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Cyber Politics
Enterprisin Women magazine, .
by Paula Hendricks

Please Note: Links included in this article were active at the time of writing but may no longer be currently active.



Election year campaigns. You know what you're going to see before you see it. Planned photo opportunities with seniors and babies. Well-groomed, well-spoken candidates answering prepared questions. And not a whole lot of opportunity to get real answers to your concerns. It seems like the same old same old, year after year. But, every once in while something new happens, some new way of communicating takes hold. In 1960 the first televised presidential debates, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, were held, and 63% of the electorate voted in the election that year. In 1996 there are web sites.

There are web sites by the presidential candidates. There are web sites by the political parties. There are political web sites by news organizations, by small groups, by individuals. The Internet is full of politics. It is teeming with politics. From chat rooms and newsgroups, and email lists. There are forums of every imaginable kind and pages by the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. For an electorate that is often portrayed as uninterested and apathetic - the numbers of places on the Internet that deal with politics is astounding.

One of the biggest complaints about elections is that we hear nothing but sound bytes, see nothing but video clips of photo opportunities, and we don't have an easy time gathering substantive information about the issues we care about. We can't even find out easily what the candidates say (or have said) about particular issues, and importantly, what actions (i.e. voting) they have taken for or against. Now, for those hungering for more information, for ways to find out what they want to know, for ways to interact easily with candidate's organizations or the government itself, the Internet is providing some great opportunities.

From the Senate, the House, the candidates' and party's web sites, to individual points of view, the issues of information overload and credibility becomes personal. It's almost poetic justice - we've been begging for more information - and now we have to figure out our selection process. And we need to think about credibility. Who are you going to believe? Read the position papers, the voting records-see how the candidates talks about them, see how the competition talks about them, get the facts yourself. Make up your own mind who you believe.

The Internet is a new factor in electoral campaigns. Whether or not it will have the impact of the first televised debates remains to be seen. The World Wide Web is still not a universal medium. And the demographics of its users are fairly well defined. This profile comes from e-land.com, but it is similar to others I've seen:

WEB USER
70% 18-44
65-70%Male
70%College Educated
63%White Collar
72%US/ Canada
$53KMedian Income

The Internet gives us the tools for a revolution in communication. It is far more than an advertising medium. Most traditional advertising media is limited in some way in space or time - constraints that are not directly applicable to web sites. TV commercials are rarely longer than 60 seconds. Print ads are rarely larger than one page. Even newscasts are severely limited and controlled by formats, time, attention span. In-depth articles are few and far between these days. Radio broadcasts can run longer, and be interactive (i.e. call-in shows), but they run at a particular time and then they are gone.

Web sites, however, are there for the user to browse, print out, search in their own particular way for the information that they want. And they can do this at their own convenience and in their own ways. Web sites that take advantage of current technology actually do many things like other traditional media - they have print articles, audio clips, video clips, and still pictures as well as ways for people to interact with the site and ultimately with the candidate or organization the site represents.

The '96 debates can be heard online and the candidates have clips of the debates on their sites. Transcripts of past debates are available (http://www.netcapitol.com/history.htm) as are transcripts of the current debates (http://pn1.politicsnow.com/news/debates/transcript/pn1006text1/. CBS has vintage political video clips from as far back as 1948 (http://www.cbsnews/cbsconv/look/video).

These are really the most obvious places to get started on your own journey through the politics of the Internet.

The Democratic National Committee web site (http://www.democrats.org/)

The Republican National Committee web site (http://www.rnc.org/)

The Libertarian Party web site (http://www.lp.org/)

The Natural Law Party web site (http://www.natural-law.org/)

The Green Party web site (http://www.greens.org/)

The Clinton-Gore web site (http://www.cg96.org/)

The Dole-Kemp web site (http://www.dole96.com/)

Ross Perot's web site (http://www.uwsa.org/)

US House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov/)

US Senate (http://www.senate.gov/)

Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/)

All politics sponsored by CNN (http://www.allpolitics.com/)

Politics Now sponsored by ABC News, the National Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek (http://www.allpolitics.com/)

C-Span web site (http://www.c-span.org/)

CBS News web site (http://www.cbsnews.com/)

MSNBC web site (http://wwwmsnbc.com/)

The very fact of msnbc (Microsoft and NBC) is a signal that the Internet will become a serious, integral part of American Life.... and thus, American politics. Beyond that, for those who want to be informed, the Internet provides more than ample resources.



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©1998 paula hendricks. All rights reserved.