One of the objectives of this short volume ...... is to cut through some of the hype to provide some empirical evidence of the internet’s place in the election and also assess what realistically we might expect from the internet. Hence, Gibson et al’s contribution provides some of the first concerted evidence on the public’s engagement with the internet during the election. The data presented indicates significant rises, since 2005, in internet use across a range of election activities that cannot simply be explained by the growth of the technology alone.
Andy Williamson’s chapter contextualises the role of the internet and social media into longer term changes. One of the suggestions here is that we might not even be looking in the right places to see the influence of the internet, that its real effects are more subtle and away from traditional political arenas in a wider range of online social spaces. The internet is relevant to a campaign because it is an important medium in the lives of so many.
Building on Williamson’s argument, Mark Pack tells us that the internet has now become an organisational necessity for election campaigning but that it has not brought about that strategic change that some have argued we should expect. He argues that the internet has not removed hierarchies or elites. Instead it has created new elites. Pack further suggests that more dramatic changes are likely to occur to the business of governing partly as a result public sharing of information and the opening up of public data.
Matthew McGregor and Will Straw’s chapters focus on aspects of the parties online campaigns. Whilst direct transfer of US style campaigns might not work in the UK, Straw notes that lessons from the 2008 US campaigns were learnt by both Labour and the Conservatives and did play an active part in their 2010 campaigns. He goes further, concentrating in particular on Labour’s use of online tools to help generate local mobilisation and how this might also be taken forward in the context of the current leadership election.
Although much of the media excitement was around social media, one of the key lessons of the Obama campaign was the value of the less sexy email databases and of developing ongoing communication strategies. McGregor highlights differences in the main parties’ strategic approach to new media and suggests that whilst the UK parties arguably began to understand some of the significance of e-campaigning they still failed to fully buy into concept. They still either operated on old-fashioned, top-down broadcasting principles (Conservatives) or only sporadically linked online mobilisation to offline activity (Labour).
A little background reading. It's not all fun and games you know.