The internet and politics go together like bread and butter. Salt and pepper. Trump and controversy.
Honestly, I didn’t know the first thing about politics until I started watching some YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, and reading news sites.
I’d had access to newspapers throughout my childhood, but political news and commentary always felt somewhat inaccessible to a young guy growing up. All I saw was mountains of tiny text that made very little sense if you didn’t understand the context.
Fast forward to the internet, and context is super-easy to access. If you’re watching a YouTube video and hear a new political term you can simply pause the video, open a new tab, and type the term into Google. Within seconds you’ll be able to find out what the term means and increase your scope of knowledge.
That’s what the internet provides: ease of access.
Back in the day, you’d have to make a conscious effort to find political books or take political courses to learn more about politics. Now you can simply type something into Google – from the comfort of your home.
And that power is what makes the internet great… and it’s also what makes the internet scary.
As ol’ Ben Parker said,
With great power, comes great responsibility.
The internet takes both of these elements to the extreme. It is arguably the single most powerful thing in existence. And, at the same time, many people think it could be the cause of World War 3.
Right now, the internet serves as the ultimate soapbox. Politicians can get their message to the masses in record time. Political commentators can access an audience with ease. But most importantly, the everyday person can make their voice heard.
In the past, the average Joe was confined to the dinner table for political discussions. Now, however, platforms like Twitter allow citizens the opportunities to communicate directly with each other on political matters.
Politicians and politics have reputations of polarising the public. After all, the public has split views on the various policies that are contested across (and within) party lines.
The internet has taken this polarisation and given it a turbo boost.
I remember being educated about the voting process as a child. It was stressed that ‘your vote is a secret’ and that ‘you don’t have to tell anybody who you voted for.’
That idea has gone straight out the window.
Not only are people willing to make their voting choices known online; they’re willing to get verbal and defend their choices in high-conflict situations.
It’s the same reason that people troll and flame online. There is a virtual layer between the two parties which depersonalises interactions, making it easier to say things to someone online that you wouldn’t dare say in person.
You know – keyboard warriors.
Previously, politics was the topic that people veered away from as soon as they could. They knew how polarising it could be, and didn’t want to be a part of it. But now, with the rise of the keyboard warrior, polarisation isn’t something to avoid – to many, it’s inherently attractive.
I know what you were thinking as you read through that negative take. You’ve heard it all before.
The internet is a bad place, full of basement-dwelling trolls and creepy stalkers.
But here’s the thing – we focus so much on the bad that we completely ignore the OVERWHELMING good that the internet has brought to politics.
Because there honestly are so, so many benefits!
…And these benefits are the things that truly excite me.
So what are they? Let’s break them down.
1. Internet Users CARE About Politics
I touched on this at the beginning of the article. In the past, politics didn’t really play a big role in the average citizen’s life.
Sure, people still voted. But people weren’t actually reading up on politics in the same way they do now. They didn’t know about Bill XYZ or Proposal ABC.
But now they do.
People have long been sick of the snake-oil-salesman type of politician that has become a stereotype across the world. But they didn’t really have the resources, or quite frankly the time, to dig deeper into politics and hold them to account.
Now, however, we do. Social media has powered political discourse like nothing else. Not only do individuals discuss political topics among themselves, but they have easy, instant access to high-quality content from news and opinion outlets at the tips of their fingers.
And say what you want about FAKE NEWS, but at least people care enough about politics to be duped by it. Politics is mainstream, whether you like it or not.
2. Politicians Have Nowhere To Hide
You know that whole ‘scaly politician’ thing I mentioned?
It just got a helluva lot more difficult for them to keep up their nefarious schemes and lies.
After all, you know what they say about the internet:
Once something is on the internet, it’s there forever.
With everything going online, and with the ability for dodgy deals to go viral within minutes, it’s much easier for politicians to get caught out than before.
This is particularly true given the rapidly-growing form of journalism that is taking the internet by storm:
Anyone is a journalist these days – if you have a phone you have access to a camera, video recorder, audio recorder, and communications devices.
You’re in a pub and a married politician is hitting on another woman? Snap.
A pro-fracking politician is having lunch with an oil magnate? Snap.
Accountability is at an all-time high – whether politicians like it or not.
3. The Internet Makes Politics Truly Global
Say what you want about borders and walls, but politics is way more global today than it has ever been before.
The internet barely sees your country – after all, its biggest strength is how it connects the WORLD with one huge network.
As a result, we live in a global online society.
I can sit in South Africa and discuss the global ramifications of Brexit with an American, a Brazilian and a Bangladeshi…
… and if that’s not awesome, I dunno what is.
Where are we headed?
Back in the day, we belonged to tribes and clans. Then we progressed to kings, queens and their empires. Now we’ve progressed to political systems like democracy and autocracy.
(That’s probably not 100% accurate, but you get the point – we’ve continually developed our ‘political’ structures)
People are underestimating just how much the internet and politics’ relationship will evolve in the coming years. Because we’re in the middle of it, we fail to see that the internet and technology as we know it is actually only in its infancy.
Now here’s where the question gets interesting: will the internet host the next form of society’s ‘political’ leadership system? Will our current, physical borders become virtually irrelevant as we prioritise a truly global society, governed and connected through the internet?
I believe we’re waaaay off that right now… And I think you’ll agree.
But who knows what will happen in the future. There was no reason to think that kings and queens would be replaced by elected leaders, either…
Human society is continually developing, and given how central the internet is to our daily lives, it would hardly surprise me if it drove society’s political structures in a new direction.
How do you think the internet and politics will interact with each other in the future? Share this post and let me know what you think!