How the Internet is Being Used by Political Organisations: Promises, Problems and Pointers


Research Paper 11 1997-98

Paula Williams
Politics and Public Administration Group
3 March 1998

Contents

Major Issues Summary

Introduction

Is there a need to use a new communications medium such as the Internet?

The ideal vision of how the Internet can contribute to the political process

How the Internet is currently being used

Web sites

Political organisations/Individuals

Information intermediaries

Media sites

E-mail/mailing lists

News Groups

Case studies

Case study 1-1996 United States presidential election

Case study 2-1997 United Kingdom general election

Case Study 3-1996 Australian Federal Election

Case Study 4-Activism by non mainstream groups

Problems with Internet use

The 'haves' and the 'have nots'

Will the Internet produce an enhanced democracy?

Security

Anonymity/lack of accountability

Globalisation

Failure to fully utilise Internet capabilities

Guidelines for effective use of the Internet

Conclusions

Endnotes

References

Appendix A-Political Parties

Appendix B-Intermediary sites

Appendix C-Media Sites

Appendix D-Mailing lists

Major Issues Summary

With the growth of the Internet, more activities are being conducted online. Politics is no exception. Political parties, other groups and individuals are increasingly using the Internet to spread their messages by inter alia, establishing 'Web'* pages, which provide a variety of facilities such as policy documents, interactive 'chat' facilities and links to other sites. With such a new medium, there are however many unanswered questions:

Why use the Internet to spread a political message?

What Internet strategies will be the most effective?

What are the possible pitfalls?

What will the short and long-term impact of this technology be on politics?

*'Web' pages or sites are locations on the World Wide Web-or on the Internet. 'Web' and 'Internet' are essentially interchangeable terms. 'Web' sites contain information provided by an individual or organisation, and are accessible to the public. The addresses or locations of these sites are usually given by a URL or Uniform Resource Locater, e.g. www.aph.gov.au/library

While some are more sceptical, other schools of thought believe that the Internet may help to refresh or revolutionise politics and the political process. Through enhanced communication, citizens may become more involved and knowledgeable, and perform their civic responsibilities with greater diligence. The Internet may also change the way in which political groups and politicians conduct election campaigns, keep in touch with constituents, and forge alliances with other groups or individuals. The Internet may also enable small groups with limited resources to participate in the political process. Indeed the Internet may have the potential to change many aspects of politics in ways that we can not predict.

This paper examines a number of case studies of Internet use by political organisations, including the 1996 United States Presidential Election, the 1997 United Kingdom General Election, the 1996 Australian Federal Election, and use of the Internet by non-mainstream groups. In most cases, the Internet has not been fully exploited and in some cases, Web sites have been badly managed. In particular, use has been limited to the one-way provision of information rather than in interactive, two-way exchange of information. Information on Web sites has also been found to be out of date, and links to additional resources fail to work.

While qualitative studies regarding the impact of the Internet in these cases have not been done, in general, Internet is assumed to have had a limited impact, although this may change in the future.

Moreover a number of problems associated with the Internet may curtail its use. A substantial proportion of the population does not have access to the Internet, and even with increasing accessibility in the future, some citizens may still not be connected. The impact of the Internet will also largely depend upon citizens being motivated enough to seek out information on the Net*-which may not happen. Security is also an issue, there is the potential for material to be altered or deleted, or for certain viewpoints to get more 'airplay'. The Internet also offers participants an element of anonymity, which may be inimical to increased civic responsibility. As a global communications medium, the Internet may also dilute differences between populations and political groups, which may be seen as a threat to individual cultures.

*'Net' is a shortened form of 'Internet' and is used interchangeably

In order for Australian politicians to use the Internet effectively, the potential and the limitations of the Internet need to be recognised, and any use of the Internet for political purposes framed accordingly. Some suggested guidelines for Internet use by politicians have been provided.

In devising political strategies for its use, it is important to recognise that the Internet, while potentially a powerful tool, is not a panacea or magic bullet. As with many activities, if strategies involving the Internet are not done well (which will necessitate time, money and commitment), they may not be worth doing at all.

Introduction

The Internet is expected to have a significant impact on many aspects of our lives in the future. The facilities offered by Internet technology already enable people throughout the world to access huge amounts of information on almost any conceivable topic, to find others with similar interests and discuss relevant issues, and to make information available to other people at minimal cost. This is revolutionising the ways in which people learn, shop, pursue leisure activities, keep up to date with current affairs, conduct business, and maintain a sense of community. Likewise, the Internet could also have an increasing, but unpredictable impact on the way in which political organisations and individuals communicate their messages to citizens, and may profoundly change the way in which citizens participate in the political process.

This paper examines the ways in which the Internet is being used by organisations and individuals for political purposes. Numerous Internet-based facilities have been set up which provide access not only to a huge range of political information, but offer interactive facilities which allow citizens to provide information back to the politician or political party. This technology may have the potential to bring politics 'back to the people', and address a number of criticisms made by commentators who have been concerned with a perceived decline in political activity and civic responsibility amongst citizens in various countries.

Despite the potential, there are problems associated with Internet use, and politics is no exception. Not all citizens have access to Internet technology, and not all citizens want to access and receive information relating to politics in this format. Hence a reliance primarily on the Internet may exacerbate pre-existing differences between information 'haves' and 'have nots', and further alienate an already disadvantaged segment of the population. Privacy and computer security is also an issue, and ensuring the reliability of information provided is currently problematic. Political organisations and politicians may also be resistant to Internet use, as it may require significant changes in work practices. The fundamental question of whether increased political participation will actually improve the political system and the decision making process also needs to be asked. The Internet should not been seen as a panacea to any perceived problems with the current political system, and its limitations need to be recognised. Despite these constraints however, the Internet offers a new, extremely powerful communications medium, which if appropriately used, is likely to have a profound impact on the way in which some political activities are conducted.

Is there a need to use a new communications medium such as the Internet?

Some political analysts have expressed concern at what they see as an increase in political apathy amongst the population.(1) American analysts point to the low percentage of Americans who register to vote and then actually vote, and the even lower percentage who are aware of major issues, or are involved in grassroots political activities in their local communities.(2) In Australia, considerable concern has been voiced about the lack of basic knowledge about our system of government, especially among young people. For example, the national civics survey, conducted in the early 1990's found that only 19 per cent of people understood the significance of Federation, 18 per cent knew about the content of the Constitution, and only 40 per cent could name the federal houses of parliament.(3) While this has been recognised and responded to in the form of a number of inquiries which generally recommend changed school curriculums, these reports, to date, generally have not mentioned use of the Internet as a possible solution. Additionally, political parties have experienced considerable declines in the proportion of the population who are actively involved in party activities.(4) The voter participation in the recent election for the delegates to the constitutional convention, at less than 50 per cent of eligible voters, could well be interpreted as a sign of political apathy among the Australian population.

It is thought that this decline in political participation or alienation may have several ramifications. Firstly, a less involved population is less informed, and is less able to analyse and assess the decisions of the government, or the views of interest groups.(5) A less informed citizenry may be more susceptible to radical, populist viewpoints held by extremists, which can ultimately produce an unstable society. Citizens who are unaware of the issues facing their society may also be less aware of their civic responsibilities, and less able to recognise the common good.(6)

As democracy and politics changes, intermediaries such as the media and special interest groups which analyse, interpret, and supply information to the electorate and to the elected representatives have increased in importance. These intermediaries may not however meet the real needs of the population for information and analysis for a number of reasons. The media in particular has been criticised for its inability to provide accurate, unbiased information in an appropriate format that citizens can use effectively. Some viewpoints or interest groups may be largely ignored. The media may trend towards entertainment, sensationalism and the maintenance of the status quo,(7) because the main focus of editors and owners may be to ensure that their products are popular, so that circulation figures are kept up, and advertising revenues maintained. Providing a balanced, in depth analysis of issues that would appeal to a smaller audience may not be economically viable. The format of the news media is also generally unable to provide links from one story to others so that the background to stories can be examined by the reader, viewer or listener, or so that other related issues can be examined according to the individual's particular interests. The media may also be subject to the biases of journalists, editors and owners, which can impact upon the way in which stories are reported. Not only do these issues affect the way in which information is passed from the news makers (politicians) to the public, but the way in which the public's viewpoints are subsequently passed back to the news makers through the media is also affected. The media may not accurately reflect the population's concerns about certain issues, and as a result, political organisations may find themselves increasingly out of touch with the population.

The rise of negative advertising or campaigning in the media during election campaigns may also have contributed to a growing dissatisfaction with politics and the way in which it is reported by the media, and the reduction in interest in politics.(8)

Special interest groups also play an intermediary role. These groups provide forums through which information about the concerns of citizens is channelled. This channelling may however involve filtering and possibly distorts the views of many citizens. These groups can not represent the interests of all Australians, nor in many cases can they provide timely, thorough, unbiased information in an appropriate format that many citizens would like. The effectiveness of special interest groups also largely depends upon their financial and other resources. Groups that are less well endowed may be unable to access government effectively, and are thus less able to provide effective information or a medium for political participation for their members. This imbalance may further entrench inequities in society.

Against this background, new communication technologies-especially the Internet-are seen as offering facilities that could potentially help to solve these problems. The Internet may not however deliver on these promises if it fails to be used in a way that ignites the interest of citizens, and encourages them to be informed and involved.

The ideal vision of how the Internet can contribute to the political process

The Internet may have the potential to make an extremely strong contribution to the political process because of the way in which it facilitates reciprocal rather than just one-way communication. Ideally, it could enable billions of people worldwide, enhanced opportunities to speak, publish, assemble, and educate themselves about issues.(9) Through the Internet, citizens can access huge amounts of relatively unfiltered information. This information can be used to formulate opinions, and analyse government actions and decisions. The claims of others can be checked, and sources verified. Through e-mail citizens can receive and send information quickly and cheaply to and from thousands of people. Interactive chat facilities enable citizens to air their views and expose them to the views of others. The population can potentially provide elected officials directly with information about their views, and in turn, elected officials can communicate directly with groups or individuals conveniently and cost effectively.

These changes may have several effects. Some commentators believe that political parties and interest groups may become less important as communication between officials and the public is facilitated by the Internet. Individuals will not require the significant funds or administrative help to communicate en masse with others, which are usually provided by party or group secretariats. Alternatively, the Internet may facilitate the formation of new groups that will compete with established groups.(10) Through the Internet, people may be able to find others with similar interests to their own that had not been well represented by pre-existing groups. Organising and running special interest groups or political campaigns could be cheaper and easier with the Internet, and these interests may be able to have an impact on the political process with minimal resources. The population will thus be provided with more political alternatives. These alternatives could improve competition amongst groups for supporters and members, and could provide the impetus for more responsive representation. Alternatively, parties may find that they rely less on a core of dedicated supporters, and more on a broader base of support if they are able to use the Internet to spread their message successfully.(11)

Changes to the composition and size of groups who are informed and involved in the political process may have an impact on the funding of political parties. Funding may possibly be less reliant on large donations from a few supporters, as sources of funding become more evenly spread.(12) The savings the Internet offers may also reduce the need for large political donations. Less reliance on major donations may reduce the danger of political organisations being captured by the interests of wealthy individuals or large corporations which may be more likely to be able to afford large donations. As a result, parties could potentially become more responsive to the concerns and needs of ordinary citizens.

The impact of the Internet could however be less than anticipated unless it fundamentally changes the inability of many people to devote time and effort to their civic responsibilities or political activities. In the past while improvements in communications technology may have increased the ability of people to be informed and involved, this has not necessarily been the outcome.

How the Internet is currently being used

The use of the Internet for political purposes is at the time of writing (January 1997), still in its infancy. While many individuals and organisations have established an Internet presence, in many cases, the Internet's potential is not yet fully utilised. The reasons for this failure to exploit the Internet may be the result of conservatism, fear, lack of knowledge, or prudent reticence!

Web sites

Political organisations/Individuals

Many political organisations and individuals have established Web pages. At their simplest, Web pages provide information about the group or individual's policies, contact details and some brief biographical information, and perhaps links to related pages. More sophisticated Web pages provide interactive facilities so that the user of the page can provide feedback about the content of the page, express opinions about the policies or issues, offer assistance through donations or volunteering, download software, and use specifically designed programs to find detailed information. The following list summarises some of the facilities that are found on political Web sites:

  • Policies, platforms, rules and other organisational details
  • Biographical details about key people, and links to their home pages
  • Statements about achievements
  • News items and press releases
  • Links to stories at news Web sites that support their point of view
  • Listings of mistakes made by opponents, or details about social ills they blame on opponents
  • Registration forms for potential volunteers or interns
  • Guest books, so that visitors can leave their comments, and/or user surveys that can be used to improve the site
  • Links to sites belonging to organisations they support
  • Subscription forms for e-mail distribution lists
  • Links to how opponents have voted on issues
  • Links to pages that denigrate opponents
  • Spreadsheets that can be used to calculate the effect of an opponent's policies
  • Interactive 'chat rooms' where citizens can share and debate ideas and where politicians can participate in question and answer sessions
  • Links to audio or video resources
  • Calendars of events and chronologies that may be searchable
  • Links to Federal/State/Local governments
  • Free software that can enable the user's browser to access extra resources (ie. RealVideo technology)
  • Screen savers consisting of images of key individuals, slogans, etc.
  • Games which reinforce their political messages
  • Sales of fundraising merchandise
  • Forms to solicit donations.

Appendix A lists some political party sites in Australia and overseas.

Information intermediaries

Web sites are being established by groups that can be called 'Information Intermediaries'. These intermediaries attempt to provide 'one stop shopping' by providing access to a range of Web sites established by various political organisations. These sites may concentrate on the left or right sides of politics, or actually or ostensibly be politically neutral. As well as providing links to party specific sites, intermediary sites may provide access to the texts of political philosophers, 'think pieces' regarding current events, and discussion facilities which enable citizens to discuss their concerns with others. Sites such as those provided by 'Democracies Online' (http://e-democracy.org/do/priorities) may play an increasingly important role in the future.

Appendix B lists some of these intermediary sites.

Media sites

The news media have been quick to establish Internet sites that provide access to political information. These sites provide access to the text of stories published in the print or broadcast media, although many sites do not provide the same depth of coverage as in the conventional formats, and/or may charge for access to stories. The advantage of these sites is that they are generally searchable, and the user can (hopefully) locate and access relevant material far more conveniently than with conventional formats.

Appendix C lists some of these media sites.

E-mail/mailing lists

E-mail is one of the fundamental features of the Internet, and is used extensively for political purposes. E-mail enables geographically dispersed individuals to communicate cheaply, conveniently, and quickly. E-mail is used within political parties to organise the party; to ensure that the members are aware of issues, and act on them in an appropriate manner. E-mail is also used to canvass issues with supporters and to spread the organisation's beliefs. E-mail lists, which enable one message to be posted to thousands of subscribed recipients, are powerful tools that facilitate political discussions and activism. These lists may be 'owned' by political organisations or be non-partisan in nature, and are often controlled by a human moderator who assumes a 'Master of Ceremonies' role. Lists that are managed in this way may be more valuable than unmoderated lists, as irrelevant or offensive messages can be intercepted before they are sent to the other subscribers to the list.

Appendix D lists relevant e-mail lists.

News Groups

Thousands of news groups exist on almost every imaginable topic, including many of a political nature, and are available to Internet users without subscription. The news groups can be used to discuss political events or philosophies. The unmoderated nature of news groups, and the ease of access with which any Internet user can participate in them does however mean that the discussion and information can be largely based on gossip rather than facts, and the resulting quality of the discussion very poor.

News Groups can be accessed through the Mail option in Internet Explorer, available through the Parliamentary computer network.

Case studies

The Internet is increasingly being used by political groups, ranging from small community organisations to major political parties. The reasons for using the Internet do however differ. While community organisations may use the Internet because they have few financial resources and the Internet is a cost effective and efficient communications medium, major political parties currently seem to be using the technology for a wider range of reasons. Although many major political parties do recognise that the Internet is an increasingly powerful communications medium that is ideal for promoting their cause, other reasons may initially prompt them onto the 'information superhighway'. Political parties may wish to appear technologically aware, adept and up to the minute; they may wish to appeal to particular types of people who are most likely to currently use the Internet;(13) and they do not want to be left behind by their competitors if these competitors have an Internet presence.

The extent to which the Internet is currently impacting on political processes seems to depend upon the type of political activity being undertaken and the degree to which the community is connected to the Internet. Local, grass roots issue campaigners are most likely to use a greater range of the Internet's capacity than are national or international campaigns. The Internet is currently more likely to be judged as having made a significant difference to the outcomes of local or single issues than to major election campaigns, for example.(14)

As the degree to which the population is connected to the Internet differs between countries, and within countries, the extent to which it may be used, or influence the political process also differs. Predictably, it has been most heavily used in the United States (where 37 per cent of households have computers)-and especially in states that have a high percentage of personal computer literacy and ownership such as California. Usage in the UK (where 24 per cent of households have computers) and Australia (where 23 per cent of households have computers)(15) is increasing, although it lags behind the US.

Case study 1-1996 United States presidential election

The use of the Internet for political purposes is most extensive in the US, probably because the US was the birthplace of the Internet and a higher proportion of citizens are connected to the Internet than in other countries. The 1996 Presidential elections saw the Internet becoming increasingly important in the political process, and indeed, after the election, during the Inaugural Parade, a float was dedicated to its use. The use of the Internet during this election demonstrated the rationale for use, lessons that have been learnt, and possible future impacts.

All major parties had Internet Web sites, although there was considerable variation amongst these sites. (It is worth noting that in this case study, as with those that follow, many Web sites no longer exist in the same form as they did during the elections). The Republican 'Bob Dole for President' page was set up in 1995, some 15 months prior to the election. This site was considered to be innovative, interactive and received considerable praise.(16) During the first presidential debate, Bob Dole urged the public to visit the site, and gave out the Internet address. After the debate, the site was apparently jammed for hours by people trying to gain access. In comparison with the Republican site, the Democrat site was established closer to the election, and was considered less innovative and effective.(17) A third party, the Libertarian Party, headed by Harry Browne, also had a site, which won a number of Internet polls on the most successful use of the Internet by a party during the campaign.(18) This site was judged to be successful because it was interactive, imaginative and well maintained. Interestingly, the Reform Party, headed by Ross Perot, who has extensive business interests in the computer industry, and might have been expected to use the Internet more extensively than his opponents, was not particularly exceptional in its use of the Internet.(19)

The effort put into designing and maintaining major party sites, and their eventual effectiveness is likely to have been related to the degree of risk involved in going on-line, and available resources. While there were no major precedents of parties campaigning on-line prior to the election-and all the parties that went on-line faced the risks involved in using a new communications medium (and probably could not risk staying off-line), the Democrat Party probably faced the greatest risk. The Democrats had an incumbent Democrat President and may not have wanted to substantially change already proven election strategies. The Republicans in contrast had less to lose and could possibly afford to be more innovative. The Libertarian Party's innovative and active approach may have been motivated by limited resources, and the preferences of Harry Browne, a computer professional.

The risks involved in going on-line pertain to ensuring that the party provides a quality site that does not disappoint potential voters, does not tell them things that discourage them from voting for the candidates, or wastes money. In addition parties should ensure the integrity and quality of information. During the 1996 campaign this was particularly evident when a false 'Bob Dole for President' site was established. The site appeared authentic on the surface, but was designed to discredit him by linking him to Dole pineapples, and other 'fruits and vegetables'.(20)

Demographics also played a role in explaining why the Internet was used by the parties. The Republican Party believed that the relatively educated, white collar, upper middle classes that presently comprise the majority of Internet users closely matched their target voters.(21) Interestingly, the young average age of Internet users, and their connection with educational institutions was also considered by the Democrats to create a constituency more likely to vote for them.(22)

Individual candidates for Congressional and Senate seats also used the Internet during the campaign. Of the successful 74 Republicans and Democrat Congressmen who were elected to the House for the first time in 1996, one third had Internet sites, and of the 15 new Senators who were also elected, seven had Internet sites.(23) These sites were primarily used to get unfiltered information out to the voters and to the media. Exceptional examples of the uses to which the Net can be put were rare but notable. Democrat Mark Warner used his site to urge voters to inform him of any claims made by his opponent that he did not refute within 24 hours. Through this method, he developed a constituency of interested and informed supporters, and may have saved thousands in consultant's fees.(24)

While there is limited factual information about the precise nature of the Internet's impact on this election, it was apparently not crucial to the outcomes. Only 12 per cent of Americans used it to obtain political information.(25) Commentators believe that this limited impact will change in the future. Phil Noble, of Phil Noble and Associates, a US political consulting firm, summed the situation up when he said:

The bottom line in 1996 is that probably no one is going to say, 'I won or lost the election because of the Internet, but I think this will be the last election where this will happen.(26)

Case study 2-1997 United Kingdom general election

The major players in the 1997 British General Election all had Web sites on which they campaigned. While the calling of the election prompted the parties to substantially revamp and improve their sites, there were major differences in the sites, and it is likely that some were more successful at convincing voters to vote for that party than others. Despite this activity, however, it is probable that the Internet played only a minor part in the eventual outcome, although definitive studies have not been done.

The Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat Web sites offered facilities such as policies, platforms, links to other related sites, some interactive chat facilities, biographies, and comments regarding their opponents' records. Interestingly, while 'sleaze' was a major focus during the election on conventional mediums, it was almost non-existent on the Internet-where the policies and major issues dominated. Despite this positive aspect, some commentators felt that overall the attempts by the parties to campaign on-line were poor, and the election sites set up by intermediaries such as the BBC and ITN were far better. This inability of political parties to use the Internet effectively in their campaigns was seen by one commentator as a damning indictment of their inability to manage the digital age.(27) This may also have been the result of the parties not taking the Internet seriously. A major criticism of the sites was that they were not well maintained, because files were often inaccessible, not updated and contained old information. The sites were also criticised for not using the real potential of the Internet technology. The above critic commented:

These sites all reveal a malaise at the heart of British politics. The Internet, at its best, is interactive, instant and a wonderful playground for the creative. These sites are ponderous and unimaginative. They betray a lack of vision and a fear of losing, underwritten by a closet contempt for the voter, whom politicians instinctively feel cannot be trusted.(28)

The parties failed to use the full potential of the Internet during the election. E-mail for example was mostly used by the Liberal Democrats, and largely ignored by Labor and the Conservatives.

There may have been a number of reasons for this failure to fully exploit the Net during this election. Firstly, the Internet currently only reaches a minority of the population, and it would seem prudent not to devote disproportionately large resources to it. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, however, commentators identified the Internet's lack of geographical boundaries as one of the impediments to its use. By putting up a Web page or through the use of e-mail, politicians currently can not specifically target voters in their electorates. Anyone, anywhere can access a Web page, and e-mail a politician-there is presently no way of excluding non-voters. Campaign workers and politicians themselves could potentially have their time and energies monopolised by people who could not vote for them, at the expense of time spent addressing the concerns of voters. Obviously during an election campaign, those running for office are primarily concerned with their electorate, and do not have the time to address the concerns of people from other areas. As a result, politicians logically used the conventional communication mediums that could target specific areas.

Technological constraints, which are currently impediments to Internet use, may however quickly disappear. The inability to target electorates may be overcome by technology by the next election, as software becomes available which will reveal the detailed demographics of everyone accessing Web sites. Politicians and parties may also be more sophisticated users, and the Net may reach a greater portion of the population, thus justifying a greater proportion of campaign resources. Assessing the potential of the Internet, Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, claimed e-mail was having the same effect on the campaign in revolutionising communications, as the mobile phone had in the 1987 election.(29)

Case Study 3-1996 Australian Federal Election

The Internet was generally used in a fairly rudimentary way during the 1996 Australian Federal Election. While the ALP had a comprehensive and interactive Web site available as early as November 1994, the other major parties established more basic sites as late as after the election had been called. These and the home pages of individual candidates were criticised for often containing outdated information and for being little more than collections of policy documents.(30) In addition, e-mail was not used extensively during the campaign.

Although most Australian parties have been slower than parties in the US and UK to adopt Internet technology, there are similarities between the ways in which voters have used the Internet. As with the US Presidential Elections, there were negative uses of the technology. These took the form of unofficial and unflattering sites about Paul Keating, for example.(31) More positively, voters could also participate in unofficial polls about specific issues, and discuss these issues on news groups.

While the Internet played only a minor part in the 1996 election, this is expected to grow at each subsequent election in line with growth in Internet awareness and the degree of Internet connectivity amongst the population. An ALP campaigner summed up the situation in 1996:

We see the Internet as an emerging medium-obviously not as important as campaigning by the leaders or television advertising, particularly during the election period. But, it is an increasingly important secondary medium, and by the next poll, it could be as important say, as newspaper advertising or leaflet drops.(32)

Case Study 4-Activism by non mainstream groups

While use of the Internet by mainstream organisations is a minor part of their campaigning activities within their own countries, the Internet is being used by 'radical' or 'rebel' groups as a fundamental tool to spread their messages internationally. These groups use the Internet to reach people in other countries who may sympathise with their particular cause. In turn these Internet users may influence their governments to exert diplomatic pressure on the rebel's opponents. Rebel groups are currently unlikely to be using the Internet to amass grass roots support for their causes amongst their own people because the Internet is unlikely to reach a large enough portion of their local population. In some instances in the future this will most likely change. Some of the most notable uses of the Internet by non-mainstream groups to date include:

  • In November 1996, after Slobodan Milosevic shut down the independent Belgrade radio station B92 in the face of opposition to election fraud, the station continued to broadcast through audio Internet links. Two days later, the government capitulated and allowed the station back on air.(33)
  • Opponents of the military government in Myanmar are using the Internet for a range of activities from organising boycotts of products to debating tactics. It is also a major tool for exiles to stay in touch with each other, and to discuss various issues.(34)
  • The Tupac Amaru movement in Peru has set up numerous Web pages and makes its newspaper Voz Roberale available on-line.(35)
  • The Zapatista National Liberation Army in Mexico uses the Internet to spread over 400 letters and essays a year in support of its cause.(36)

The Internet is a perfect medium for 'rebel' groups because it is relatively cheap and difficult to control. The geographically dispersed nature of the Net means that governments are unable to suppress the Internet's content, unless it originates from a server in their country, and they are able to locate and shut it down. It is more likely however that rebel groups will be geographically dispersed-as are political exiles and guerillas-and locating and shutting down computer facilities will not be possible. The Internet's relatively low cost, and the ease with which information can be made available has also been exploited by rebel groups which do not have the money or power that are available to their (government) opponents.

Problems with Internet use

While the use of the Internet for politics may have tremendous potential, there are several issues that may constrain its use.

The 'haves' and the 'have nots'

One of the most fundamental issues in considering the possible impact of the Internet on the political process is the problem of access to the technology. Better-educated, employed, technologically literate, upper income people currently have greater access to the technology than others, as they do to other avenues by which to influence the political agenda. The existing advantages the 'haves' already enjoy in accessing the political process through conventional channels may be enhanced. People with access will have an increased ability to participate in the political process and bring their concerns to the attention of politicians. These concerns can be subsequently addressed, while the concerns of the disadvantaged may be less likely to be brought to the attention of officials and addressed. As a result, the pre-existing divisions between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' in society could be compounded through the use of Internet technology.

Will the Internet produce an enhanced democracy?

While optimists hope that the Internet can enhance the democratic process, this may not be the outcome for several reasons.

The Internet may fail to produce a more representative form of democracy because it may fail to provide a sufficiently informed citizenry. Historically, most citizens have never been fully informed and involved in the political process because this takes time, and effort, which many citizens are not able to devote. In one view, the political system has evolved to rely on an informed minority and the mass of citizens. The minority are informed and participate in the processes, while the citizen's duties are essentially limited to choosing between elites at election times.(37) While proponents of the Internet may believe that the Internet will increase public participation, this may not be the outcome.(38) The use of the Internet may not dramatically change the amount of time citizens have to devote to their civic responsibilities-and they may remain uninformed, and uninvolved. Reliance on an informed political minority may still be very necessary.

Even if citizens do become informed and wish to be involved in the political process, the difficulties of actually enabling this to occur may be overwhelming. The essentially unorganised and unruly nature of the Internet means that currently democracy on the Internet approaches anarchy. While the Internet provides facilities to enable citizens to respond to opinion polls, express opinions, and access information, it does not provide facilities for public deliberation of issues. This deliberation may be necessary to create some order from the anarchy, which may be crucial for true electronic democracy to emerge.(39)

Use of the Internet may fail to expose citizens to alternative viewpoints. This lack of exposure could be inimical to improvements in the democratic process. Citizens may choose only to access sites that reflect their own viewpoints, and avoid alternative sites. Unlike mediums such as TV and radio where citizens have limited choice and may be incidentally presented with alternative viewpoints, choice is almost unlimited on the Internet, and alternative, 'challenging' viewpoints may not be experienced. If citizens are not confronted with alternatives, levels of understanding and tolerance may decline. This could also produce an increased sense of alienation. This may result in a 'greater fragmentation and disassociation of the electorate, rather than a more broadly informed, active public'.(40)

There are also concerns that greater civic participation through an electronic democracy may facilitate some form of direct majority rule. This could result in the adoption of policies that are not in the nation's long term interest or disregard the concerns of minority groups.(41) While our present system comprises a series of checks and balances provided for in our constitution designed to prevent this occurring, the Internet may upset this balance.

Security

To date, problems with ensuring that information is reliable and secure has hampered the use of the Internet by mainstream political groups. A number of problems have been identified. Information that is put on Web sites can be easily copied, changed in some way, and passed off as original. Web sites can be duplicated, and while appearing official, can actually discredit candidates, as previously discussed in the case of the false 'Bob Dole for President' page. E-mail messages may also be 'spoofed'. This process involves the interception of an e-mail message, possibly changing it in some negative way, and resending the message.(42) Fully aware of this possibility, US President Clinton's office has decided not to use e-mail for official purposes. Any e-mail to President Clinton is currently answered by regular mail. It is claimed that this is the only way in which the President's office can guarantee reliability. Anyone who receives e-mail from the 'President' can be guaranteed that it is false.(43) There have also been reports of e-mail messages or postings to news groups that do not support certain viewpoints being intercepted and destroyed. The resulting electronic discussion is biased, not representative of the views of the all the participants, and provides a misleading impression of the views of citizens.

Anonymity/lack of accountability

Anyone can participate in politics on the Internet anonymously. Messages can be posted to news groups or e-mail lists, Web sites can be established, and other information provided without proper attribution. Citizens can monitor but not participate in discussions on various topics, and can visit various sites without their presence being known. This anonymity may result in participants failing to have a sense of responsibility for their actions on the Web. In their introduction to Elections in Cyberspace, Charles M Firestone and Pauline A Schnieder write:

The anonymity and lack of accountability that mark the on-line environment could produce a mean-spirited and ineffective deliberative process that turns 'communities of interest' into 'special interests' and furthers the gridlock of recent years. Unauthorised campaign Web pages, misleading information, and disguised sources can exacerbate the problems with the political process that many are troubled by today.(44)

Globalisation

There is concern amongst some governments that the Internet, like other new communications mediums, is contributing to a 'colonisation' of their countries by US culture. There is a fear that local customs and character will disappear in the face of the overwhelming impact of these communications mediums. As a result, governments including our own, have legislated to ensure that mediums such as TV include a certain amount of local programming. The European Commission has discussed imposing a 51 per cent European content rule (which applies to TV and Radio) to the Internet.(45) This proposal appears to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the Internet as a global communications medium without boundaries, and the difficulties governments are having coming to terms with it, let alone properly using the technology.

Limiting citizen access to Internet sites which originate in their own country is unrealistic, and citizens will access sites which are of interest to them regardless of the country in which they originate, unless very strong (and perhaps politically unacceptable) measures are used to prevent this access. Political sites are no exception. Political party Web sites are often accessed by citizens in other countries, and foreign citizens have sought to make donations to political groups in other countries through the Internet.(46) A site designed to win votes amongst citizens can also win the respect of non-citizens. Whether this exposure to foreign political parties and their philosophies, and the views of foreign individuals will result in a loss of political diversity, national sovereignty or increased understanding and global tolerance may be an interesting issue in the future.

Failure to fully utilise Internet capabilities

It is evident from looking at the use of the Internet during the US, UK, and Australian elections, that in many instances, the full capabilities of the Internet were not used. Some sites provided information but failed to provide interactive facilities, to enable two way exchanges of information. e-mail has been used minimally. Some sites fail to be updated, and the links provided fail to work. Sites are criticised for providing 'brochure ware'-the same sort of information that would be provided on a brochure-and fail to be imaginative and creative. By failing to exploit the full capabilities of the Internet, any potential benefits the Internet may bring to the political process are unlikely to be realised.

Guidelines for effective use of the Internet

It is clear that there are great hopes for the Internet as far as enhancing the political process. It is also clear that in many cases to date, the benefits of the Internet fail to be exploited. Some of these constraints are likely however to have technological solutions, and political organisations will find it increasingly necessary to use the Internet as an integral part of their political strategy. Subsequently, it may be of interest to explore what could become guidelines for effective use of the Internet. While these may change with technological advances, some guidelines could include the necessity to:

  • Understand the fundamentals of the Internet. If political figures do not understand the way in which the Internet works, they are less likely to be familiar with activities on the Net concerning them, to use the Net effectively, or to be involved in the interactive facilities. Lack of familiarity will also mean that individuals are more likely to be caught unprepared by questions from the electorate or the media concerning the Internet. Users may be less than charitable to those who do not understand the Internet, and political figures could face credibility problems without this knowledge.
  • Understand the limitations of the Internet. The Internet currently does not reach everyone-there are the information 'have nots' who do not have access. Even in the future, the Internet is unlikely to reach 100 per cent of the population. Many uses of the Internet also require the user to be motivated enough to spend time and effort accessing information-and information on the Internet generally does not reach an incidental audience-as does information on conventional media such as TV and newspapers.
  • Use the interactive capabilities of the Internet. The Internet is a two way communications medium. Information can be sent and received. The receipt of information is one of the major benefits of the Internet, and organisations that fail to provide constituents with interactive facilities will fail to exploit one of its major benefits. Mark Boncheck, an MIT researcher says:

There is no audience there (on the Internet) ... everybody is a participant, and that's the way to think about it.(47)

  • Use the multimedia facilities of the Internet. Sound and video is now possible on the Internet, and while currently somewhat 'gimmicky', use during important events could generate substantial positive publicity if done well.
  • Integrate use of the Internet with other activities, strategies and campaigns. The Internet could complement other activities traditionally undertaken by political organisations, and is likely to be its most effective as part of a complete package of strategies.
  • Allocate adequate resources to Internet based activities. While communications through the Internet are relatively cheap, they are not cost free, and require adequate resources. This may involve ensuring that Web sites are put on reliable computers with the capacity to handle the expected demand, and ensuring that sites are designed and maintained effectively. Maintenance has been a particular problem with some sites in the past with sites representing parties in the 1997 British General Election being especially criticised. It is also crucial that if the Internet is used to invite interactivity-as it should be-that the organisation has the resources to respond. This may entail replying to e-mail requests for information, participating in discussion groups, and modifying Web sites or other uses of the Internet according the feedback received.
  • Exploit the ability of the Internet to 'narrowcast' not just 'broadcast'. The target population can be segmented and sent specific information - the same information does not need to be provided to all. Similarly technology exists for users to customise generic Web sites so that each time they subsequently visit the site they only see the things that are of particular interest to them.
  • Use the Internet for a range of purposes not just to inform the electorate about policies and activities. Connected organisations are already using the Net for the following purposes:(48)
  • Public relations Organisations can avoid the filtering effect of the media by accessing the public directly.
  • Recruitment Users can join the party directly, or assist in other ways, such as monitoring and reporting on an opponent's activities.
  • Member communications Party activities can be coordinated.
  • Media relations The Internet can be used to distribute press releases, provide personal contacts for journalists, provide background to stories, plant news, and to distribute favourable press coverage.
  • Fund raising The Internet may support a range of fund raising activities that complement conventional activities.
  • Group communications Communications and alliances between groups with similar goals can be facilitated.
  • Political discussions The Internet can be used to gauge public opinion on issues, to test new ideas, and discussions between group members may act as morale boosters within the group.

(For an example of a leading site that offers a wide variety of facilities, readers may want to visit the (US) Republican National Committee site at: http://www.rnc.org/)

Conclusions

Internet technology is increasingly being used to facilitate the political process. Some commentators believe that appropriate use of the Internet may help address current concerns about the political system. Against this background, there are hopes that the Internet can be used to keep citizens properly informed about issues, and allow them to participate in the decision making process, and 'reconnect' the citizenry.

Responding to the new technology, organisations and individuals are establishing Web sites, using e-mail and news groups to communicate their political philosophies. In the last couple of years, the major parties in Australia, the UK and the US (amongst others) have used the Internet-and this use increases especially during election campaigns. To date however, mainstream groups have generally not fully exploited the potential of the technology for a variety of reasons. Grass roots organisations or rebel groups have however used the Internet extensively, as it provides them with a cost effective communications medium that suits their purposes, and they have fewer communications alternatives than established, relatively stable groups.

Despite some hopes that the Internet could revitalise and revolutionise politics, there are a number of problems that may restrict its usefulness. The technology is not available to everyone, and reliance on it may exacerbate differences between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in society. The ideal 'electronic democracy' may be impractical, and the collective decisions central to this democracy undeliverable. Internet technology may not change the low priority given to political activity by most people, and current patterns of political non-participation continue. There are also significant security concerns that currently constrain the use of the technology, and although it may be possible to devise technological solutions to these problems, lingering concerns about security may continue to curtail use of the Internet for some time.

Although technological and other constraints may serve to limit the use of the Internet for political purposes, of greater concern may be the less than fully effective ways in which the Internet has in many cases been used. In order to fully exploit the Internet, organisations and individuals need to have a solid understanding of the technology and its capabilities and limitations, and be able to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Endnotes

  1. Tom DeLucia, The Two Faces of Political Apathy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995, p. 10.

  2. Richard Barbrook, Electronic Democracy, p. 1.

    (Available from ma.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/ma.theory.4.5.db)

  3. Civics and Citizenship education: Summary of the report of the Civics Expert Group. Canberra, AGPS, 1994.

  4. Farah Farouque, 'Fire in young bellies'. The Age, 11 December 1997, p. 1.

  5. Paul Hughes, Electronic Democracy-an Opportunity for the Community to Improve its Power of Governance, 21 September 1996, p. 4.

    (Available from www.naturespace.co.nz/ed/edov.htm#1)

  6. Charles S. White, 'Citizen Participation and the Internet: Prospects for Civic Deliberation in the Information Age', The Social Studies, January-February 1997, p. 24.

  7. Paul Hughes, Electronic Democracy-an Opportunity for the Community to Improve its Power of Governance, 21 September 1996, p. 6.

    (Available from www.naturespace.co.nz/ed/edov.htm#1)

  8. Anthony Corrado and Charles M. Firestone, (ed) Elections in Cyberspace: Toward a New Era in American Politics, Washington DC: The Aspen Institute, 1996, p. 9.

    (Available at www.aspeninst.org.)

  9. Paul Hughes, op. cit. p. 1.

  10. Anthony Corrado, op. cit. p. 12.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Anthony Corrado, op. cit. p. 14.

  13. Internet users are more likely to be educated, financially better off than the average, younger, and male. (Wayne Rash, Politics on the Nets: Wiring the Political Process. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997, p. 16).

  14. Wayne Rash, Politics on the Nets: Wiring the Political Process. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997, p. 101.

  15. Household use of Information Technology: Australia. February 1996, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996

  16. Wayne Rash, op. cit. p. 37.

  17. Ibid.

  18. While the Libertarian Party was mostly ignored by the mainstream media, the site dominated the Internet by winning 11 of 18 Internet polls (Graeme Browning, Electronic Democracy, New York: Pemberton Press, 1996, p. 48).

  19. Browning, Graeme, Updating electronic democracy, p. 52.

  20. Anthony Corrado, op. cit. p. 20.

  21. Wayne Rash, op. cit. p. 39.

  22. Ibid, p. 41.

  23. Graeme Browning, Electronic Democracy, New York: Pemberton Press, 1996, p. 50.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Ibid, p. 53.

  26. Noble, quoted in Browning: 1996, p. 54.

  27. Richard Belfield, 'Interaction-packed Schedules', New Statesman, 21 March 1997, p. 26.

  28. Ibid.

  29. Richard Belfield, 'Roll on to the Next Election', New Statesman, May 1997 Special Edition, p. 34.

  30. Mike Van Niekerk, 'To the polls on the net' The Age, 30 Jan 1996, p. 2.

  31. Ross Storey, 'Internet's too popular for politics to ignore' The Australian, 13 Feb 1996, p. 57.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Daniel Schorr, 'Technologies of Freedom' The New Leader, 80 (1), Jan 13-27, 1997, p. 4.

  34. William Glaberson, 'Cornell Book Shelver, a Political Exile, Fights Myanmar', New York Times, April 8, 1998, Sec B, p. 1.

  35. Tom Vogel, Matt Moffett and Jed Sandberg, 'Radical groups spread the word on-line'. Wall Street Journal, Jan 6, 1997 Sec A, p. 8.

  36. Paul Rich, NAFTA and Chiapas, Annals, AAPSS, 550, March 1997, p. 74.

  37. Charles S. White, op. cit. p. 24.

  38. Research by F. C. Arterton demonstrated that while technology did improve citizen access to decision making and participation, it did not reduce apathy. In addition, his research shows that two thirds of (US) citizens will not participate in the political process regardless of the technology (F.C. Arterton, 1987 Teledemocracy: Can technology protect democracy? Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Library of Social Research-as discussed in White: 1997, p. 28).

  39. Charles S. White, op. cit. p. 27.

  40. Anthony Corrado, op. cit. p. 27.

  41. Ibid, p. 3.

  42. Graeme Browning, op. cit. p. 2.

  43. Wayne Rash, op. cit. p. 9.

  44. Anthony Corrado, op. cit. p. vii.

  45. Wayne Rash, op. cit. p. 158.

  46. Ibid, p. 102.

  47. Ibid, p. 33.

  48. Ibid, p. 97.

 

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Household use of information technology: Australia, February 1996. Canberra: ABS, 1996.

Barbrook, Richard, Electronic Democracy.

(Available from ma.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/ma.theory.4.5.db)

Belfield, Richard, 'Roll on to the Next Election', New Statesman, May 1997 Special Edition, p. 34.

Belfield, Richard, 'Switch on, tune in, for the real issues', New Statesman, 18 April 1997, p. 31.

Belfield, Richard, 'The Net', New Statesman, 27 March 1997, p. 30.

Belfield, Richard, 'Interaction-packed Schedules', New Statesman, 21 March 1997, pp. 26-27.

Browning, Graeme, 'Updating Electronic Democracy', Database, June-July 1997, pp. 47-54.

Browning, Graeme, Electronic Democracy, New York: Pemberton Press, 1996.

Bye, Clarissa, 'Political Webs and nets', Sun Herald, 28 Jan 1996, p. 5.

Civics Expert Group, Whereas the people...Civics and citizenship education: Summary of the Report of the Civics Expert Group. Canberra: AGPS, 1994.

Corrado, Anthony and Firestone, Charles M. (ed) Elections in Cyberspace: Toward a New Era in American Politics, Washington DC: The Aspen Institute, 1996.

(Available at www.aspeninst.org).

DeLucia, Tom, The Two Faces of Political Apathy, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Friedland, Lewis A., 'Electronic Democracy and the New Citizenship', Media, culture and Society, 8, pp. 185-212.

(Available from www.cpn.org/sections/new_c...ew_citizenship1.html#introduction)

Farouque, Farah, 'Fire in young bellies'. The Age, 11 December 1997, p. 1.

Glaberson, William, 'Cornell Book Shelver, a Political Exile, Fights Myanmar', New York Times, April 8, 1996, Sec B, p. 1.

Hughes, Paul, Electronic Democracy-an Opportunity for the Community to Improve its Power of Governance, 21 September 1996.

(Available from www.naturespace.co.nz/ed/edov.htm#1)

Jacques, Wayne W. and Ratzan Scott, C., 'The Internet's World Wide Web and Political Accountability: New Media Coverage of the 1996 Presidential Debates', American Behavioural Scientist, 40 (8), Aug 1997, pp. 1226-1238.

London, Scott, Electronic Democracy: An Annotated Bibliography.

(Available from www.west.net/`insight/london/bib.htm#sec1)

Lowe, Sue, 'Casting a vote on the Internet', Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Feb 1996, p. 3.

Payne, J. Gregory, 'Campaign '96: Messages for the New Millennium', The American Behavioural Scientist, 40 (8), Aug 1997, pp. 987-994.

Rash, Wayne, Politics on the Nets: Wiring the Political Process. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997.

'Record set for election results', The Age, 12 March 1996, p. 3.

Rich, Paul, 'NAFTA and Chiapas', ANNALS, AAPSS, 550, March 1997, pp. 72-84.

Roberts, Helen, 'Can the Internet be Regulated', Parliamentary Research Service, Research Paper, no 35, Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1995-96.

Schorr, Daniel, 'Technologies of Freedom', The New Leader, 80 (1), Jan 13-27, 1997, p. 4.

Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, Active Citizenship revisited. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1991.

Storey, Ross, 'Internet's too popular for politics to ignore', The Australian, 13 Feb 1996, p. 57.

Street, John, 'Remote Control? Politics, Technology and 'Electronic Democracy', European Journal of Communication, Vol 12 (1), pp. 27-42.

Van Niekerk, Mike, 'To the polls on the net', The Age, 30 Jan 1996, p. 2.

Vogel, Tom, Moffett, Matt, Sandberg, Jed. 'Radical groups spread the word on-line'. Wall Street Journal, Jan 6, 1997 Sec A, p. 8.

Watts, David, 'Net says all quiet on WA politics front', The West Australian, 21 Nov 1996, p. 43.

White, Charles S., 'Citizen Participation and the Internet: Prospects for Civic Deliberation in the Information Age', The Social Studies, January-February 1997, pp. 23-28.

Appendix A-Political Parties

Links to these pages are available on the Parliamentary Library's Politics page at: http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/polparti.html

Australia

Australia First Party: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~hiway/ausfirst/index.html

Australian Democrats: http://www.democrats.org.au

Australian Greens: http://www.peg.apc.org/~ausgreen

Australian Labor Party: http://www.alp.org.au

Christian Democratic Party (Formerly Call to Australia):

http://users.hunterlink.net.au/~derf/cdp/index.htm

Democratic Socialists: http://www.peg.apc.org/~stan/ds

Liberal Party of Australia: http://www.liberal.org.au

National Party of Australia: http://www.npa.org.au

Natural Law Party: http://www.vicnet.net.au/~NaturalLaw

New Labour Party: http://werple.net.au/~deller/nlp

One Nation Party: http://www.gwb.com.au/onenation

Science Technology and Research Party: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~starprty/

United Kingdom

Alliance Party: http://www.unite.net/customers/alliance

Communist Party of Britain: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/redweb

Conservative Party: http://www.conservative-party.org.uk

Labour Party: http://www.poptel.org.uk/Labour-Party

Liberal Democrats: http://www.libdems.org.UK

Liberal Party: http://www.libparty.demon.co.uk

Natural Law Party: http://www.natural-law-party.org.uk

Plaid Cymru on the Web: http://www.plaidcymru.org

Scottish Liberal Democrats: http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk

Sinn Fein: http://www.irlnet.com/sinnfein/index.html

Social Democratic and Labour Party: http://www.indigo.ie/sdlp

Workers' Party of Ireland: http://www.workers-party.org

United States

Democratic Party: http://www.democrats.org

House Democratic Leadership: http://www.house.gov/democrats

Libertarian Party: http://www.lp.org/lp/lp.html

Natural Law Party: http://home.natural-law.org

New Party: http://www.newparty.org

Reform Party: http://www.reformparty.org

Republican Party: http://www.republicanweb.com/front.html

Republican National Committee: http://www.rnc.org

Senate Republican Conference: http://www.senate.gov/~src

International

European Political Parties: http://www.club.innet.be/~year1073/lang/welcomeeng.html

Parties worldwide: http://www.lgu.ac.uk/psa/intgovt.html

 

Appendix B-Intermediary sites

24 Hours of Democracy-essays in celebration of free speech on the Internet: http://www.hotwired.com/staff/userland/24/

American Civilization-discussion of visions for the future of American Civilization.

Discussion areas focus on politics, culture and spiritual issues:

http://www.infi.net/amcivilization

Canadian Politics Forum:

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/CanadianPoliticsForum

Capitol Online Speakers Bureau-site for political debate, discussion, and awareness: http://www.cosb.com

Center for Living Democracy: http://www.sover.net/~cld

Democracies Online-An international initiative and partnership to promote the development and sustainability of online civic participation and democracy efforts across the world: http://www.e-democracy.org/do/priorities

Democracy Ireland Online-issues are presented for comment, and then voted on. Let your voice be heard: http://orca.ucd.ie/~barryh/demoint.html

Democracy Net-enhancing participation in the democratic process. Events include live cybercasts of congressional hearings and town hall meetings with members of Congress on Internet policy issues: http://www.democracy.net

Democracy Place USA-for civic journalism and citizen participation in the public policy debate: http://www.democracyplace.org

Digital Democrats-provides forums, chat lines, and links for Democrats who want to help forge a grass roots network of political discussion on the Internet: http://democratic-party.org

Dogg Pound-political debate forum: http://www.txdirect.net/users/tlsalas

Electronic Democracy Forum-critique of the Contract With America, mailing list, and an online survey: http://edf.www.media.mit.edu/

Electronic TownHall-discussion of physical and economic safety, money policy, laws, taxes, and the military: http://www.phoenix.net/~townhall/

Elitism Mailing List-A forum for the discussion of intellectual elitism: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~lfletch/elitism.html

Fallout-dedicated to keeping the public informed:

http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/2698/index.html

Forum for Young Canadians-brings together students from across Canada for a first hand experiment on how government works: http://www.forum.ca

Forum, The-A Web chat forum that discusses the issues of self government and its ramifications: http://www.momentus.org/mash/full/forum/Read/open.html

Future America-founded to provide a forum for youth to form their opinions on issues and learn about the great country they live in: http://fa.saturnservices.com

Great Debate, The-a place for political discussion and discourse featuring the latest columns from our resident pundits, highlights and previews of our live shows and other specials: http://www.greatdebate.com

Heritage Foundation CyberPersonality Forums-discuss the latest political news with Heritage Foundation CyberPersonality, Karen Czarnecki Miller:

http://www.heritage.org/heritage/cyberwel.html

International Association for Public Participation-devoted to citizen participation in decisions being made by government and industry all over the world. Publishes Interact: the Journal of Public Participation: http://www.pin.org/iap2.htm

Internet Forum on Public Issues-submit your views regarding social and political issues for international publication: http://www.bergen.org/AAST/Projects/Forum

Living Marxism-developing a radical agenda for change in an age of lowered expectations. Join the debate: http://www.junius.co.uk

Minnesota E-Democracy-Including the Minnesota Issues Forum and MN-POLITICS: http://www.e-democracy.org/

Mr. Jefferson's Challenge-newsletter, mailing list, and WWW forum encouraging citizen debate on political and social revolution and reform in America: http://users.aol.com/mrjeffchlg/index.htm

MSC Political Forum-student group dedicated to non-partisan political programming: http://wwwmsc.tamu.edu/msc/pf

National Issue Forums-nonpartisan discussions about timely public policy issues, based on the tradition of early American town meetings: http://www.nif.kettering.org

 

Points of View-dedicated to public discussion of political news and issues in America, and beyond. Features BBS style message forums:

http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~leong/pov/index.htm

Political Participation Project-MIT-research project investigating how computer networks can be used to facilitate political participation:

http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/ppp/home.html

Propaganda Political Discussion Forum: http://www.rockonline.com/spreadsome.cgi

Questioner, The-devoted to a positive discussion of social, political and philosophical questions: http://www.thequestioner.com

Sovereign Rights Forum-information on freedom, rights, and citizenship: http://www.geocities.com/capitolhill/2917/

Speaking Out-Weekly opinion on the state of politics on and off the net: http://www.icnet.net/users/sdial/speakout.htm

Teledemocracy Action News Network-Web site of the Global Democracy Movement. Dedicated to the creative use of electronic media for empowering citizens within the political system: http://www.auburn.edu/tann/

United We Stand America Electronic Town Hall Project: http://www.emf.net/~cr/eth.html

Virtual Soapbox-your place on the Internet to talk about conservative, Constitutional politics: http://www.netins.net/showcase/wizardave/soapbox

Voicebox-opportunity to discuss on-line politics:

http://www.voxpop.org/jefferson/voicebox

Votelink-vote every week on world, USA, state and local issues: http://www.votelink.com

Voters Online-where candidates can see what we think: http://www.well.com/user/wsg

We The People-when it hits the fan, we want to talk about it: http://www.anaserve.com/~boldaz/wtpframe.htm

Whistleblower's Home Page, The-for discussion and sharing of information about whistleblowing in the US federal government:

http://members.aol.com/jdelia2667/whistle.htm"

Windgate Letters-dedicated to saving lives, and providing an environment for all of your online needs in the area of human rights and politics:

http://members.aol.com/jmwindgate/wingate.html

Appendix C-Media Sites

  • http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/media/mediaaus.html (Australia)
  • http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/media/mediaeur.html (UK)
  • http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/media/medianam.html (US)
  • http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/media/medialst.html (International)

Australia

AAP: http://www.aap.com.au/

ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/

Australian Financial Review: http://www.afr.com.au/

Australian News Network: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/

Australian: http://www.australian.aust.com/

Canberra Times: http://www.canberratimes.com.au

Channel Seven: http://www.seven.com.au/

Channel Ten: http://www.ten.com.au/

Special Broadcasting Service: http://www.sbs.com.au

Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/

The Age: http://www.theage.com.au/

United Kingdom

Electronic Telegraph-the UK Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Evening Standard-from Business Day Interactive: http://www.standard.co.uk

Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/

Guardian: http://www.gold.net/online/

Observer: http://www.observer.co.uk/

Times and Sunday Times:

http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/home.html?1074973

United States

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/

Detroit Free Press: http://gopher.det-freepress.com:9002

Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/

New York Times: http://www.nytimesfax.com/

News and Observer: http://www.nando.net/newsroom/nt/nando.html

San Francisco Examiner: http://sfgate.com/examiner/index.html

Time: http://www.time.com

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com

International

Editors and Publishers Online Newspapers:

http://www.mediainfo.com/ephome/npaper/nphtm/online.htm

Electronic Newstand: http://www.enews.com

Newslink (links to 100's of newspapers, broadcasters and magazines):

http://www.newslink.org

World List of Online Newspapers:

http://www.intercom.com.au/intercom/newsprs/index.htm

 

Appendix D-Mailing lists

ACTVST-L-Political Activist List-listserv@american.edu

AFRIPOL-African Politics Discussion List-listserv@listserv.uoguelph.ca

AMERICA-How the United States is dealing with foreign trade policies, congressional status, and other inside information about the government that is freely distributable: SUBSCRIBE@XAMIGA.LINET.ORG

Austral-EcoPolitics-L-Environmental politics; green movements policies, strategies, origins and history; public opinion and media coverage of environmental issues: majordomo@coombs.anu.edu.au

AUSTRAL-POLSCI-L-The politics of Australia and New Zealand: Majordomo@coombs.anu.edu

CENASIA-Former Soviet Republic-Central Asia Political Discussion List-listserv@asuvm.inre.asu.edu

CENASIA-Former Soviet Republic-Central Asia Political Discussion List: listserv@vm1.mcgill.ca

CHIAPAS-L-Discussion list concerning the conflict in the state of Chiapas, Mexico and its ongoing status: listproc@listas.unam.mx

DEM-NET-A discussion list about electoral politics and the US Democratic Party: mgoodin@netcom.com

EC-Discussion of the European Community: mailto:listserv@vm.cc.metu.edu.tr

ECPR-PILOT-Concerned with the development of research and teaching in political science in Europe: mailbase@mailbase.ac.uk

GEOPOL-Discussion list for Political Geography-listserv@lsv.uky.edu

GRADPS-Political Science Graduate Students-listserv@umslvana-umsl.edu

GROENLINKS-Discussion list for members and sympathisers of GroenLinks (A Dutch Political Discussion): listserv@nic.surfnet.nl

IPE-International Political Economy: listproc@csf.colorado.edu

IRL-POL-Discussion of Irish Politics-listserv@home-ease.lsoft.com

LIBERNET-An electronic e-conference/discussion group/magazine for libertarians, classical liberals, objectivists, etc: LIBERNET-REQUEST@dartmouth.edu

MAPOLITICS-MA Political Science-listserv@yorku.ca

POLCAN-Canadian Political Science Discussion: listserv@vm1.yorku.ca

POLCOMM-Study of political communication-listserv@vm.its.rpi.edu

POLI-SCI-The history of the Carter and Nixon presidencies, the Iranian hostage crisis, etc.: listserv@rutvm1.rutgers.edu

POLIRHET-Discussion of Rhetoric of Politics-listserv@tamvml.tamu.edu

POLITICS-An e-conference for the serious discussion of politics, hosted by the University of Central Florida: listserv@UCF1VM.CC.UCF.EDU

POLITICS-English language Russian domestic policy list focusing on the internal reform in Russia: POLITICS-REQUEST@SOVSET.ORG

POLITICS-Forum for the Discussion of Politics-listserv@aloo.netass.com

POLITICSNOW-PoliticsNow's Internet Mailing List-listserv@peach.ease.lsoft.com

POLS-L-Political Science Major Forum-listserv@mizzoul.bitnet

POLSPROF-Political Science Professors' Listserve-listserv@listserv.vic.edu

PS248-Environmental Politics-listserv@umslvma.umsl.edu

PSALUM-Political Science Alumni-listserv@umslvma.bitnet

PSGRAD-Political Science Graduate Students-listserv@umslvma.bitnet

PSMAJ-Political Science Majors-listserv@umslvma.bitnet

PSRT-L-Political Science Research and Teaching E-conference:

listserv@mizzou1.missouri.edu

PSWEB-L-List on using the WWW for Political Science-listserv@wvnvm.wvnet.edu

PUBPOL-L-Public policy and related issues: listserv@vm1.spcs.umn.edu

REPUB-L-Discussion of Republican Politics-listserv@um.marist.edu

RIGHT-L-RIGHT-L-The Far Right and its Connections to Conservative Politics-listserv@unt.edu

STATEPOLIT-Politics in the American States: listserv@umab.umd.edu

TEACHPOL-H-NET/APSA Discussion List on Teaching of Political Science-listserv-net.msu.edu

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