Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Well-Informed on the Internet

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government--Thomas Jefferson

As the primary season draws closer and closer to the end, it is important to look back and reflect on the role the Internet plays for politicians and their constituency. At a basic level the Internet provides a vast array of information. Some of that information is valid and accurate, while other pieces of it, simple put, are not. As Lee Gomes writes in the Wall Street Journal article today "Does the Web Deserve The Power It Gained To Influence Politics?:"

Considering the rapidly growing number of Americans who rely on the Web to follow the election and judge its players -- even if mostly via mainstream-media sites -- it's a good time to look at all the Web does very well with politics, and at what it messes up.

Gomes explores the role that Web videos, blogs, forums, and email play. For him each is a mixed bag that has “the ability either to elevate or to debase the political discussion.” Web videos show full speeches and also napping politicians. Blogs and forums, allow for a democratized form of expression, but also tend to focus on the issues of the moment and not ones of the platform. Email provides an efficient and effective way to spread information to contacts regardless of false statements contained within them.

For the individual, the Internet has shifted the power of information, to a large extent, into their hands (or fingertips). The increase in speed and directness at which individuals can obtain and post information about a given candidate makes the Internet an obvious choice for investigation and research. It is up to the individual to sort through the onslaught of information that is provided to them- to determine what information comes from reliable sources and what information is created in the mind of an angry teenager in Springfield. The art of being efficiently and effectively well-informed is about sifting through the vast sands of information to find the reliable golden nuggets that will help the individual decide how to vote.

For the politician, the Internet, much like television and the radio before it, is creating opportunities to expand to a greater audience. The successful use of current technologies can help win campaigns or improve approval ratings. On the one hand, FDR effectively used the medium of radio when he broadcasted fireside chats to his constituency. On the other hand, Nixon poorly used the medium of television when he lost the first presidential debate on television.

The newest presidential hopefuls should aware of the positives and the negatives of the Internet. Down the line, the ones that are able to use it most effectively will most likely be the ones in office.

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