We are seeing a definite emphasis on words like "conversation" and "interaction" in the 2008 presidential campaign sites so far.  While the 2006 Senate cycle saw a persistence of the top-down form of US politics, it seems that 2008 might be the year of politics "2.0".  It's obvious that the Internet is affecting politics in the US, but how is the cyber-campaign being received abroad?

According to edemocracy expert Stephen Ward, the Internet has become a powerful tool in countries like the US and France, where there is "room for a lot of individual expression".  In other developed countries with a heavy focus on party ties and party leadership, such as the UK, the Internet has been less of a factor in politics.  We alluded to this point in an earlier TBG study that compared the use of the Internet in US politics vs. campaigns around the world.

In developing countries, too, the Internet has yet to play a big role in elections.  Ward notes that this is probably due to low Internet penetration rates, language barriers, and poverty in general.   Makes sense.

How then is the Internet impacting campaigns abroad?  Here are a couple of current examples.

France.  Some French politicians are causing a ruckus on Second Life.  Apparently, right-winger and National Front Leader Jean-Marie Le Pen recently experimented with setting up a home base in an American commercial center in the online community.  He was not well received.  Some "residents" of the virtual world have protested his Second Life campaign by displaying signs showing his likeness adorned with a Hitler-esque mustache.  Some residents even went so far to ask Linden Labs to expel him from Second Life.

Despite Le Pen's relative failure on Second Life, he is not alone in the world of French politicians experimenting in the virtual world.  Segolene Royal, a socialist, has also set up camp in Second Life.  She claims that the experience is ideal for "participative democracy".

Nicolas Sarkozy, another French politician who has a slight edge over Royal in the most recent polls, calls the political initiative on Second Life "ridiculous".  He claims that because the Second Life community is spread over so many different regions, the campaign will be ineffective.  He bases his objection to the online campaign on the following user data for Second Life:

  • 45.3% Americans
  • 10.1% British
  • 4.4% Canadian
  • 3% Australian
  • 1.6% Argentinian
  • .4% Indian
  • .3% Chinese
  • 34.9% from 90 other countries

sarkozy.gif Sarkozy might be right, but I find it odd that he can be so critical of these campaign efforts when his own website is one of the most visually displeasing websites I have ever seen (complete with a slightly terrifying splash page).  A colleague of mine who reads French reported that in terms of features, the site leaves much to be desired and lacks interactive features.  So who made him an expert on online political campaigns?  The candidates on Second Life may not be attracting much attention in the virtual world itself, but the fact that their online efforts in the community made the headlines of a top Spanish paper, El Pais , has to say something.  Regardless of where their press is coming from, it's apparent that the Second Life political experiments did receive some attention.  And that's what political campaigns are all about, isn't it?

As a side note, in addition to her Second Life endeavor, candidate Royal seems to have a pretty terrific, blog-based website with an interesting (although somewhat cheesy) motto: Desires for the Future (Desirs d'Avenir).

United Kingdom.  Typically not really affected by cyber-campaign fever and heavily impacted by party politics, UK politcal system does have one shining star on the Web, David Cameron.  He's a conservative politician with a unique and not-so-conservative approach to the Web.  His site, webcameron, features Cameron's very own video blog, text blog, guest blogs from other people, and an "open blog".  The Open Blog feature is really interesting.  It allows people to start their own blogs on his website and ask David various questions.  People can then vote on which questions they like best.  Each week, Cameron answers the top 5 questions.  US politicians could definitely take a hint from Cameron's presence on the Web.  His blogs have really succeeded in creating a conversation with constituents, something that candidates of the past have either shied away from or shunned all together.

Italy.  According to the Guardian's blog, Italian politicians are getting into the action, as well.  Antonio Di Pietro, the "anti-graft" party leader, posts weekly videos to YouTube in order to explain some of the decisions made by the Italian government.  Apparently, his first few postings in December went relatively unnoticed. Since then, however, he has created a small following on YouTube made up of people congratulating Di Pietro for his efforts as "directly contacting the people".