I am currently at Oxford for a three day workshop on: “The Internet and Democracy, Lessons Learnt and Future Directions of Research”, which we at Berkman‘s Internet & Democracy project have been organizing in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.
The aim of the workshop is to bring together leading researchers to assess the current state of research on the impact of the Internet on democracy. In particular, the workshop aims to assess: (1) what are the lessons learnt from existing research? (2) How can we best measure the impact of the Internet and new media on democracy and what are the insights provided by different research methodologies? (3) What are the future directions for the field?
Please check this blog and the Berkman’s Internet and Democracy blog in the next few days for blogposts about the workshop sessions. A webcast of the opening lecture which was held yesterday by Matthew Hindman at the Oxford Said Business School will also be made available soon online both on the OII and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society website.
Yesterday at the Kennedy School of Government I attended the IOP Forum “War Stories: Inside Campaign 2008”, where David Axelrod (Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign) and David Plouffe (Campaign Manager, Obama Campaign) discussed with Rick Davis (Campaign Manager, McCain Campaign) and Bill McInturff (Chief Pollster, McCain Campaign) the 2008 presidential campaign, in an open forum. This forum was part of a tradition, the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum series organized by the Harvard Institute of Politics, which for years has been inviting politicians, academics and journalists to debate current issues in front of an audience, made up mostly by students but also by journalists, politicians etc. These forums are moderated and they conclude with a question and answers sessions with people in the audience. As I sat there listening to the campaigners recall events and anecdotes from the campaign, and analyzing achievements and mistakes made, I could not help but thinking about the transparency and accountability promoted by such events. And wondering when there will be a day in my home country when similar events will take place….
A group of McCain and Obama campaigners, academics, activists, bloggers and journalists have gathered for two days at Harvard at a conference organized by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society examining the role that the Internet has played in the the 2008 US election. Parts of the conversation were under Chatam house rule, nevertheless here are some highlights of the lively discussions that have taken place. Some preliminary outputs of the meeting can be found here in essay format and other Berkman colleagues have blogged about the event here and at the Internet and Democracy blog.
The first day of the discussion focused very much on the role played by the Internet in the campaign. Did Obama win thanks to the Internet? Did the Internet play a role in engaging people who would have not otherwise been engaged? The first question was prominent, and the message that was stressed many times over and over, especially by Obama campaigners, was that the Internet served as a wonderful tool to coordinate and link online and offline action, with the technology playing a central but complementary role to the efforts of offline grassroots organizing. I came home with the feeling that top-down strategy played the key role in getting people involved, but that success depended very much also on the bottom-up grassroots efforts and energy that Obama and his campaign people managed to mobilize and draw upon. Continue reading “the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election”
The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has just released a new survey on the role of the Internet in the 2008 US campaign. The report shows that almost half (42%) of 18 to 29 year olds learns regularly about the campaign from the Internet, double the number in the 2004 campaign (20%). The age divide between young and older people in looking for campaign information online has also doubled since 2004 from 13 percentage points in 2004 to 27 percentage points in 2008 (it should be noted though that the proportion of 30 to 49 year olds and 50 year olds and older turning to the Internet has also grown since 2004, although not as dramatically as amongst 18 to 29 year olds – showing that the Internet is increasingly becoming a source of political information amongst the general population, even though it is still lagging behind TV and daily newspapers).
The Pew findings also show that traditional online news websites such as MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo remain the most visited sites for political information seeking, but amongst young people 37% of 18 to 24 year olds (and 27% of those younger than 30) have gotten campaign information from social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook (compared to 4% of those in their thirties and 1% of those 40 and older), showing how these online spaces have become an important space not only for entertainment but also for more civic minded activities. Two caveats, though….
…there’s a feeling amongst pundits and young people themselves (as many of the young people we interviewed for our Digital Natives project voiced) that membership in political groups on Facebook is so low cost that it is actually meaningless: joining a candidate’s group is like putting a bumber sticker of your favourite candidate on your car. But does this translate into actual offline participation/higher voting turnout? Also, Pew reports that 59% of web users under the age of 30 have come across campaign news online while they were actually looking for something else. Is this kind of exposure better than no exposure at all? Should we consider as political engagement only the one that is costly and face to face, like canvassing and campaigning door to door in the rain or is this exposure to online news a good starting point?
(cross-posted in Digital Natives blog)