in the Middle East or to support Egypt and Libya through Facebook and Twitter and view YouTube videos from these areas, there is virtually no way I would be able to really participate. I am but a human who has not developed teleportation abilities.
Internet political participation allows for a wider forum for expression, a wider venue for support and solidarity, a larger base to spread awareness of events and issues that can then be capitalized on in “real life” (all essential to the functioning of democracies). That’s one of the great things about online participation–you can participate in discussions online and then take that knowledge back to your daily life and choose, then, to participate in “real” events such as rallies and fundraisers.
In my opinion, for the modern generation, the Internet is like a gateway drug to political participation. Forums, videos, tweets, and movements hook you online and tease out your interest until you’re suddenly motivated to join your local Democratic Party. Or vote. Or at least buy a “Pray for Japan” t-shirt. Every little step counts. xoxo!