the media and politics
By Dan Heuchert
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.
sites offer candidates an opportunity to get their messages across
without the filter of a media "gatekeeper,² 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
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.
"This type of negative advertising transferred to the 'Net
may have the greatest impact on the election coming up,"
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.
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.
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.
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.
you want to do electronic voting, you have to make it available
to everyone in a relatively easy fashion," Nuechterlein said.
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,"
most important thing is to elect representatives who have backbone
and are not at the mercy of public opinion polls," Nuechterlein