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.