Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Politics Online

It's that time again when everyone is asking...who will you be voting for?

A different source of information and influence is on the rise in the political sphere, and today on homepage we explore what role the internet might play in the 2007 federal election campaign.

How soon can we expect to join other countries in voting online? When will internet popularity impact on the polls? To answer these questions homepage producer Amy Spear talks to David Marshall, Professor of New Media at the University of Woollongong, James Griffin, founder of iVote Australia and Greg Smith from Edith Cowen University.

Professor David Marshall suggests the internet is allowing for a new kind of access to politics and voting. This is being achieved through various mediums such as blogs and videos - and the result could be a change in our political culture. The internet makes a wider field of politics more accessible to the general public where in the past newspapers, television and radio have shaped our opinion forming during election campaigns.

Professor Marshall says it's important for politicians and political parties to embrace online culture, but unless it's developed to be interactive it can certainly backfire. If you don't understand how the internet engages audiences then you can end up looking out of touch - even when you're trying to be edgy.

Some suggest it's inevitable that voting will someday move online but the transition might not be received as readily as other aspects of our online life. Voting in democracies is ritualistic, according to Professor Marshall. The voter doesn't impact greatly in the lead up to an election and contemplating online voting would possibly reduce political engagement even further. Alternatively online voting could be very effective for plebiscites or referendums.

In choosing to found a website such as iVote Australia which is dedicated to raising political awareness in young people, James Griffin was seizing on the popularity of the internet for spreading a message.

The internet ensures that people aren't just consumers anymore, it's an interactive medium and James believes it was only a matter of time before it trickled into Australian politics having been embraced by the USA. James suggest it's a good way for young Australians to get involved.

In Australia where the population is sometimes apathetic towards politics, providing information to people through the internet could be a good way of getting people more active. In the lead-up to, and during the first weeks of the 2007 federal election campaign we've seen our politicians adopt the internet as a communication tool and interact with voters in a new way.

James suggests there are two points to note for using this campaign strategy. The first is having inspirational leaders or candidates who are standing up to be counted in politics, and the second is having powerful social tools like the internet to demonstrate that interest in politics covers a broad cross-section of our community.

James goes further to suggest that the introduction of an online voting system might change the the traditions associated with voting day.

They've had glitches in America with the system and some question whether online voting can ever be safe - will the results of an election be true if using online voting? Professor Smith has considered the idea of a smaller party having its membership vote online for policy, achieving results and action a lot faster.

Concern for malfunction and cyber crime might delay the introduction of online voting in Australia. However Greg argues that convenience, particularly for people living in remote areas or who are away from home on polling day, must be a determining factor for implementation.

We've already seen political activity on the internet for this election and even though we're not yet able to vote online, will the internet play an influential role during this election?

Probably not says Greg. The quality of the websites from the candidates is not likely to influence anyone. The problem also lies in the fact that if you want to get information from the net, you often have to be connected at the right time or set up your own account - you really have to be keen to look for it. Greg suggests the problem with politics on the net is that it isn't done seriously. The site managers need to better target their audience and be better presented. Greg further suggests that candidates on the internet for this election haven't really thought through their online intention - they look like their imitating what's coming from USA. Greg reckons that Kevin Rudd has had a better shot than John Howard's online team, because the Kevin07 site is a stand alone site which is easier to locate.

So will you be jumping online to learn more from our politicians during this election campaign. Would you consider taking the next step and voting online too?

Politicians, political parties and the voters are increasingly embracing the internet as a political medium. While it might now still be in relatively early stages, we can only sit back and watch as it grows. Recently Ten's Meet the Press announced their program will include a segment where MySpace users can use videos to ask politicians questions. Good, bad or ugly, political culture is on the move...and it's coming to a computer near you.

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