The contribution of the internet in the US government debates preludes its role in American politics. American campaigns and debates on elections have found an important playfield on the internet. In 1994, Senator Diane first highlighted the role of the internet on politics. In 1998, Jesse Ventura deployed the internet as a medium for his gubernatorial campaigns. Later, in 2000, John McCain evidenced that presidential hopefuls can raise money in an online platform. Here, the internet was used as a tool for distributing political news and information. In 2004, Howard Dean made the internet a cornerstone for his campaigns. Today, the internet forms an important tool for campaigning. It can be deployed to do online voting. Recognizing this trend, this paper explores the impact of the internet on US politics.
The objective of this paper is to review the influence of the internet on US politics. The paper will examine the influence of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on American politics. Its scope is on the role of the internet in campaigns and elections.
This paper utilizes a literature review as its research methodology. The scholarly materials used in the literature review are obtained from reliable sources. Various universities and organizations maintain databases. These databases are utilized in the current research to acquire various documented papers of past researches. The databases include EBSCOhost and EMERALD. Research is also conducted using internet search engines, but with care to identify sources that give a balanced review of the impact of the internet on politics. A consideration is made to select peer-reviewed articles or any other research document that has been evaluated by a body of scholars for validity and reliability. In each of the databases, the term, ‘effect of the internet on politics’ is keyed in their search fields. Consideration of articles and books that focus on American politics from 2000 to 2016 is used as the inclusion criteria.
Internet usage in the political sphere has now grown exponentially over the last decade. It provides important media through which people can communicate instantaneously with elected leaders at all governmental levels. Communication may involve current or future policy directives, suggestions relating to the necessary new legislation, or even any issues that concern the proper functioning of the government. Today, the world relies on internet-based applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blog sites, and other applications to communicate and/or create personalized connections with people.
In the political space, internet-based applications such as blogs and social media sites, for instance, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube among others are now playing a critical role in terms of boosting activism, launching political debates, and conducting campaigns. This observation gives rise to the debate on the contribution of digital media, including social media in altering American politics (Loader, Vromen, and Xenos 400). One of the major debates concerns whether digital media leads to higher political polarization. This phenomenon implies “the tendency of like-minded individuals to cluster closer together in their habits and viewpoints” (Dumitrica37). In the US debate on the role of the internet in politics, skepticism has been witnessed in terms of the actual meaning and implication of mass-scale use of social media in conducting campaigns together with the tangible outcomes of such an effort. However, Loader, Vromen, and Xenos reveal how various critics regard journalists as not adequately putting efforts to remain at par with the emerging campaigning tactics (401).
Although the use of the internet in political processes, including elections and campaigns, first began in 1994, the Obama-Romney race to the presidency in 2012 provides a unique case study of how digital strategies can be applied in politics. Media narratives in the US suggested that President Obama’s reelections relied on a decisive digital strategy (Loader, Vromen, and Xenos 403). However, political scientists such as Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith have already started revising these positions and challenging the interpretation of the role of digital strategy in the US political landscape (40). The question that arises is whether America can rely on digital media to drive the political agenda in the US by providing a source of reliable political communications. Can people make their elections decisions based on information that is conveyed via digital media?
Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith respond to the above question by claiming that data on Twitter indicates highly partisan political talks (40). In the media platform, users are clustered according to their homogeneous characteristics such as their views and links to sources of information. These traits are likely to “reinforce in-group and out-group affiliations, as literally, users form separate political groups on Twitter” (Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith 58). Such a situation does not provide room for holding informed political debate where people can actively engage in a convincing debate in a nonpartisan manner. The more likely the tweets are to be clustered reflecting a given political view, the higher the chances are for carrying a one-sided ideological point of view. Hence, active internet users are likely to join sites that mainly carry views that match their political perspectives (Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith 55). This observation suggests that digital media platforms may be a contributor to political processes in the US since they may carry political information and views that can help to mobilize people.
Bond and Fowler’s research indicates that social media digital platforms can contribute to political mobilization (295). The researchers’ data “suggest that Facebook social message increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes” (Bond and Fowler 295). From 2010 data concerning the eligible voting population (236 million), the increase in voter turnout due to Facebook messages accounted for 0.14% of the US eligible voters. According to Bond and Fowler, chances are that a 0.60% rise in the US voter turnout would have been explained by one message appearing on Facebook (295). Hence, designing campaign messages appropriately on Facebook can help to draw people to vote for a given candidate.
Bond and Fowler’s research implies that Twitter and Facebook can significantly contribute to political engagement (295). Consistent with this assertion, Rainie, Smith, and Schlozman assert that Twitter and Facebook are important sites for posting political and civic insights and thoughts for 66% of social media users and hence 39% of the total American population (par.2). Such people also react to various political postings on social media, request friends to act appropriately, follow political candidates, and/or link their friends to the contents. They also share information with social networking groups.
The above arguments suggest an emerging trend in the American political landscape. Bennett reveals that this trend entails “social fragmentation and the decline of group loyalties, hence giving rise to an era of personalized politics in which individually expressive personal action frames displace collective action frames in many protest courses” (20). This claim is notably manifested in large-scale social media political participation that aims at reaching targets such as parties, political candidates, transitional organizations, and corporations among other entities. In this sense, social media and blogs create groups that have political identities reminiscent to those of the 1960s. However, the current group communication via social media is mobilized from the paradigms of personal lifestyles and values, but with various causes, including environmental concerns, different economic justice issues that are shrouded by concerns of human rights.
The idea of using social media to enhance political communications relies on the assertion that people will share their political ideas with their followers and social media group members. In a 2012 research on social networking sites and politics, Rainie and Smith observe that postings made by people’s friends on social media surprised many users, particularly where the postings carried political views (par.2). Via the postings on social media, 40% of social media users discovered that friends had different political views than they initially perceived (Rainie and Smith par.6). According to the research, 75% of social media users post politically motivated information on their social media pages. Rainie and Smith assert that upon realizing this issue, a small percentage of social media users block, hide, and/or remove themselves from friends’ list after recognizing that they have different political views or when such comments are too frequent (par.10). This move raises the question of whether social media can be successfully deployed as a platform where people can share diverse political views to win a friend to one’s way of thinking or perspective.
Munson and Resnick studied whether social media could be used to present diverse political opinions (3). They examined “the relationship between the numbers of supporting and challenging items in a collection of political opinion items and readers’ satisfaction” (Munson and Resnick 3). The researchers found that some people seek multiplicity. Other groups of social media users are mainly challenge-averse. Such people are not satisfied with highlighting many of the agreeable terms. Can social media lead to political polarization?
Quoted by Remington, two scholars, namely, Conover and Ratkiewicz performed a 2011 study on two political networks for communication over Twitter (par.1). The networks had an excess of 250, 000 tweets that had been done over the last 6 weeks before the US congressional midterm elections conducted in 2010. Deploying algorithms for network clustering coupled with data that had been annotated manually, the researchers found that the data demonstrated that the re-tweets exhibited highly segregated political partisan.
Discussion of Findings
The literature review reveals mixed findings of the role that the internet has played in shaping American politics. Many people deploy it to interact with their electoral candidates, learn about elections, follow campaign trails, and/or view other likely voters. Nevertheless, despite this important application of the internet in US politics, some criticisms give rise to a negative tone about the application of internet-based tools such as social media and blog pages to shape American politics. For instance, Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith are skeptical that Tweeter, through clustering, carries one-sided views where participants block, detach themselves from friend lists or hide people who hold different political views (44). Hence, social media may not be an attractive platform for encouraging people to share contrasting political views to alter one’s political inclination, which is necessary for gathering votes that could have been given to an opponent.
Rainie and Smith observe that a large number of adults feel that the internet offers a platform for connecting with their candidates of choice, thus enabling them to actively participate in the campaigning process (par.7). Nevertheless, an even large proportion feels that internet-based applications may carry extreme viewpoints. Therefore, they can act as a medium for propagating misinformation, especially for people who make decisions based on the face value of information that is presented to them. However, it is important to note that these differences in opinions about the role of the internet in American politics may vary, depending on people’s political inclinations. For instance, Rainie and Smith assert, “more online Republicans (66%) than online Democrats (58%) are likely to agree that the internet is full of misinformation that voters believe is accurate” (par.8). Does this observation suggest that the internet is a good medium for propagating campaign propaganda? Justification for this concern may require conducting further studies on the role of the internet in spreading propaganda during campaigns.
Social media applications such as Twitter have emerged as critical platforms for hosting debates that seek to shape the American and global political mayhem. The internet is also an important platform for data extraction by political scientists who seek to establish the relationship between social media and politics in the US. One of such findings points out that the political debates on Twitter are highly politically partisan (Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith 49). However, this case does not imply that users who have different political orientations do not interact. Himelboim, McCreery, and Smith assert that such friends can interact, although such encounters hardly lead to “meaningful cross-ideological interaction” (51). Hence, social media has a low possibility of influencing one’s political persuasions. Therefore, it only helps the public to observe and understand other people’s political views.
Social media has boosted American politics by enhancing voters’ mobilization. Bond and Fowler support this assertion by claiming that in 2010, Facebook messages helped to increase voters’ turnout (297). They suggest that friends with stronger ties have more influence compared to those with weak ties. Such strong ties have four times the degree of impact on voter turnout compared to the political messages that are carried through the platform (Bond and Fowler 297). Hence, through social media, it is possible to mobilize people politically because of offline connections that are also represented in an online platform. Consequently, internet-based political mobilization helps in inducing self-expression in terms of political persuasion and hence voter turnout.
Social media significantly influences the American political landscape by offering a personalized platform for the public to gain information about the political persuasions of other people. The paper has established some hardships in changing the views of people who have opposing perspectives. However, it helps in compelling people to turn out to vote to ensure that those who have opposing political inclinations do not take the day. Through social media applications and blogs, people can also follow conversations to get personalized connections with their preferred candidates. Since the message creator plays a minimal role in spreading or sharing it, social media platforms and blogs will continue to form an important platform for hosting the US campaigns. The platforms will help in sharing political agendas, calling for a given political action, and/or informing people about the importance or demerits of oncoming legislation and other political functions because of their capacity to reach a large number of people with minimal financial expenditure.
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Bond, Robert, and James Fowler. “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization.” Nature 489.7415(2012): 295–298. Print.
Dumitrica, Delia. “Imaging Engagement: Youth: Social Media, and Electoral Processes.” Convergence 22. 1(2016) 35-55. Print.
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