AOL to Enter Political Arena

AOL to Enter Political Arena

While saying he hopes "the Internet will spark more interest and participation in elections in 2000, the way television did in 1960," Case added the "challenge" was to shape the Internet's role in politics and "not to allow it 'simply to happen' as it did with television": "It will be important in the early years to identify models of what will work and what will not. And it will be important to establish ground rules for how to position the Internet in the political process."

America Online founder and chairman Steve Case has told the Freedom Forum Conference on Journalism and the Internet that 2000 will be "the turning point" for Internet's impact on politics and that 1998 will be "a year of experimentation."

Communications Daily reports that Case announced that AOL will provide an "interactive forum for political candidates" this fall. Said Case of the Internet's affect on politics: "It's big enough to be relevant but still small enough to be shaped."

Case cited four areas where AOL will concentrate this year:

  • Issue education with links to candidate Web sites and financial disclosure sites, info about where and how to register and vote, campaign ads "for critique and discussion" and online debates in Senate races.
  • More interaction between voters and candidates--"interactive dialogue among all of the people experiencing that broadcast--and engagement with the person broadcasting the message."
  • Voter turnout, especially among young people--"if there ever was a medium suited to this task, it's the Internet."
  • Change campaign economics, by providing more a more cost-effective means of communicating campaign ads, for example. "Imagine a medium in which the analysis of the ad is attached to the ad itself. Imagine if the actual record, the facts, the opponent's position were all immediately, dynamically and inseparably linked to every ad -- in fact to every statement of every ad. Do you think that would change the tone of political dialogue? We believe it would." Case conceded that there was no solid policy yet on issue advertising, stating: "Our inclination would be to sell ads to anybody." Neither does AOL have a position on whether it will sell email and subscriber lists to candidates, but he did state that "one of the most central areas of this interactive world is the issue of privacy."

He called TV "a big contributor to the problem" of the federal government seeming distant and the average citizen seeming "irrelevant to the whole process." In contrast to online, he called TV expensive, "its formats are inflexible and, with few exceptions, its technology does not allow for the electorate to speak back and to participate in the politcial conversation."

Case also pointed out that TV tends to focus on personalities, "the 'negatives' and the 'horse race,' rather than on issues American care about. Television can speak to you--but it cannot reason with you. It can provoke a response but it cannot hear you. It can register whether you watch this convention or that one--but it cannot hear your reaction and the feeling behind it."

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