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Top-down and Bottom-Up Models for Online Politics

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 23 years ago, in 2001, on the World Wide Web.

Scott Reents and Thomas Hill have written an interesting article on why political sites fail, and what they can do about it [Democracy Project]. Bottom line: political sites fail because they are based on the one-way model of traditional campaign media. As the authors put it:

In particular, current political sites are failing to adhere to the new rules of the "citizen-centric" Internet. Because the Internet puts citizens in control over the information they access, it requires that political organizations think and act as service providers to, rather than as mobilizers of online constituents. A citizen-centric campaign recognizes that it is most powerful when it practices the enlightened self-interest of true cooperation, ceding control to citizens as the most effective way to accomplish shared goals.

It’s worth noting that the most continually successful politically-oriented sites on the web are services such as Independent Media Center and Free Republic, Feminist Majority Foundation Choices Campus Community, and innumerable e-mail listservs all over the Internet, which center around forums for user-contributed content.

My hope is that the trends exemplified by Internet users here will successfully drive political candidates and groups more and more towards bottom-up, participatory democracy as the primary form of web interaction, that the mood of the Internet user will force them to adopt this strategy in order to survive. The Internet as it stands if full of limitations – we need to work hard at making Internet access and resources more available to people in poverty, making it a less toxic space for women, and developing software and hardware that empower users apart from mega-corps like AOHell-Time Warner and Microsoft and Netscape). But I hope and believe that it can also be opening up a horizon for truly democratic spaces in ways that traditional media have systematically ruled out. We have a great hope of winning this one, if we fight.

For further reading:

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