BuzzFeed speaks with techpresident co-founder Micah Sifry about the complex, changing relationship between politics and the internet. Sifry released a timeline yesterday that charts their interaction over the past four decades.
It’s easier to access information, and it’s easier also to lightly engage with it, even if you’re not much of a political activist. Even if you’re just hanging out on your Facebook newsfeed, you’ll see political information pass by. Ease of use is one reason why we’re seeing people join in in these very small ways.
You get something like Kony 2012 and every 14-year-old has probably seen it and shared it with their friends. But did it create lasting change? No. It was more of a flash flood on the web. And I have a feeling we’re going to see more of those.
2.Expanding webs of influence.
Wikipedia in particular is interesting just because in many ways the way Wikipedia intersects with politics is at the level of citizen journalism. So very often when there’s breaking news, the editors and contributors will kind of swarm in and keep adding to it in real time. It can be as good as or better than what you get with a newspaper blogging something.
There were people on Wikipedia who kind of adopted certain pages and kept an eye on them. In effect, the editors of those pages became de-facto influencers.
The other thing that I found interesting and am still pondering is whether there are moments when various things crystalized. There’s something very fertile about the last few years for large scale collective actions like Anonymous that the internet is making easier. For some reason, I think that there’s a quickening that takes place around late 2007-2008. That’s when Ron Paul has his big moneybombs.
4.Active participation in the news cycle.
The data suggests that there around 20-30 million people who wake up each day and actively participate in the news. They comment, they share, they forward. So even in small ways they influence the conversation. But we’re not at a point where the vast majority of people do that. 20-30 million is still a large minority. Those people have a lot of influence on their peers and that’s why political professionals should pay attention to them.
5.A new ebb and flow of disruptive engagement.
What originally felt like an opening where more room was being made for more people to have more voice, at the moment that doesn’t seem to be a case. The whole tenor of politics is more disconnected now than it was four years ago.
You don’t see much risk taking from the candidates. It’s like they’re playing chopsticks with a synthesizer on the web right now. But it makes sense. Their job is to win, not to transform democracy.
6.To the future: the conflict between insurgent and incumbent forces.
I think there’s one scenario that says we'll see more of the same, that the disruptive phase of the internet is ending and we’re back to a consolidation phase where the people with the most money get to buy the most sophisticated uses of tech.
And the other scenario is that the center won’t hold much longer because we’re facing all sorts of crises. The web seems to favor the outsiders more than the insiders. It doesn’t mean they always win, but it definitely seems to be better attuned to the needs of insurgent forces than incumbent forces.