Politics and media in cyberspace: two explorations of the Internet's growing influence.

Author:Watson, W. Joe
Position:Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies - Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate - Book review

Chadwick, A. (2006). Internet politics: States, citizens, and new communication technologies. New York: Oxford University Press. 384 pages.

Cooper, S. D. (2006). Watching the watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate. Spokane, WA: Marquette Books. 355 pages.

The exponential growth of the Internet has been nothing short of astounding. Two recent books examine the ways in which this emergent technology has influenced two of our cornerstone institutions: our political system and our media system.

Internet Politics

Chadwick's work is a remarkably comprehensive examination of the online phenomenon and its contribution to politics. His book, however, is not just an exploration of parties and policies. He also acknowledges the very real political battles for control of the technology that allows the World Wide Web to function. He offers a compelling outline of efforts to control Internet development, of attempts by some governments to regulate the Internet, and of access that contributes to a very real Digital Divide. Whether or not it is intentional, the book conveys a sense of drama. There are those who wish to control this online commodity, yet the genie is out of the bottle--can anyone truly dominate this explosive force?

It is clear after reading Chadwick that the West takes the Internet for granted. Broadband access is exploding, particularly in areas of the United States. Political candidates use the Internet as a key means by which they may reach out to constituents. Community networks are exploding all over the Web, offering citizens an opportunity to engage in political debate online rather than in their local community center. The Internet allows people to find others of like minds, regardless of the political fringes they may occupy (as is demonstrated by the online organizing of neo-Nazi groups in Germany and anti-government militias in the U.S.). Chadwick points out this isn't surprising, given that "the most successful growth industry on the Internet is talk" (p. 97).

But not so fast. Vast regions of the globe are excluded from the online political frenzy due to issues of geography, demographics, and socioeconomics. Although more and more political players are reaching out online, fewer and fewer people are participating in the political process. Despite the buzz about politics in cyberspace, more people still watch television, which dominates the discourse by emphasizing style over substance and personalities over issues.

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