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Politics 2.0? 13 February, 2007

Posted by Jay Ball in web 2.0.
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Read any quality newspaper (and quite a few blogs) and you’ll see lamentations about the current state of politics. So the commentary goes: we are becoming nations of apathetic subjects who are largely disconnected from the political process. The activism of earlier times has gone, they say, no one is putting flowers in the barrels of rifles any more. The influence of special interest groups (and their persuasive bucket-loads of cash) is added in as a further example of a system skewed against the average citizen.

There are signs, however, that this is changing with the Internet being the medium of choice. Of course, this isn’t exactly new. The 2004 US campaign for Howard Dean set the stage with its grass roots fund-raising (over $25m) and use of blogging among other things.

Now, it’s all moved on again. We have the growth of social networking and all the other web 2.0 tools. Where as Dean had local level Meetups, now candidates can create wider networks, interconnect those networks and amplify their message even further.

obama.png The poster child this time round in the US is Barack Obama. Through his my.barackobama.com site, supporters can link to his social network, create sub groups of their own and blog their own messages. The overall first impression is of an inclusive campaign rather than a me, me, me one.

Hillary Clinton’s site by contrast feels very much an ‘all about Hillary’ affair. It doesn’t have the digital outreach of Obama’s. And neither have quite the pull of something like Rock the Vote which in the last US election claims to have registered 1.4 million people to vote.

But what about the UK?

It’s interesting to contrast David Cameron’s webcameron site with Gordon Brown’s blog. Cameron goes for accessibility. Brown goes for statesmanlike. Cameron is all video. Brown is text and images. While much of what the parties say is pretty similar, it’s in the tone and character that the differences are most apparent. And as they’re on the web it is all that more immediate and accessible.

Of course it remains to be seen if whether these efforts will radically affect the outcome of either the US or UK elections. Can the technology really help re-engage people into the process? Or will it create alternative grass roots networks that place pressure on the main political institutions?

Personally, I’m optimistic. The accessibility of the web, its ease of interaction and culture of speaking your mind (for good and bad) can only help create and sustain debate.

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