How the Internet is Changing Politics -- or is It?

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The 2008 presidential election featured a new emphasis on using the Internet, ranging from raising money to advertising to getting support.

It's still going on. Facebook, in particular, due to the ease in which people can set up affinity groups, is proving to be a new source of online activism, according to a recent article.

"Facebook’s features, such as the ability to add real-world events to a group or fan page, the ability to send a message to up to 5,000 members on a group page and the built-in discussion boards, make it an all-in-one stop for the connected protester," the article said.

It's also expected that, while the Federal Elections Commission ruled in 2006 that campaign regulations do not apply to most Internet activity, except for paid political advertising on someone else's Web site, new rules on campaigning will be in effect by the 2010 election cycle, according to an AP article.

"When does a blog connected to a campaign need to disclose its allegiance?," the article asks. "Does a candidate's personal Facebook page need a disclaimer if it is updated by a staffer? Can a campaign-related tweet — a message posted on social media site Twitter — even be regulated?" Another example cited in the article was whether Internet advertising -- such as pop-up ads whenever someone Googles an opponent -- need the sort of "Paid for by..." disclaimer that printed ads require.

Ironically, however, a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project called Civic Engagement Online found that the Internet hasn't much changed the political landscape.

"Contrary to the hopes of some advocates, the internet [sic] is not changing the socio-economic character of civic engagement in America," said Aaron Smith in the report. "Just as in offline civic life, the well-to-do and well-educated are more likely than those less well off to participate in online political activities such as emailing a government official, signing an online petition or making a political contribution."

However, this may change in the future, Smith said. It is "not inevitable that those with high levels of income and education are the most active in civic and political affairs," he said. "In contrast to traditional acts of political participation -- whether undertaken online or offline -- forms of engagement that use blogs or online social network sites are not characterized by such a strong association with socio-economic stratification."

MktgRob 7 Nearly a Posting Virtuoso

I think the internet has opened up the political arena to more people to allow them to be heard. Prior to the growth of blogging and social media, the only way people could be heard in politics would be through polls. And as polls are usually hyper targeted and to such small groups when compared to the whole voting population, few people were able to participate.

The concern has to be with the new regulations that are coming out. While we all expect fairness we have seen that when people of a particular political leaning are in charge over regulations they will try to use the regulations to minimize or even silence people who believe otherwise. The Fairness Doctrine in terms of radio is one example. We all need to remain vigilant to protect our freedom of speech and expression.

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