6/09/2004

The Three Faces of Eve

Read the article

I had been pondering writing an article on the way people express their political views online after visiting the She Thinks website and the Little Green Footballs Blog. I didn't have a well-formed argument, however, and so sat on the idea, waiting for inspiration. And then along came this article regarding political advertising on blogs.
How could I resist?

The article begins by introducing a relatively unknown Republican Congressman, and then points out that your chances of having heard about him increases if you enjoy left-wing blogs. Apparently, his rival Democrat wishes to see him out of Congress and so has begun a campaign targeted at blog users. The article goes on to discuss similar tactics by other politicians.

Here's a question (actually two): why? and is it effective?
Why, is probably obvious. They're politicians. They love an audience. The web, be it any community found therein, provides as good an audience as any.
Is it effective? The article doesn't say, and in any case effectiveness might be hard to measure. I, for one, rarely if ever look at the ads posted above my blog.

Hold that thought for a moment.
Now jump to She Thinks.

I have not taken a careful look at the website, only cursory. It's run by a group of people who consider themselves to be Independent Feminists, not to be confused with Feminist. Not feeling "oppressed by the patriarchy," and having overcome the "old boys club" many, many a time by the bat of a few eyelashes, I can't say I'm overly concerned with the Feminist or Independent Feminist causes. I'm sure there's a difference, and I'm sure each group sees herself as being better or more important than the other.
However, is the informaiton provided on this website useful? I did look, but couldn't find anything.

Hold that thought.
Now jump to LGF.

If you are not intimately familiar with Middle Eastern politics, and more specifically, with the militant Islamist movement, you will jump to the conclusion that the blog writer may perhaps be racist. I carefully read this site. Not only is he not racist, he's extremely well informed. There is a lot to keep track of when dealing with the world of Middle Eastern politics, and he provides quite the spread.
However, his approach is very "in your face" and some may find it offensive.

Now consider these as the three faces of Eve, where Eve in this case is the general body we call Politics. Each is dramatically different of course, and it would be foolish to try and compare them. Instead, what to they tell us about politics online?

1. Political advertising online, much like any advertising, is done for money. This is specifically pointed out in the blogging article: "In the old days, you could take somebody like Jesse Helms or maybe Ted Kennedy and you could demonize them in order to raise money. With the Internet, you can hit any candidate and raise money by turning him into Jesse Helms for a small demographic."
If you will look at each of the sites noted, all involve money somehow, perhaps a small donation.
But, let's be honest. Where politics go, is money far behind?

2. Politics inherently have a message targeted at a specific audience. This is no surprise: it has always been true in the offline world. Not everyone is a Liberal, Conservative or a member of the Church of the Universe. But there was a time where the web was hoped to be the "great equalizer," disseminating information to everyone everywhere. In fact, there are some who still believe in that view.
For those of you who do, I would suggest that do a little research into the percentage of the world's populaton that is actually online. That you own a computer, or even have access to one, inherently says something about your social status.
The web may one day attain the impact of the clock or the printing press, but today is not that day.

3. The delivery of a political message online may more extreme than it would be otherwise. I base this on what my experiences are, not on measured fact. However, in her book "The Psychology of the Internet," Patricia Wallace would agree with me. Online, extreme views are not softened as people learn about others. Instead, they become more extreme and like minds congregate together, feeding each other with more extreme views. All three sites provided above seem to reflect this idea. By stirring up those who agree with you to some sort of action, we arrive back at point 1: money.

There is a huge amount of information available online, political and otherwise. A few closing questions: how much of it is useful, or even factual? Does the proliferation of extreme views improve things, make them worse, or have any effect at all?

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