The latest issue of BusinessWeek Magazine, dated March 29, 2004, contains a special report, "Click The Vote," which states that "in the age of Internet politics, the Web can make or break a candidate."
The online version of this report includes an interview of Howard Rheingold, "A Major Change in the Political Equation." The interview carries this subtitle: "Howard Rheingold predicted the rise of online advocacy groups. Now, he talks about how they're affecting Election 2004."
Here is the introduction to this interview.
When technology writer and consultant Howard Rheingold wrote Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution in 2001, his notions about the rise of spontaneous groups linked by the Internet and mobile communications were a little tough for many people to understand. Not anymore. Howard Dean's Presidential campaign built upon Rheingold's ideas, using the Net to organize surprisingly large groups of backers -- and get them to contribute millions of dollars.
Still, Rheingold thinks that's just the start of a long battle on the part of activists of all stripes to seize some of the power now wielded by political professionals and large media companies. He recently talked with BusinessWeek Silicon Valley Bureau Chief Robert D. Hof about this topic.
Below are some selected excerpts.
Q: What's the essential impact of the Internet on politics today?
A: Most people know that you can connect with people with whom you share an interest via the Internet even if you don't know them, even on the other side of the world. The Dean campaign, of course, used Meetup.com, which brought Internet capability to the face-to-face world. You can find people who share your interest in a particular candidate, who live in your neighborhood, and want to get together face-to-face.
That brings the unique capability of the Internet to connect people with shared interests, together with the ability to perform some kind of action in the face-to-face world. It becomes collective action when that group of people decides they're going to put some money into a pot and send it to a candidate, or they're going to do some work for a candidate.
Q: What are the benefits to using the Internet in politics?
A: I do think it gives an opportunity for more people to be involved in the process, and that's sort of the idea behind democracy.
A lot of people flocked to Dean because Dean allowed [former campaign manager] Joe Trippi and [campaign Internet director] Zephyr Teachout and the others to deploy these Internet-based tools to enable self-organization. So a campaign that didn't have a lot of money and was not blessed by the Democratic National Committee was able to organize 150,000 meetups.
Q: Blogs have given voice to once-marginal, sometimes extreme views. Is there any danger moderate voices might get drowned out?
A: You got a million or 10 million bloggers out there. A bunch of them are nutcases. A lot of them are at the extreme ends. Many of them are totally uninformed. Some of them are going to be decent journalists. Some of them are going to be better than the pros.
I think there's a Darwinian process when you have a large number of people doing it. If 10 million people are publishing their own opinions instead of sitting slack-jawed in front of the tube, that's got to be healthier for the public sphere. The mass media have disempowered people from the process and made them feel disempowered.
BusinessWeek also published a synthetic table on "How The Net Is Turning Politics Upside Down."
Finally, if you want to discover the universe of Smart Mobs, be sure to visit regularly the Smart Mobs collective weblog. You also can subscribe to a RSS feed there.
Source: Robert D. Hof, BusinessWeek Magazine, Online complement to the March 29, 2004 issue