If it wasn’t already pretty obvious to you, elections can be won, lost, and shifted with the power of the internet. That never used to be the case before. This country was founded on the democratic ideals that the founding fathers never thought would be impacted by the advent of the World Wide Web. The internet is now entirely ubiquitous to the point that you can even be connected with the use of a Solis X travel hotspot literally in the middle of the woods … say in France … at this point, you simply cannot escape the internet.
While there was once a time when the news cycle was controlled by the speed at which newspapers could be printed, and later by the speed at which radio shows could be played, and then television… Now, we have all of the news in the palms of our hands at any given time. This causes a massive shift in the way that politics functions and the speed with which information is available to the voters. That might not seem like much, but in practice, imagine we are voting on the day of the election, either local or national, and some major news is dropped about a candidate. That news could become available to you AS YOU STEP INTO THE BOOTH. This speed at which information can travel severely impacted the timing of news releases for candidates and various campaign moves.
The internet also has democratized the dialog about politics. It used to be that at one point only some people were granted a podium from which to speak about politics. You had to be someone to get on the news and talk about politics, now you don’t have to be anyone to post a long political post on your Facebook that picks up some wind from the people around you and now it’s viral and making its way to the leaders you are discussing.
How about campaign advertising? That has experienced a massive shift as well. What once was a series of calculated efforts through very specific television and radio demographic analysis to place ads in front of the people that should hear them, has become an almost evil empire of perfectly targeted placement that has seismic effects on public opinion.
Any candidate can target not only people based on their age and gender, but interests and past browsing history, and this is simply targeting that has never been available before. This stands to embolden those who already have strong ideas by feeding those people more and more of the same stuff until all they ever see online is something that completely underlines and further strengthens an idea that may or may not even be true.
The internet has also allowed like-minded groups of people who believe in certain policies or candidates to gather more efficiently and work more collaboratively no matter where they live. It is precisely this power of the internet that has created grassroots candidates like Bernie Sanders, who is largely supported not by enormous PAC’s but by the everyman who has access to Bernie’s policies, believes in him, and can speak to many other people who believe in him too very easily.
The internet has seriously changed politics in this country, and perhaps for the worse. The one optimistic consideration that is worth mentioning is that sharing ideas and building communities surrounded around policies and beliefs in a digital space is not all that bad! We need communities and we need to be able to gather together and discuss how to make the world a better place. Let’s hope the internet continues to be a benevolent force in this part of our lives.