The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet)
Micah L. Sifry
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Now that communication can be as quick as thought, why hasn’t our ability to organize politically—to establish gains and beyond that, to maintain them—kept pace? The web has given us both capacity and speed: but progressive change seems to be something perpetually in the air, rarely manifesting, even more rarely staying with us.
Micah L. Sifry, a longtime analyst of democracy and its role on the net, examines what he calls “The Big Disconnect.” In his usual pithy, to-the-point style, he explores why data-driven politics and our digital overlords have failed or misled us, and how they can be made to serve us instead, in a real balance between citizens and state, independent of corporations.
The web and social media have enabled an explosive increase in participation in the public arena—but not much else has changed. For the next step beyond connectivity, writes Sifry, “we need a real digital public square, not one hosted by Facebook, shaped by Google and snooped on by the National Security Agency. If we don’t build one, then any notion of democracy as ‘rule by the people’ will no longer be meaningful. We will be a nation of Big Data, by Big Email, for the powers that be.”
tweet out the message of the moment. Unlike Dean, the 2012 Obama campaign website is not trying to foster any kind of national political community, either on its pages or by sharing attention with supporter sites elsewhere. It is a highly functional portal for gathering information, money, and time from campaign supporters. Self-organization and self-expression by Obama supporters are not its concern. In short, between the 2004 and 2012 presidential campaigns in the United States, online
on behalf of their own interests and causes. But by 2012, it made less sense to pay close attention to social media metrics. The number of “likes” that Obama or Romney had on Election Day was of little more than academic interest. And the reason we stopped tracking these numbers is also why we were not interested by the campaigns’ pages on new platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, or Spotify, and why we took a critical view of the Facebook “townhalls,” Google “hangouts,” Twitter “chats,”
earthquake. Then Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy’s seat. Then there was the Winter Olympics, the earthquake in Chile, the passage of health care reform, the Iceland volcano, and the BP oil spill … Remember not long ago, when America was focused on gun control after the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Or how we were finally talking about dealing with climate change after Hurricane Sandy? Or how both parties finally seemed ready to compromise on comprehensive immigration reform? To
Committee’s email list: 950,00069 Color of Change’s email list: 900,00070 But beyond successfully electing and re-electing a man named Barack Hussein Obama, nearly all of online advocacy’s greatest victories lie far from Washington, DC, in the realm of cultural politics or in direct pressure on corporations. Campaigns targeting advertisers directly have been especially effective: Presente.org’s campaign to get Lou Dobbs taken off CNN worked especially well after activists got people in Latin
status as a soldier. Coverage of her trial was constrained by a court that wouldn’t make transcripts available, and her defense was prevented from offering evidence showing that she did not harm the country. One would think there should have been more of an outcry on her behalf (and there has been some), but there was no one in our bipartisan political establishment willing to challenge the notion that she was a hacker and a traitor. Even Democrats who were vociferously anti-Iraq War, and who