On Wednesday night, Bush administration official Barry Jackson came to speak to our class.  When I got a chance to ask a question, I asked whether digital media has transformed the American political landscape.  Oh, yes, he said.  In fact, he could not emphasize enough how big the change is.  And while he was certainly not glowing with praise for the change, it served to confirm that nobody can underplay the role the internet has played in American politics in the last decade.

From DailyKos to Huffington Post to Obama’s online organising, the internet is transforming the way politics happens.  It’s allowing individuals to engage with politics, and to develop a political voice in a way that was previously reserved only for the newspapers.  It’s created a forum where we can organise, discuss, debate, and educate ourselves on this issues.

But this isn’t happening in Australia.

Sure, there are individual outlets with blogs.  Crikey has some of the best.  And there are blogs here and there.  But, for the most part, they are isolated voices.  GetUp! exists, but, despite having a huge membership, it’s still a top-down organisation.  Blogging and digital political organising is about building a bottom-up movement.  It’s about beginning a public discussion about what is going on in our country, so that we might become more active participants in our democracy, and hold our politicians more accountable for what they do, not just how well they manipulate the media.

But why blogging?  Why is it important?

I have a few thoughts:

1.  Blogging broadens the political debate.

Historically, public debate about politics is the realm of the few.  It’s either a place for professional pundits, or those who call in to talk radio shows.  Traditional media gives little opportunity for individuals to personally engage with political debates.  By inviting a different range of people to offer their opinion, blogging enables a more diverse and representative public discussion about politics.

2.  Blogging deepens the political debate.

We live in a world of soundbites.  That which cannot be explained in 15 seconds or in under 300 words is rarely covered, or is simplified to such a degree that it is no longer comprehensible.  With so much information about what’s happening in government readily available to us, blogging provides the opportunity to really grapple with what’s happening and try to understand policy.  What is the best decision to make in a given situation?  Did the government do the right thing?  Should X be illegal?  In a healthy blogging community, ideas surface and are debated until they are better understood and responses are refined.

3.  Good political blogging is a way to organize.

While nobody wants to build an echo chamber, a good digital political community can provide great organisational opportunities.  Individuals can rally around a candidate or a cause.  The digital sphere provides incredible fundraising potential that GetUp has tapped into, but a culture of small donations to good candidates hasn’t yet developed.  In a system where third-party candidates can be truly viable, the internet provides a fantastic forum for this.

4. Bloggers can be influential

Numerous examples exist in the US for the direct influence bloggers have had on specific policy decisions.  Blogging is a way of having input into the political process beyond voting or being active in a specific party.  At the moment, when internet censorship weighs heavy on our minds, the lack of a loud, pre-existing and multi-issue political blogosphere is frustrating.  While some organizing is certainly happening around that issue, it would be far better served by a pre-existing set of structures and voices that together would have a greater chance of influencing policy.

5.  A strong digital political culture is fundamentally good for democracy

Democracy works best when its citizens are engaged and informed.  A strong digital political culture provides a great forum to develop this without the filter of the traditional media.  It also encourages everyone who encounters it to think about what they see online, and to respond if they so choose, whether it’s through comments, starting their own blog, or even in conversation.  And the Australian political blogosphere is so very young that anyone could start a blog and have be influential: really, anyone can do that regardless.  But in this infancy we have a chance to do something important.

A strong digital political culture, a kind of Netroots without the partisan affiliation, can only be good for Australia.  But that begs the question: how do we get there?  And that will be addressed tomorrow.

7 Responses

  1. You are so very spot on. The value of digital really should not be overlooked – we are now living in a culture where even respected news outlets are referring to twitter as source material and as you have mentioned, the value of opening up the lines of communication via online has been proven in America.

    I’m not sure what the key to developing a strong digital political culture is in Australia – will our tired political landscape have an Oprah style light bulb moment and realise that online is just the sort of influential environment that political communication needs to get amongst? Perhaps the answer is if we blog they shall come? More Erin’s to get the ball rolling – more people writing (well) to open the lines of communication & start conversation. Pioneer political bloggers? Come out come out wherever you are!

    If Number 10 can tweet & K-Rudd can campaign & social network in the campaign trail – surely a strengthened overall online political culture can’t be too far off?

  2. Australians are apathetic about politics and always will be. I just can’t see it happening. Plus there aren’t enough of us to have a high population to create a reasonable number of political blogs which are worth reading.

    I used to be one of the most politically active people you could know. By 18 I was jaded and by 20 a complete cynic. Its the culture.

  3. But perhaps part of the reason we’re apathetic is that previously, we had two ways to engage with politics: by learning about it from media outlets, or by joining a party. Now there are a whole new range of ways to get involved that are trans-partisan.

    It’s about improving the discourse, so that we can actually have meaningful discussions about a range of political issues, rather than just digesting soundbites.

  4. I should send you some of the facebook notes my sisters friends have created Erin – they are all big campaigners for a whole much of stuff – they need to stop the notes & start blogs. They are smart kids doing the right thing… I just hope they continue to care once they are out of university.

    But what I came over here to show you really was this tweet I just saw….


  5. Hi Erin
    I was just talking to my x & y generational friends the other day about the fact that non of us have any interest in the political future of Australia at all and we should. I think a major factor is because we are greatly uneducated about our own political system. I only learned in second year university that our Country’s head of state is still the Queen of England. If you think that blogging can motivate the people of Aus into giving a crap then I am willing to give it ago.

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