During the last federal election it was my job to report on the Internet’s impact on the campaign for CBC Radio One. At times, this felt like reporting on the impact of felt puppets on the campaign, which is to say, there was none.
Sure, we had a scrappy little political blogosphere and a few early politico-tweeters, but they were operating in tiny echo chambers or isolated flame-silos. Either they were preaching to the converted or arguing with the same handful of critics, day in, day out. Reporting on their musings and diatribes felt ludicrous—these were wonks of little consequence, and nothing they said had much effect on any party’s agenda. If they were newsworthy (a big “if”), it was because of how they were communicating, not what they were communicating.
At the same time, I was filing stories on the online side of the American presidential election. Now that was fun. America’s political Internet was wild and wily, full of rumor-mills and truth squads, hacktivists and pranktivists, “money bomb” micro donations and influential bloggers who could genuinely disrupt the news cycle and throw real curveballs into politics as usual.
Obama’s social media strategy is the best remembered aspect of this time, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. It was built on the fragments of Howard Dean’s failed bid for the Democratic nomination and the DailyKOS community, facing down Drudge, Breitbart, and a legion of aggrieved cranks who would come to form the Tea Party. Here was digital politics as an all-inclusive, full-contact bloodsport. What happened online mattered.
Meanwhile, we had a pooping puffin.
Have Canadian online politics evolved since the last election? We’re certainly more wired than we were three years ago—hell, we’re the most socially networked nation on the planet. But does this mean we’ve become more engaged and active with our democracy, or are we fundamentally lacking a popular political culture, online or off?
If there are signs of hope for this cycle, I’d love to hear about them.