DOES THE REVOLUTION BEGIN HERE?
HOW THE INTERNET MAY (OR MAY NOT) CHANGE POLITICAL COMMUNICATION
From individual voters to the traditional media, special interest
groups, politicians and political parties, the Internet is making
a perceptible wave in politics in North America and Europe. This
new medium of interconnected networks of computers has begun to
alter political communication in many innovative, interesting and
perhaps significant ways.
The ubiquitous buzz about the Internet is undeniable, but what,
if anything, does it mean to political communication and by extension
The 1996 American presidential election marked the inauguration
of the Internet as a full-fledged medium of political communication,
with many candidates hosting personal Web pages and the traditional
news media forging a Web presence of their own. Since then, considerable
scholarly attention, largely in the United States, has been devoted
to studying the impact of the Internet on political communication.
This research has consisted of some quantitative and qualitative
measures of available online news resources, but has in large part
remained in the realm of the speculative.
While Canadian scholars largely ignored Internet use during the
1997 Canadian federal election campaign, presumably because there
was little reason to pay any attention, this will surely not be
the case the next time round. The dominant federal political parties,
Canada's major media organizations, special interest groups and
ordinary Canadians are devoting considerable resources (time, labour,
financial and otherwise) to using the Internet and developing an
online presence. The number of Canadians online continues to increase.
According to Canadian political journalist Tom Arnold, commenting
on the emergence of spoof Web sites during the recent race for the
leadership of Canada's new Alliance Party, "for the first time,
in Canadian history, the Internet is playing a major role in a political
contest."1 All indications are that the next Canadian
federal election, expected within 12 months, is likely to be our
nation's inaugural Internet election.
This literature review considers some
of the most recent and compelling research on the role of the Internet
in politics. The possibilities and challenges this new medium holds
for strengthening democracy are placed in the context of a public
1. Arnold, National
Post, May 22, 2000.