Commentary on How the Internet is Disrupting Politics

Timothy Lee wrote on Internet-based challenges to the political scene prior to the November 2016 elections. In retrospect, his observations were particularly prescient.


Mainstream broadcast media outlets still have a lot of power, but social media is catching up. In fact, given the outcome of the most recent election, social media may now have reached a turning-point on the influence graph. Even the SuperPacs, which would need to be legislated away, are becoming irrelevant. They’ve been undermined by Twitter and Facebook, and may just fade away unless they begin adopting the same tools and tricks.

These new media entrants also proved a better barometer of the political marketplace and fund-raising.

One caveat. The expansion of social media, like the universe, allows for areas of aggregation like galaxies. These are referred to by some as “filter bubbles.” Within each filter bubble is an affinity group—likeminded people who post similar ideas that tend to coalesce around party lines. Unlike broadcast media, social media is two-way, but natural forces such as the Power Law imply that aggregating forces are unavoidable.

One other point that resonated with me. Trump called in to cable news programs to interject his opinions. In effect he was turning the tables with a social media-like tactic—tweeting by mobile phone, not from a studio but from wherever.

For full disaggregation in politics to take place, a top-down phenomenon needs to occur. That is a reframing of our representative democracy into a direct democracy. The German government comes closest to this. Internet mediated referenda spark national debates and cause state and federal legislatures to turn on a dime. Actually, dimelessly.

Obama hinted at this in his farewell on the last episode of American Idol. That show was the first to utilize texting and Internet voting. Political contestants should be treated the same as competitors on reality TV. They should be manipulated by the strings of their constituencies.


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