Information Technology’s Impacts on Politics

The internet has combined with other forms of information technology to alter most aspects of modern life. Smart phones, social media, and cloud computing facilitate communication and generate enormous amounts of data. A recent article in The Economist ( reported on how the technology is “transforming the democratic process . . . from running election campaigns and organizing protest movements to improving public policy and the delivery of services.”

Modern political campaigning was shocked into existence with the 2008 election of Barack Obama. As described after the election by the late columnist David Carr, “The Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans.”

Use of social networking continued into the 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The 2015 election campaign of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was crafted with creative Twitter videos to connect the candidate to voters more convincingly than the more expensive television time. Both Labour and Conservative parties engaged social media expertise in the 2015 UK elections, wherein Jeremy Corbyn rode social media to leadership of the Labour party. Blue State Digital, which advised the Labour party in the election, was consultant to Barack Obama in 2008, Dilma Rousseff in 2010, and Francois Hollande in 2012.

Protest movements in many parts of the world gain momentum when employing social networking. Well-known examples include the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009; the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011; Spain’s Indignado anti-austerity movement in 2011; Occupy Wall Street in the U.S. in 2011; Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013; Maidan protests in Kiev in 2014; Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong in 2014; and Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. in 2014. Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote about social networking in the Journal of International Affairs. She notes that while social media made it easy to quickly connect protestors, that very speed bypasses the long-term organizing which builds cohesiveness to a movement, and movements can fail because of that.

The massive collection of many types of data is being employed on behalf of local government to improve responsiveness. The Economist article argues that the collection, storage, and analysis of information could make cities more efficient and more democratic. As an example, it suggests that a city-wide system of sensors would have spotted the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan much sooner. Sensors are placed to improve traffic flow, locate potholes, and monitor air pollution levels. Cameras mounted along roadways provide data for traffic safety and ease congestion when combined with GPS software. New applications are being developed for improving public transit, trash disposal, and sewer maintenance, among others.

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