Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996

Politics on the Web

by Amelia DeLoach

In the spirit of better informing the electorate, the United States Congress and Library of Congress launched Thomas in January of 1995. A few months later, that same legislative body began debate as to whether or not the public they were trying to inform could exchange messages or view sites that some might consider indecent. Alas, Alexander Hamilton's view of the masses seemed to again actively conflict with Thomas Jefferson's view. In the meantime, Net users were left with mixed messages as to what role cyberspace will play in the United States' version of a democratic government.

In the spirit of preserving absolute freedom of speech on the Internet, individuals and groups took it upon themselves to form petition movements, urging fellow users to contact their representatives via email, phone, or snail mail. How effective or ineffective were these online movements in reshaping legislation when fewer than half of all senators and representatives of have email addresses?

Many gaps exist between what members of the online community view as possible contributions of the Internet to democracy and what representatives seem to be saying with their votes. Is there middle ground between the bipolar stances held by those who realize there is untapped potential in the technology and those who only envision worst-case-scenarios where it concerned?

Now, a little over a year after Thomas' appearance and the beginning of the Decency Act, the U.S. faces another presidential election, and for the first time, the Web serves as campaign space for the candidates. Will the candidates, who traditionally groom themselves to be media-genic, prove to be Net savvy as well? Or will they use it much like they would tri-fold campaign fliers?

Moreover, given the vast differences between the views of established Internet communities and and the views of many vocal government officials as to what role the Net can play in a democratic society, where will this debate take those who identify themselves as Netizens as well as those who view the Net as a place to simply exchange information?

The April issue of the Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine will explore these issues and kick off our election coverage. If you would like to contribute to the April issue, or assist with election coverage in later months, please contact Amelia DeLoach. For more information on submitting material, check the CMC Magazine Index and the links under "Policies." [TOC]

Amelia DeLoach ( is Link Editor of CMC Magazine.

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