Web 2.0 & Politics

by David Kosmák

According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 is
the following:

Web 2.0 … refers to a perceived second-generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.[1]

While the "2.0" suggested that this would be an actual second version of the World Wide Web, this is not the case. This title is merely rhetorical and references the perceived second wave of Internet communication which is much more highly based on social interaction through various networking websites.

Web 2.0 & Politics

Sometimes references as "Politics 2.0", the conglomeration of Web 2.0 and the political field has yielded some interested results and effects — especially in political discource and the way in which campaigns are run and at whome they are targeted.

Some current opinions found on various blogs and opinion sources online indicate that, while politics has "paid lip-service" to the powers of modern technology, viz. the Internet, in the past, the true change and emergence of "Politics 2.0" is only now coming to fruition. [2]

Politics and the Wiki

A Wiki, according to Wikipedia, is the following:

a website that allows visitors to add, remove, edit and change content, typically without the need for registration. It also allows for linking among any number of pages. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring.[3]

The most popular and most-used Wiki sites are run by Wikimedia Foundation Inc., the founders and owners of such sites as Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikibooks and others. Such sites provide ample opportunity for people to get their opinion in out there, but it also provides similar opportunity for people with malicious intent to cause havoc. These problems tend to be avoided in a self-contained manner within the communities themselves; users keep an eye on the content and hold oftentimes rigorous discussions over various details of changes made to pages. There have been noted, though, some interesting incidents involviong Wiki vandalism and politics. Some examples include Rep. Martin T. Meehan's (D-Mass.) Wikipedia profile being edited by an intern to change the wording of a promise the representative had made, Sen. Robert C. Byrd's (D-W.Va.) Wikipedia profile being altered to state that he was 180 years old, Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) being altered to state that he was "voted the most annoying senator by his peers in Congress", and so forth. [4] It has gotten to the point where the Wikipedia group has actually blocked several IP addresses from the Capitol Hill area due to too controversial and frequent editing being made by politicians to their own, or opponents', pages. [4]

There is great and continuous evidence that that politically-motivated edits are being made to various Wiki sources on a regular basis. What does this mean in terms of the overall political picture and how it relates to Web 2.0? Well, most of these edits are rhetorically motivated; while truths are oftentimes not actually changed, they are merely altered or smudged in such a way as to put a more positive or negative spin on certains actions that the politician in question may have taken or statements they made.

This brings to mind interesting questions about our First Amendment rights to free speech — where is the line drawn? Are we truly getting the straightforward story when we allow anyone and everyone to change even the most minute detail of such trusted and often-referenced pages such a Wikipedia? And can Wiki sites such as Wikipedia remain untainted sources of information or will they just become another cog in the political media machine?

Politics and YouTube

YouTube, the massively popular webiste that allows any user to upload videos to its server space for free, has been frequently mentioned in political news lately. More and more politicians are employing the popularity of this site to jumpstart their political campaigns and in hopes to make a more intimate connection with the younger, more technologically-oriented generation.

YouTube has launched there own politically-focused campaign called YouChoose '08, which indicates that the organization itself is well aware of the interest in its resources by the political sphere of society. From the very first breaths of 2008 presidential campaign activity, YouTube has been a major player. Early on, Democratic candidate-hopefuls John Edwards and Barack Obama employed YouTube to bounce their campaigns into the spotlight and the minds of the young and tachnologically savvy. [2] [5] [6] This purveys the same concepts as television advertising, with video-based mediums, but is apt to be viewed my many more people due to the popularity of the site, especially when compared to the other factors at play when it comes to seeing a political ad on television. Furthermore, advertising on YouTube is entirely free in its purest form, which is a huge step away from the millions that are spend on television ad-campaigns.

In contrast, YouTube has started its own political video blog, a complement to the YouChoose '08 campaign, called CitizenTube, which hopes to capture some of the projected $80 million that will be spent in online advertising by 2008 presidential candidates. [7]

Web 2.0, Politics and Issues of Language & Power

Issues of language and power are most certainly at play when looking at the various quandaries presented by the relationship between modern politics and Web 2.0. The free-reign given to any person with access to the internet by much of the Web 2.0 world introduces so many variables in terms of whether or not what is being read can be trusted as factual, unbiased or of any use at all.

There are already many opinions being voiced about the inherent flaws and dangers in the Web 2.0 world [8] [9], and when such a new and almost uncontrollable social phenomenon as Web 2.0 is combined with such a historically and observably volatile and often cut-throat realm as political campaigning, especially for the presidency of the most powerful nation in the world, the results are unpredictable and imposing. Only time will tell how the interaction between politics and Web 2.0 will pan out for the 200 presidential campaign, although it is a near-certainty that the Internet will play a larger role in all facets of this election than it ever has before.

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