I found John Palfrey and Urs Gassner’s article “Activists” on civic engagement and political participation on the internet to be one of the most relevant for the year of 2012. It was thought-provoking, in that it showed how digital media has changed prior elections, and left me wondering how the internet will affect the political future. Their point that “internet engagement sites are usually only facilitators, rather than places of action” (199) rang particularly true, as I find myself as a user ignoring most issues online until I find one that I already had a vested interest in. Elections however, are an issue in which everyone has a vested interest, whether they engage or not.
Of course, the article missed a few key points while exalting alternative news sources like the Huffington Post. Candidates don’t need an online presence solely for campaign websites, fundraising, and social networking with voters; they need them to combat the inevitable mudslinging and thousands of online sources discrediting the candidates. In fact, the explosion of the internet has taken control away from campaign managers in elections. Those average citizens with the most fervent opinions on either side have the power to dig up dirt, make accusations, and divulge them throughout the internet. I’ve always found televised campaign commercials to be nasty and detrimental towards the democratic process, but with the internet, similar messages can be conveyed without a candidate having to announce their sponsorship of the commercial. I consider myself a moderate on the political spectrum, but have a hard time finding moderate news sources in an age where the extremes on both ends get the most attention.
Additionally, a lot of the articles in this section of Digital Divide mentioned that people of my generation are unaware that what we are putting on Facebook is available for people to see and track. A few years after these articles were published, this is no longer the case. Many of us now have privacy protections on our social media (although most of us also feel certain that there are ways for companies can get around this). I’d be curious to see how this changes elections 10-15 years down the road, when people of my generation find that they have digital histories that cannot be erased. Sure, George W. Bush and Barack Obama admitted to trying cocaine, and Bill Clinton smoked but “didn’t inhale” marijuana, but there is a huge difference between hearing these facts in speeches or reading them in biographies, and seeing messages, wall posts, and pictures of the young candidates in action. Will future candidates have to have a cleaner record? Will people intelligent enough to be president still be stupid enough to run?
In terms of the process of voting itself, I wonder whether the US will ever move to more advanced technological systems of voting that don’t require physical voting sites. As a Minnesotan, my absentee ballot still has to be sent my snail mail and requested months in advance. Despite advancements in registration and voting technology, the whole process of going to the polls and waiting in line seems strangely outdated in the digital age. I’m not arguing against the traditional, as online voting could potentially pose a huge security and falsification threat to our country, but I find it interesting that everything else regarding campaigns has changed so drastically, while voting itself has not.