Nov. 19-Dec. 2, 1999
Guide cites U.Va., Casteen for leadership and character development efforts
History will judge Clinton harshly, Woodward tells Miller Center crowd

Cancer Center fosters world-class research and clinical care

Slingluff team developing melanoma vaccine
The Academical Village in the Internet Age
What's in the water in Charlottesville?
Internet, the media and politics
In Memoriam
Thanksgiving staples: warm food, warmer memories
Hot Links - Plymouth Colony Archive Project
Conference maps spread of nuclear weapons technology
Artisans Bazaar set for Dec. 3-5

Internet, the media and politics

By Dan Heuchert

The Internet will inevitably change the way politics works, agreed the panelists addressing "Internet, the Media and Politics" as part of e-summit@virginia. But not all of those changes come without dangers, they concluded.

Web sites offer candidates an opportunity to get their messages across without the filter of a media "gatekeeper, noted Timothy B. Robertson, a member of the Board of Visitors and chair of Bay Shore Enterprises LLC. Technology's ability to track the interests of Web surfers also allows candidates to target discrete groups with tailored messages.

But direct access to voters can cut both ways. Internet-based disinformation campaigns can spring up quickly and that possibility requires campaigns to be vigilant in monitoring and quickly countering electronic mudslinging, said Brian H. Balogh, a member of the U.Va. history faculty who studies 20th-century American politics.

Nevertheless, "This type of negative advertising transferred to the 'Net may have the greatest impact on the election coming up," he predicted.

The panel spent much time discussing the scope of the Internet's impact. Jeffrey Nuechterlein, managing director of the National Gypsum Company, a veteran of governmental service and a technophile, noted that at the time of the 1996 elections, about 7.5 million Americans had access to the Internet. "Political web sites were basically a novelty," he said.

Today, 67 million people have Web access, and that number could double in the next year.

"By 2004, the Internet will have an integral part in campaigns," he said, referring to studies which suggest that by then 80 percent of campaign contributions will be made online.

But those who cannot afford computers at home and do not have jobs that allow them access at work may be left behind as politics goes more and more online, several panelists suggested.

Already, the Internet offers politicians fairly sophisticated public opinion polling methods, but the samples may be disproportionately skewed against the lower classes, they noted. Online voting, which the panelists viewed largely as desirable and inevitable, could also create two classes of voters -- those with easy access to Web-based ballots, and those who must trek to traditional polling places or public computing facilities to cast their ballots.

"If you want to do electronic voting, you have to make it available to everyone in a relatively easy fashion," Nuechterlein said.

Several panelists and audience members expressed fear of a rise of tyranny by public opinion polls. "The whole issue of representative democracy is that you have to make unpopular decisions," Robertson said.

"The most important thing is to elect representatives who have backbone and are not at the mercy of public opinion polls," Nuechterlein agreed.


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