Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
The Internet United States

Howard Rheingold on Using the Internet in Politics 85

Roland Piquepaille writes "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.' This overview contains selected excerpts about what is the essential impact of the Internet on politics today or what are the benefits to using the Internet in politics. Finally, if you want to discover the universe of Smart Mobs, be sure to visit regularly the Smart Mobs collective weblog."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Howard Rheingold on Using the Internet in Politics

Comments Filter:
  • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:20AM (#8667250) Homepage
    Chris Lilik is a one-man political action committee. Powered by a high-speed computer he assembled himself,

    Now, that's a rather casual way of revealing he's a cyborg, isn't it?
  • Not just politics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by StuWho ( 748218 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:24AM (#8667296) Journal
    "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."

    Like the German cannibal who met and ate a willing victim he found on the net?

  • Make or break - NOT! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:25AM (#8667311)
    in the age of Internet politics, the Web can make or break a candidate

    If you ask me, the press and major political parties still have that power. When you are in this industry, it may seem the Web is a new world with new rules, but it's just another technology that exists in the status quo world we have always lived in. And 'smart mob' is just another example of an overblown concept.
    • Don't forget lobbying organizations and companies with enough cash to get what they want.
    • by qortra ( 591818 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:40AM (#8667505)
      If you ask me, the press and major political parties still have that power.

      This is true right now. However, this will eventually begin to change. Just because the article overstated things abit does not change the validity of the point it is trying to make.

      Eventually, paper publication and television broadcast popularity will begin to dwindle as people can more effectly replace those media forms with internet content (of many different types).

      In addition to changing how candidates market themselves, it inernet also might change who is electable. Because it is easier to create and distribute online content to the masses, third/obscure partie members and independents will (hopefully) have a better chance in the US government.
      • That was exactly what was said about radio and then television in their days by techno-philes of the time. After all it was cheaper to mass communicate over airwaves then print and mail a bunch of fliers or to travel door-to-door.

        And just like radio and television the internet "channels" are being consolidated and becoming more regulated. As more people use it, there will be less choice, greater regulation, and less focus on information and more on entertainment.

        The internet will be no more of an enligh
      • Several things to keep in mind:

        • Because of the nature of the internet being tethered to a computer now revolutionary 'Net uptake won't be happening until "pervasive computing becomes a reality.
        • Newsprint will be with us much much longer than most think: it's portable, has well established & accepted distribution method, and being a passive medium it's much easier on the eyes.
        • More importantly, keep in mind that the great majority of the voting electorate is made up by older generations. Early adopters
  • A bit of a say (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mennonot ( 748021 )

    If they're going to self-organize Meetups, contribute millions of dollars, and have a blog in which they're making suggestions, they're going to want to have a bit of a say.

    Yep, political parties and PAC's are real good at top-down "grassroots organizing" (i.e. sign this petition, write this e-mail). But how long before we have an organization that effectively uses technology to give members a real say in the vision and the guiding of the organization?

    • Re:A bit of a say (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maximilln ( 654768 )
      The people who run things now will need to adapt to account for the internet factor. Since the major backbones and ISPs all pay taxes and hold government issued business licenses I don't really see the internet changing much.

      Apparently it gave Howard Rheingold an little bit of gratuitous fellatio. He got interviewed by businessweek. More back slapping for him around the office but meaningless for the average American.

      The real impact will be the arguments that arise from those naive fools who are convin
  • Isn't that an oxymoron?
  • "Smart Mob" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Manassas ( 569545 )
    "Social theorist Howard Rheingold predicts that power in the Information Age will coalesce around groups of networked people who organize behind a single idea, from politics to fashion, and connect using the Internet and cell phones. He calls them Smart Mobs, and he sees them starting to take shape." Sounds a bit like /.'ers /.'ing
  • by Channard ( 693317 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:31AM (#8667373) Journal
    Given how fast bogus rumours such as the teddy bear virus move around the internet, and how hard they are to kill, the internet represents and easy way to anonymously disseminiate dis-information about a candidate. Imagine the same crowd who thump forward buttons without reading the message sending a bogus picture of a presidential candidate in a photoshopped picture. Oh, wait, that really happened..
    • Given how fast bogus rumours such as the teddy bear virus move around the internet, and how hard they are to kill, the internet represents and easy way to anonymously disseminiate dis-information about a candidate.

      Yes; quality of information is generally a huge problem with the Internet. But slandering is something that has followed politics for a long, long time; probably since its very inception.

      A famous, historical (though not that ancient) example is when Richard Nixon insinuated in a 1950 senate ra

  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:31AM (#8667378)
    It would seem that the internet's anonymity, lack of authentication, and high-susceptibility to automation makes it easy for groups or issues to appear more poular and populous than they really are. There is no gaurantee that the "thousands" writing in support of some position aren't one person or even one non-U.S. citizen.

    I wonder when some pressure group will use spammer's tricks (zombie machines and scripts that spew thousands of automated messages) to flood political forums, blogs, write-in campaigns etc.

    I'm not saying that the internet is not a wonderous medium for publishing ideas and sharing insights into pressing issues, only that it represents a potentially corruptible, biased sample on popular opinion.
    • by GPLDAN ( 732269 )
      I think you can fully expect to see massive spam "campaigns" from both parties, or people who support them. Usenet is already deluged with pictures of Kerry kissing Hanoi Jane and GWB shooting Saddam and so on.
    • Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @04:34PM (#8671627) Journal
      Like today's media is not biased?

      Compare and contrast: CBS, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, Al-Jazari... take your pick. Do you see unbiased news on these outlets?

      The only problem that I see is that the Internet speeds up the trend that more and more people can find whatever isolated niche they like, where they won't have to be bothered by the uncomfortable reality that others don't think they way they do.

      Don't worry, I think most politicians already send your emails straight to the bit bucket.

  • by deman1985 ( 684265 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:32AM (#8667396) Homepage
    I think the benefits of integrating the internet into political campaigns have always been pretty simple and obvious. For one thing, it gives voters the opportunity to get a much more detailed look into candidates. Televised debates are always limited by time (and censors) and printed information is always limited by space (and censors), but in the online world people can really dig in to the nitty-gritty.

    There are also times when a candidate doesn't answer all the questions voters have in their minds. Online campaign sites give them opportunities to really interact back and forth. Potential voters can ask questions and candidates (or their PR people) can answer back quickly.

    Online sites also allow for much larger forums of debate and collaboration for campaigns. Rallies can quickly be arranged or mini-campaign fundraisers can be held across town or across the country without having direct contact with the campaign staff.

    And these are just the obvious benefits-- most of which, I've already seen put to good use.
    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:03PM (#8667759)
      > There are also times when a candidate doesn't answer all the questions voters have in their minds. Online campaign sites give them opportunities to really interact back and forth. Potential voters can ask questions and candidates (or their PR people) can answer back quickly.

      What on earth makes you think that candidates are interested in answering voter questions? The only answer worth giving to a voter the one that gets the voter to vote for your candidate.

      If I ask "How will $CANDIDATE help me provide for my family", the correct answer is "by smashing the traitorous CEOs who run the evil corporations that oppress you."

      If I ask "How will $CANDIDATE protect my job", the correct answer is "by imposing steep duties on cheap foreign imports."

      If I ask "How will $CANDIDATE protect my career", "by eliminating obsolete protectionist barriers to growth and trade."

      Same question, three demographics, three correct answers.

      You can do this in a crowd and get away with it. Nothing's on the record. You can even do it in small gatherings - sorta like how musicians are always awed at how wonderfully awesome the crowd is in your town.

      In a national debate, you can't get away with this tactic because all three demographics are watching. The correct answer is then "by enhancing the economy to provide jobs for families", which means whatever the listener wants it to mean.

      In an online campaign site, it's got the disadvantage of one-on-one (you can't duck the question), and the disadvantage of being on the record, so you can't tell one thing to one person and something different to the next. Mr. Family reads the thread in which Mr. Career gets his correct answer and Mr. Family recoils in horror... and vice versa.

      Online campaign sites with genuine interactivity between candidate and voter will never happen, because the very nature of democracy prohibits it. To win, you must appear to be all things to all people. After you have their support, you claim a mandate and you implement your agenda. It sucks, but it sucks less than the alternatives.

  • by Polymath Crowbane ( 675799 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:35AM (#8667437)
    Er, yes....using the Internet creatively will get you where you want to be...ask Howard Dean. And why did he flame out so spectacularly? I wonder if it was a Truman-Dewey situation.

    For those who don't remember President Truman (probably 99% of the people here), he was an incumbent underdog running for reelection against Thomas Dewey in 1948. The polls showed Dewey winning by a large margin, to the point that one of the New York papers preprinted their post-Election Day issue with the now-infamous headline Dewey Beats Truman. Truman won the election. It turned out the pollsters were doing their work by telephone, at a time when a significant number of voters still didn't have them. Because their polling methodology was flawed, the results were, as well.

    What does this have to do with Dean? Simply this: the people who get out and vote, especially in primaries, are not the high tech Meet Upsters that drew so much attention. While the techsters are more than willing to contribute online (just another form of online shopping), fewer are willing to get out and talk to their neighbors and fellow voters (as opposed to taking a field trip to another state for a day or two), much less actually do the grunt work involved in actually going out and voting.

    How many of you who email Congress at the drop of a hat have taken the time and postage to mail a letter to your local Congresscritter (snail mail is taken more seriously by Congressional staffers)? How many of you who went to a Meet Up actually went to the polls and voted?

    Until folks understand that technology is an enabling tool, not a magic bullet, politics as usual will continue to be the norm. And, until folks understand that the vast majority of voters in this country are not looking at who's using the sexiest technology, but who's pushing the right buttons, the techogeeks will continue to be confined to the infrastructure, rather than the policy making area.

    • by Otter ( 3800 )
      That story does read like it's been in the author's head since before the Iowa caucus and has been undergoing revision since, doesn't it?

      As you say, this technology is a tool to take advantage of, not something that Changes Everything. What _is_ a quantum change is the emergence of (What are they called, 427 groups? I keep wanting to say 420, but we're not yet blessed with 420 groups) like MoveOn -- but that dramatic change has far more to do with McCain-Feingold changing the rules than with any piece of te

      • And as long as I'm posting, two quotes from the article:

        Economically, Internet politics is a no-brainer. Dean's entire Net outlay, including salaries, barely topped $1 million, estimates one former staffer.

        Yeah, if you don't look in Joe Trippi's wallet. :-)

        Says Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, director of the Republican Main Street Partnership: "I have not been able to locate a single moderate blog."

        Huh? I'm not a blogomaniac but can certainly come up with plenty -- say, Instapundit?

        Really, what the article i

      • The groups are 527s.
    • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:01PM (#8667735)
      Here in Spain (you should be aware of the recent goings on) when the protests broke out just before the elections, some commentators said it was due to email and mobile phones being used to organise the protests. Not in my experience it wasn't -- it was people banging on my door and ringing my doorbell, and people tooting their cars horns and shouting up from the street. Emails didn't cause the protests, it was the blatent lies of the government on the eve of an election.
    • But Dean wouldn't have had such a fanatically charged following if it weren't for the Blogs, the meetups, the messages and the discussions he inspired. He would have been another Edwards, grabbing little attention from the mainstream press.

  • Good & Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 ( 718736 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:36AM (#8667458)

    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...

    One of the problems with this mirrors the real world scenario, except that it allows for it to happen much faster. Being that people tend to gravitate towards others who share their beliefs and ideals more easily. Doing this gives them bolsters their opinion that "They are Right", and they tend to shut out opposing views.

    Of course, it can be argued that the opposite is also true. That the internet allows people to more easily find other viewpoints and expand their knowledge. Nevertheless, it is much harder (perhaps by subconscious choice) to find opposing viewpoints, and give a requisite amount of credibility to them - one must be trying to prove themselves wrong, or at least see if they can, and a great number of people do not like to be proven wrong - no matter how far fetched or unfounded their ideas may seem.

  • Lets see: according to comScore Media Metrix in february had over 1 mil. visits (103% growth), representing his success in the democrats presidential preliminary election. There were also 14% increase (compared to previous month) in the overall visitors in the politics cathegory in US making a total of 16 visitors in Feb. John Edvards site had 480,000 visitors (+60%), Dean and Clark got 355,000 (-50%) and 185,000 (-50) visitors, respectively. I guess that underlines the weight of the Net in
  • Totally. (Score:4, Funny)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:37AM (#8667467)
    Locke for Hegemon!
  • by mystery_bowler ( 472698 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:43AM (#8667536) Homepage
    Howard Dean had a tremendous online following and couldn't even come close to locking up the Democratic nomination. John Kerry has a website, but I seriously doubt he has even a modest amount of understanding of what the Internet can be used to do.

    Yes, the Internet is important as a medium to use in reaching an important voter demographic. But it's not as important as television (yet) because the senior and low-income demographics are larger and have higher voter turn out.

    The senior population is the largest it's ever been in recorded history and it's going to get even larger. That's why Social Security is often called the third rail of politics...touch it and you die. Most seniors don't know squat about the Internet except that 60 Minutes tells them pedophiles love it and kids use it to watch porn and plan school shootings. Sarcastic, I know, but the point is that that television is what informs that demographic.

    Similarly, the low-income demographic is large and is often the target of "bussing"...a practice whereby a candidate dependent on voter turn out hires out charter buses to carry low-income voters from their homes/apartments/projects to voting stations in their district. These are largely not people that are reachable via the Internet.

    Kudos to all the candidates thus far who have taken their message online. It shows a degree of thoroughness that is admirable. But the Internet has not become make-or-break for national politicians yet.
    • I was just going to say the same thing. The net didn't "make" Dean and surely didn't "break" Kerry or Bush.

      Journalists just love to sensationalize. Damn mentality.
    • by GPLDAN ( 732269 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:57AM (#8667680)
      I agree with the Bowler. Rheingold may wish it to be so, but there is no concrete proof that it helps a candidate get elected.

      What there is evidence of, is that it is a new source of fundraising. The stat that everyone is buzzing about in the beltway, is how far that Dean lowered the average campaign contribution to. I don't have the number, and can't find it right now, but I think it's down around $60 or so. Kerry wants desperately to figure out a way to fundraise via the net, expect something BIG from the Democrats regarding this around the time of the convention. I'm predicting they are going to all out with a "flash"y website and Paypal integration, as much as they figure out how to do.
  • the age of Internet politics... []

    Thank you.
  • What?!?! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Da Fokka ( 94074 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @11:50AM (#8667612) Homepage
    20 posts and still no Gore-Invented-The-Internet reference?!

    What is Slashdot coming to these days...
  • by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:10PM (#8667848)
    What timing. I just returned from the Institute for Politics Democracy on the Internet []'s annual Politics Online [] conference. What a sense of deja-vu.

    Back-in-the-day the dot-coms had an amazing array of metrics: it's hits - no, it's page-views, no - it's eyeballs, it's stickyness, it's repeat visitors, it's burn-rate...

    Of course we look back and find it amusing that profit was never a metric.

    This conference was more of the same. Lots of metrics and requirements tossed about (money raised, page views, video clips on your site, etc.) but the currency of politics is a vote and votes didn't seem to be dicussed much as a metric.

    The hype was there. Once again I heard that "the iinternet changes everything" and about the need to be a "first-mover". We heard repeated comments about how the great Dean and his sidekick Trippi had come down from the mount to show us to the promised internet land and stories about the amazing internet campaign to get Clark to run. But where are they now? Clark merely dropped out but following a butt-kicking up and down the campaign trail, Dean's head was handed to him on a platter. This is the advantage of using the internet??

    In fact, it was almost as instructive to see who was not well represented: people from the Bush and Kerry campaigns. I guess they are too busy getting actual votes.

    Sure, the internet is becoming a more important tool in politics and it was fun meeting the techies but at the end of the conference my colleagues and I had exactly the same reaction: we've been here before.

  • by keath_milligan ( 521186 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:20PM (#8667950) Homepage
    Dean launched an unprecedented internet-based effort to recruit and mobilize supporters around the country. It really showcased the power of the net and helped to quickly push Dean to front-runner status. But even with all that support and publicity, Dean didn't win a single primary.

    Well before the "I have a scream" speech, Dean's fate was sealed in large part due to the excessive publicity and daily coverage he received as the front-runner. It seems unlikely that any candidate can hold up for months on end prior to the elections under that kind of scrutiny without taking a few missteps.

    The internet can certainly be a powerful promotional tool, but too much publicity can be a bad thing.
  • "be sure to visit regularly the Smart Mobs collective weblog"

    Nice plug for the web site. Went there, some OK articles. Its kind of telling that there was a total of 4 comments to all of the articles currently on the front page. If you are plugging some kind of communication revolution shouldn't your web site show some kind of actual bidirectional communcation going on.

  • How is it the Internet can take preternatural losers like ESR and Howard Rheingold and make them celebrities?
  • by StateOfTheUnion ( 762194 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:39PM (#8669168) Homepage
    The rise of the political Web also is starting to tilt the demographics of power. The tech-savvy, many of them young, gain a voice and can move masses. Already, groups such as MoveOn are drawing on their supporters not just for money and political support but also for skills in video, networking, and even software design.

    As the techonologies of the net become more and more mainstream, one of the big benefits that I see is the leveraging of internet technologies to bring together smaller parties and groups that would otherwise be marginalized. In a two party system where the deck is definately stacked for the mainstream (e.g. minimum poll numbers required to participate in a presidential debate, Minimum precent of votes in the previous prez. election to qualify for matching federal funds, it is illegal in some states to register as anything other than democrat/republican, etc.) The internet is that it can be used to help organize smaller marginalized grassroots campaigns without the need for a huge budget for publicity/marketing.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with the politics of these groups, making it easier for them to get their word out forces may force the two major candidates to take a stance on issues that would rather not talk about (e.g. abortion in 2000 election, deficit during Perot timeframe, etc.). . . and this makes for a healthier political system in general.

  • by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @02:03PM (#8669506) Homepage Journal
    Interesting quote, from the Rheingold interview []:

    "You know, fascists used mobs. You can fool some of the people some of the time, and all you need to do is fool them at the right time and get them out to act on that. So I wouldn't confuse the democratization of the Internet with necessarily healthy activity for democracy. That would be projecting magical thinking onto the technology."

    - Howard Rheingold
  • At a recent "How to run a campaign" workshop I attended (sponsored by CampaignCorps []), the presenters made the point that online tools work better to organize, rally, and excite people who already like a candidate, and they don't work as well to convince newcomers to vote for that candidate. The reason is that the interet is a much more active environment than things like mail, TV, and radio ads. You don't have to search for anything to be bombarded with politcal ads in other media, but you do have to searc
  • I gave a speech in Providence this week arguing that smart mobs are also the key to homeland security, drawing an analogy to Paul Revere (the original "weak link" in the Granovetter sense of the term -- member of 5 of the 7 Mass. groups involved in planning for independence) and the Minutemen: linking independent groups, redundant in case of problems, planned in advance, and flexible.

    I said that wireless technologies, especially several mesh network variations, SMS texting and camera phones, plus the scien
  • How much has blogging and the Internet helped Bush?
    How much has it helped Kerry?

    Nothing to see here.
  • We run a political based site and also have helped several local groups by setting up easy to use CMS systems to power their websites and saying that the Internet has major power to make or break a canidate is a not always true.

    Once again people are getting what the Internet really is confused. I will point to [] for those that need a refresher. And those too lazy to RTFA here is my one sentence summery: The internet is an Inter-network which is comprised by a common protocal (The Internet

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"