2.1 Introduction
2.2 Putting ‘information' in rational perspective
2.3 Why the Internet matters to political journalism
2.4 Individuals online: usage and impacts
2.5 Groups online: usage and impacts
2.6 Politicians online: usage and impacts
2.7 Media online: usage and impacts
2.8 ‘Ya say ya wanna a revolution?'
2.9 Further study


Submitted by:
A.M. Burton

Submitted to:
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada),

in part completion of the requirements for the

Master of Journalism

September 2000

:: Research Base



2.5  Groups online: uses and impacts

While individuals' incentives to provide or access political information online may be low, at the group level Internet use may be far more effective (and therefore rational), especially among those groups in society that complain of being unable to get attention from the traditional news media.

As discussed in section 2.2, ours is a democratic system that relies on the news media to provide low-cost information on community issues. Marginalization, real or perceived, from the public agenda is critical to a group campaign, particularly with regard to decision-making during an election campaign.

Schultz (2000) proposes that, ideally, "new media will facilitate consensus-finding processes, in which the participants will take part in a public discourse that is free from what Habermas calls the imperatives of the systems world, i.e. money and power."1 Schultz suggests the Internet offers a space where social movements and local communities can use computer networks to revitalize the public sphere and bulletin boards and Internet discussion groups can balance the power and biases of traditional mass media. The Internet may provide individuals and groups with a tool for an electronic public journalism that is independent from traditional media.2

In fact, American political portals dedicated to political activism and promoting democratic participation have emerged. SpeakOut.com, which calls itself an "activism portal," allows users to create online petitions to lobby government. Grassroots.com describes itself as the "political action destination" allows users to form and join online interest groups.3

In a study of women's issues in the 1996 American presidential campaign, based on a similar deliberative model of democracy, Klotz and Broome (1998) also theorized that issues that are otherwise downplayed in campaigns, such as women's issues, might be discussed extensively on the Internet.4

Recognizing that the perception that women's issues are "divisive", or appeal only to a targeted constituency, underlies the tendency for candidates to avoid women's issues in TV ads, the Internet might appear to be a liberating form of targeted political information sharing for groups wanting to discuss such issues with candidates. Unlike expensive television advertisements, where time is precious and politicians' resources are rarely wasted making appeals on narrowly focused issues, the Internet offers unlimited space for discussion.

Women's issues are among the issues that have seldom met the threshold for meriting discussion by candidates in their TV ads but seem likely to meet a new Internet threshold. Even if a candidate wishes to avoid taking a clear position, the Internet affords the opportunity to show concern about a problem.5

While the opportunity clearly exists on the Internet for expanded discussion of marginal issues, Klotz and Broome found the results in the 1996 presidential campaign were mixed. "Although the amount of discussion of women's issues on candidate Web sites is low, the amount does represent a modest increase over that typically contained in TV ads."6

So while Internet technology affords unlimited potential for groups to create discussion space for their issues, the technology provides no overriding imperative for political attention. It is an alternative area to congregate, but does not shift the balance of communicative power from politician to interest group members and does little to compel politicians to engage in discussions or take positions on issues they would rather avoid. In fact, with more and more narrowly focused groups establishing an Internet presence, the incentive for politicians to engage in discussion, online or otherwise, on narrow constituency issues may actually be diminished.

Foot Notes

1.     Schultz, 2000, p. 206.
2.     Schultz, 2000, p. 206-207.
3.     Suellentrop, Slate, February 23, 2000.
4.     Klotz and Broome, 1998, p. 67-68.
5.     Klotz and Broome, 1998, p. 73.
6.     Klotz and Broome, 1998, p. 81.

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