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Internet Elections?

An interesting article by Iain Dale in the online Telegraph queries whether the UK is really having an “internet election”. Dale comments that:

This was supposed to be the election when internet politics came of age, when the blogosphere and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook had a real impact on the campaign. But it hasn’t turned out like that: far from being an important player, the internet has become all but an irrelevance. So why has the web been the dog that hasn’t barked?

But has it? Dale’s analysis turns out to be mostly party centered -one that seems to expect party politicians to be using the internet as their main medium. We made the same assumption with The Malta Chronicle when we started to monitor politicians’ blogs in the last national election in Malta.

In a way it is a justified assumption to make – here’s the tool to send information and so we expect those who have been channeling one-way information to just take their seat at their keyboards and do the same – only with a much faster, much more easily accessible medium than your average TV (expensive time slots), newspaper (controlled by editor) or radio (last seen at crime scene – suspected murder by video).

Follow politician’s blogs, tweets or facebook pages and you will reach what should have been an obvious truth. The class of politicians that has become pampered at controlling the message and its delivery (with the conniving assistance of the PR folk) are loath to engage with an audience that can react in real time. The most poignant example of this was GonziPN’s personal blog. Aspirant Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi set up a blog with comments disabled. Not a blog. Not a medium of interest.

At most politicians will pander to the Big Brother use of the internet. Cue the “days in the life of David Cameron” youtube stunt and things of such trivial sort. Not exactly mind-boggling debate over policy. So what use for the internet? Dale uses the words “echo chamber” to describe the twitter and facebook effect. Propaganda thrown into the cacophony of voices will be crunched and retweeted – to the point that it might not recognise itself at the end of it. Webb 2.0 is the crudely powerful New Media enhancing the grapevine, the bar chat and the streetwise cracks by a zillion.

And what of the promise of interactive debate? Well, there is the battle of the blogosphere that has been resolved in some way. Dale’s take is interesting. He believes that the blogs (or at least those that count) have been taken over by journalists:

Will the internet recover its voice after the election? I hope so – but it is also possible that we have seen a high water mark in terms of new media’s influence. Yes, the mainstream press calls on bloggers such as Tim Montgomerie, Will Straw and myself to play the role of political pundits. But the fact that so many bloggers are, effectively, professional journalists creates the impression that we’re not online insurgents, breaking down the gates of the Westminster village, but just another part of the establishment. It’s rather like a scene from Animal Farm: “The voters outside looked from blogger to journalist, and from journalist to blogger, and from blogger to journalist again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

I wonder if there is some truth in this assessment. Or could it be that a “successful” blogger still gets validated the moment he becomes a MSM journalist? The debate is open. Change is happening and this too will be of considerable importance in the next election in Malta.


Addendum: Cheers to Iain Dale for featuring this post on his blog’s The Daley Dozen.

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