Has the new media revolution changed anything about the way we do politics?

FitzJamesHorse has some provocative thoughts on politics and the internet – not to mention the continuing ridicule of Loyalism. He comes to the ‘sage’ conclusion (again) that bloggers don’t matter. But Facebook and Twitter and YouTube do, he says.

Actually, these are all, in whichever form, micro blogging platforms. In all cases, the primacy of conversation and the capacity to network information and comment are the main shifts from older ‘one to one’ or ‘one to many’ forms of communication.

Has the Internet changed politics in the way it has already hollowed out the media platforms? No question that even in Northern Ireland there has been a marked shift. Back in 2004, Professor Stephen Coleman observed:

…if “older monolithic news transmission of politics is failing”, most political parties have been reluctant to embrace the more edgy dangerous world of the Internet. Here the communication mode is person to person: “Rather parties want something akin to the television production that they can control”.

If Gerry Adams and Peter Robinson want to talk these days, theoretically they could do it on Twitter.  That they choose not to is likely down to a calculation that going at an unplanned public confrontation could cost either man collateral damage or ridicule.

Yes, but has new media changed the way politics is done?

Well, it has undoubtedly had an impact. Although the Bogus Tweet affair had more ramifications for the media involved, but for its use at a critical moment in the campaign, there might be another man sitting in Aras an Uachtarain. It had echoes of a much earlier episode in the US:

The ad hoc group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, effectively neutralised Kerry’s attempt to capitalise on his war record in Vietnam. Its video with several veterans throwing doubt on the veracity of his medal honours, was only shown once on TV in Ohio, yet in West Virginia, where it was never shown, 65% said they’d seen it on the Internet.

As for it’s impact on politics, and the way things are done at crisis points it has put elected politicians under greater scrutiny, but it has not changed the fundamental structure of politics, most of which is still about getting elected and staying popular.

And according to Janan Ganesh in the FT (via Alex Evans)…

The first law of politics is that almost nothing matters. Voters barely notice, much less are they moved by, the events, speeches, tactics, campaigns or even strategies that are ultimately aimed at them.

Elections are largely determined by a few fundamentals: the economy, the political cycle, the basic appeal of the party leaders. The role of human agency is not trivial, but it is rarely decisive either.[emphasis added]

The Internet, and its incessant demands for greater one to one engagement changes none of these fundamentals. But it is changing the climate, and it provides opportunities to flip the asymmetric advantages of incumbents.

For instance, Dean’s only tangible achievement for the Democrats in the 2004 Primaries was to show them how to narrow the fundraising gap with the Republicans. You may have your own views as to whether those insights were wisely invested in 2008.

As yet, few have shown its real advantages in just helping to make good stuff happen.

That’s partly because unlike journalists, (and some politicians) political parties and governments have yet to find a way to love what they fear may one day become the author of their downfall.

So, in your view, has the new media revolution actually changed anything about the way we do politics?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty