The rise of the United States as a world superpower has led to the global interest in how she conducts most of her activities. Her large population has also been on the watch out due to criticism on the U.S for involving herself in international affairs some of which have been disadvantageous to the nation.
There have been mixed reactions by the citizens to such conflicting issues that have combined with the notion of color, thus giving rise to two main opposing camps. The fate of a political candidate would then be judged by his or her position on these contentious issues.
Traditionally, the way by which a candidate could reach the public to sell his or her policies was through public campaign forums, where a candidate would schedule to visit a state and address the public concerning his or her presidential ambitions.
However, those who could not attend personally would be forced to follow the speech through electronic media like radio and television. One disadvantage of this is that, the audience, especially those that were miles away, would not find it easy to comment on the policies sold, neither would they be able to show their position on the candidate.
The latter is usually a significant factor in campaign and politics in that, the more fame a candidate gains the more supporters he/she will continue to obtain (Some people do not make their own decision, but follow the direction to which the wind blows). Then appeared the use of Internet to sell a candidate’s policies and give various other political adverts. This was due to the increased use of modern technology in various other sectors and the need to quicken and democratize the electoral process.
The introduction of internet in American political arena has had both positive and negative implications on the democratic rights of the public. As Sifry pointed out, the use of internet in America “has introduced a new age of mass participation and personal activism in which anyone can be a community organizer, message maker or fund raiser and can mobilize the others” (Para. 1).
A report released by Pew Center on Internet and American Life showed that about 25 million Americans access online information daily and can give comments and contribution to various political debates online. The flooding of the information sites by comments from politically active citizens does not only signify a unified public voice, but it also contributes to polarized political platform and governmental standpoint.
The exercise of democracy by involving the public has been witnessed throughout the political past with its peak being observed towards the elections. According to Sifry, “it started with Howard Dean in 2004 and flowered in 2008 with Barrack Obama; and now the “right roots” have mastered the new online platform, especially since the GOP lost its hold on Washington” (Para. 4). In effect, there have been various sites established, that serve the interests of political partisans in different ways.
instance, there are sites blogs that contain various pieces of information vital to the public; e-mail sites for the partisans to issue comments; SeeClickFix that enables the public to contribute to the solution of an emerging issue; and InfluenceExplorer that enables the user to see who donated what to the candidates among many other sites, all of which focuses on the access of information by the public.
Moreover, in his article, Hurwitz (656) stated that “Internet activists have succeeded remarkably in making government and political information available to citizens.”
The use of Internet during campaign and election processes has been embraced successfully in the United States. However, the same is yet to be exercised in the United Kingdom, where there is still doubt on whether it will succeed or fail. In the United States, the use of Internet as a campaign tool helped the current president Barrack Obama to gain popularity among millions of citizens.
Primarily, his campaign program was organized online and even his policies were, in several cases, sold online. In addition, the campaign team established a website, MyBO, where they could interact with the candidate’s supporters.
Financial contributions by well-wishers could also be done through this site. Moreover, the campaign speeches given by Obama were available on You Tube; while he also had almost two million friends on Facebook and MySpace, as well as tens of thousands of followers on Twitter (Thornton Para. 3).
Generally, Obama’s campaign over the Internet was successful especially given the fact that he was able to express himself explicitly. In such a case, internet can be seen as a tool that makes campaign as simple; thus, democracy is promoted now that the candidate can reach several people, one on one.
The use of internet requires a kind of mutual relationship between the user (or the public) and the program itself. Abuse by any party will always lead to a fault somewhere. It has been observed that “Technology is used by the members of the society; its diffusion and use depend on social conditions; the conditions of the society, in other words, shape technological development” (Yang 406). Yang argues that the use of Internet alone is not sufficient to ensure democracy; the social factors in the society also contribute substantially.
Besides, there are sites that a potential supporter can access in order to help finance the campaign of his or her favorite candidate. This promotes democracy now that even those with little contributions that would otherwise shy off can reach the campaign team; indeed, politics is thus not left for the giants only.
Sifry (Para10) observed that the “Internet-powered politics is helping to shift America toward more open, participatory and accountable political process; big contributors have become less necessary in campaigns, giving more influence to small donors and independent organizers.”
The use of political blogs like Dailykos, Big Governments, Talking points Memo on the left, and many others ensures that the public are fully politically informed. All the blogs serve the same purpose, and as Sifry states, ‘they serve partisan red meat to their readers” (Para. 5). Therefore, by accessing the political information on these sites, a potential political partisan is able to develop an informed opinion on any political issue including whom to support.
Moreover, campaigning over the internet can be hazardous especially to a defending candidate who cannot fully give a clarification on a scandal that emerged under his or her docket. Such was the agony that befell the U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he could not give an explicit clarification on the expenses scandal over the You Tube.
Such a candidate will be officially surrendering himself to the public who will not hesitate to take their stand. Democracy shall have been exercised here in some paradoxical sense; the public can now make a positive decision that whoever is selling the policies is not the right person for the seat in question.
Nevertheless, the extensive involvement of Internet in politics can lead to its mismanagement, rendering it quite inappropriate. As Sifry (para6) pointed out, the “rapid rise of social media has generated more talking than listening, more pushing than parsing, and more fragmentation of attention than concentration; the resulting sense of information overload may cause more people to retreat from the public arena, simply because it feels too crowded and noisy.”
The use of email sites can also be mishandled by self-centered political activists. In as much as it is usually used to criticize the opponent’s ability and previous conducts, the site can form a good platform for the activist to defile the opponent wrongly.
In this case, the public who learn and believe such accusations will have no otherwise, but to join the undefiled camp. As a result, democracy shall have been interfered with in two ways. First, the voter has been influenced into rejecting a candidate on false grounds, as well as being denied a chance to make his own-judged opinion. Secondly, the defiled candidate has been denied an equal political platform, hence denying him his democratic right.
The process of election is the most fundamental stage in ensuring democracy is exercised. The need to have the exercise conducted quickly and the counting and tallying of votes done immediately not only gives no room for rigging, but also boosts the spirits of the electorate.
In most cases, delayed vote tallying and official release of the results have led to election rigging that has resulted into post-election violence witnessed in several countries in the recent past. Majority of the public, who felt they were denied their democratic rights, lost their confidence in the electoral process and vowed not to vote again. In such a case, the use of the modern technologies like the Internet would have saved the situation.
Firstly, no much time is wasted during voting as compared to the traditional manual system. This encourages even the old, sick and the disabled who would find it cumbersome to stand on a long queue waiting voting. These minority groups in the society have in many cases been left out during elections and that signifies lack of democracy (Warf and Grimes 261-263).
Secondly, there are those individuals who work away from their polling stations. They could also have traveled elsewhere during the period of election. Such people are usually left out of the election due to their inability to access their register from where they are. The use of Internet therefore allows such people to vote from the comfort of their workplaces or wherever they could be.
Finally, the votes are recorded as soon as they are cast. As such, manipulation of figures by the elections officials who probably had directions from a leader defending a seat is minimized. The results are usually available for official release some few hours from the end of the voting period.
The use of Internet however poses some challenges in ensuring that the democratic rights of the public are not denied. This stems from the social-economic interrelated factors prevailing in a given societal setting that generally contributes to low level of education.
Lack of enough funds and poor, outdated culture could lead to high level of illiteracy in a given community. This will contribute to a mixture of results should the system of electronic voting be introduced in such a setting. To begin with, the illiterate voter will depend entirely on the clerks and agents at the polling station for assistance.
This could give room for some form of corruption as the clerks or agents could secretly direct the voter in favour of their favorite candidate. Besides, most of the illiterate and semi-illiterate suffer the inferiority complex. In certain cases, they would rather boycott the election than to go and reveal to the public, which had better expectation of them, that they are actually semi-illiterate and need assistance. This might sound odd and untrue but it is the reality underlying low voter turnout in some areas.
Another less serious case occurs when even the polling clerks who have the electronic expertise are not available in a given area and have to be imported from elsewhere. In such cases, the less qualified individuals and their close associates from these areas usually have a feeling that they were denied an employment opportunity. In many cases, they try to mobilize the public to boycott the elections as they claim that justice has not been exercised. These have also been the reasons behind low voter turn out in some cases.
The lower voter turnout resulting from mass participation in politics could further lead to some irregularities. A less potential candidate could probably manage to be outspoken among the competitors and ends up the winner. Even though democracy is not directly affected here, there is an indirect impact that simply emanated from the extensive use of the cyberspace (Sifry Para. 6).
The use of internet in political world can effectively promote democracy. However, this is only applicable to an extent that the legislations governing the roles of media in politics are obeyed. With the struggle to do away with poverty and low level of education, the system will be less viable to mismanagement by the corrupt individuals.
Internet’s is and will be the best measure to ensure democracy prevails in the public sphere. To achieve this, there is also need for continued innovation in the fields of Information Technology to help come up with better technologists. There is need for “a generation of civic technologists who engage the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet and standards processes in the public interests” (Clift 31). This approach would be the most efficient in ensuring that nobody is wrongly influenced.
Clift, Steven. An Internet of Democracy. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 43 Issue 11, p31-32. Nov2000. Minnesota USA.
Hurwitz, Roger. Who Needs Politics? Who Needs People? The Ironies of Democracy in Cyberspace. Contemporary Sociology, 28.6 (1999): 655-661.
Sifry, Micah. “The Internet has fueled polarization and gridlock, but it is also giving US a new tool for self-government.” Wall Street journal, Oct 30, 2010, pg C.3. New York. 30 November 2010. http://lcweb.senecac.on.ca:2065/pqdweb?did=2175841421&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&&cfc=1.
Thornton, John. Vote with Your Finger. Public Finance. London: Apr 23-Apr 29, 2010. pg18. 30 November 2010. http://lcweb.senecac.on.ca:2065/pqdweb?did=2052724061&Fmt=4&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&.
Warf, Barney & Grimes, John. “Counterhegemonic Discourses and the Internet.” Geographical Review, 87.2 (1997): 259-274.
Yang, Guobin. “The Co-Evolution of the Internet and Civil Society in China.” Asian Survey, 43.3 (2003): 405-422.