(Updated: code cleaned up)
I sat down over the last couple of days to write a list of reasons in favor of blogging as a form of politics and political participation. I thought I would have about 4-5, instead I came up with 9 fairly substantial reasons. Most of these are self-evident but it is useful to have them all together in a list.
So here is the list:
1. Investigation: Talking Points Memo (TPM), a New York City based blog, won a George Polk Award in February 2008. The Polks are often described as the Golden Globes of journalism, and TPM’s award was the first to a blogger. During 2007 TPM, which styles itself as a muckraking blog, aggressively pursued and broke news concerning the United States attorney firings, which turned out to be politically motivated by the Bush administration. As a result a senior official in the Department of Justice resigned, and the Attorney General himself, Alberto Gonzales also stepped down under a cloud. This was followed by Congressional hearings and the scandal remains a focus of investigation.
2. Participation: According to a study of news consumption during the American 2006 Midterm elections (when the Senate and House of Representatives are elected) the proportion of Americans using the Internet as their main source of political information doubled since 2002 to about 15 percent. The same study additionally found that over 14 million people were not just reading the web but creating or contributing to political discussion and activity online.
3. Fund-Raising: Since it launched in 2004, the online progressive fund-raising site ActBlue has raised over $18 million for 1,200 Democratic campaigns from 110,000 contributors [fn 1.]. Republican candidate Ron Paul raised $4 million dollars or more online in a single day on more than one occasion during his campaign, mostly through small contributions. Eight liberal blogs raised more than $2.3 million for candidates in the 2006 Midterms through ActBlue. The New Progressive Coalition has also set up political mutual funds” which people can invest in that support political causes such as winning the presidency in 2008. These funds are directed at building infrastructure and young leaders rather than individual candidates. For example Netroots Nation is a grassroots annual convention (attended in 2007 by all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, as well as numerous Senators and bloggers).
4. Support for Candidates: A number of netroots-supported candidates have won primary elections against “establishment” candidates, and some have gone on the win against their opponents in the full election. These include Ned Lamont in Connecticut (who defeated a sitting Democratic Senator in the primary, former VP candidate Joseph Lieberman, causing him to leave the party), Paul Hackett in Ohio, and Ciro Rodriguez who beat a Republican congressman in Texas for only the second time since 1988. The other was Nick Lampson who won Republican Tom Delay’s former seat. In 2008 a liberal Democrat, Donna Edwards, defeated a so-called “Blue Dog” (Conservative) Democrat in the Maryland primary. All these candidates received substantial financial support from the netroots.
5. Issues advocacy: Two recent issues have been pushed by bloggers, net neutrality and opposition to retroactive telecom immunity for providing phone records without a warrant. Advocates pressured members of Congress (eg., through organized contacts) and invited Senators Dodd and Feingold to write on their blogs on these issues. They also posted information and discussion on high visibility sites such as Salon.com. These counter-narratives have been extremely important in combating talking points from the opposition. Posting clips to YouTube can also reach a lot of people (eg., Barack Obama’s Yes We Can video has been viewed nearly 10 million times).
6. Popularity: Political blogs regularly rank among the most-visited blogs on the web. DailyKos gets at least ¾ million visits a day and often more than a million. Perhaps more impressively, because it is a community rather than the work of an individual, it has produced nearly half a million diary entries, and over 15 million comments since 2003 [fn. 2]. The Huffington Post (#4), DailyKos (#11), Think Progress (#26), Crooks and Liars (#33), Drudge Report (#39), Talking Points Memo (#42) and The Daily Dish (#47) are political blogs in the Technorati 50 Most Authoritative rankings (ie., most linked to) on the web.
7. Activism: A variety of activism has taken place online. This has also been labeled “wikivism” These range from traditional rallies, such as the immigration rallies of 2006 in which web-organizing reputedly played a role (eg., through social networks such as MySpace), to web-based media watch groups such as Media Matters. The latter “push back” on political narratives that are not supported by facts and serve to counter misinformation and spin.
8. Organization: Social network sites such as Facebook have a strong utility for political organization. Successful organization often depends on communicating effectively with your members, for example in a labor dispute with management, in getting out the vote, or in organizing caucusing or campaigns. Facebook and to some extent MySpace groups can sign up large numbers of people, send out mass emails, and provide key facts and information. With American union membership holding steady or rising slightly in 2007 (to 12.1%) online organizing has much potential. (Some organizers have reported problems with Facebook flagging their posts as spam. One Canadian labor activist, Derek Blackadder, had his account disabled on Facebook; he was reinstated after a campaign took place—on Facebook. It is true that these remain corporate sites, but there are help pages available on how to avoid their limits.) The TUC, NU and other unions have all used Facebook to organize, though as yet the results are mixed.
9. Culture jamming: Activists interested in pursuing resistance to commercialism have several web-based tools at their disposal. Adbusting can be achieved by buying Google ads for a company, so that anyone searching for it will see anti-corporate ads on the results pages. So-called “cyber pickets” were used during the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike in the USA in 2007-8. Supporters signed up as a friend of the shows (which media companies promote on Facebook) and changed their picture to one supporting the WGA. This plastered pro-WGA graphics all over the shows on NBC, CBS and ABC and so on. Another technique is “Google-bombing” which involves gaming search results on search engines to give a desired result (a story in the news critical of an opponent for example). This involves massive co-operation since search engines do not just record hits but authoritative links. However, blogs and social networks are tailor-made to organize such co-operation.
9.5. Oversight! Friedman Units, Broderisms, claims that would otherwise fall into the Orwellian black hole of forgetting. Blogs bring ’em back, check ’em out and let you know the result.
[fn. 1] That’s an average of less than $200 per person, compared to the typical big donor amounts of offline fund-raising. Campaigns are required to submit their fundraising by amount to the Federal Elections Commission, and amounts less than $200 are generally deemed to be from grassroots supporters. As of January 2008 Barack Obama had raised 34 percent, Hillary Clinton 14 percent, John McCain 23 percent, Rudy Giuliani 8 percent and Ron Paul 63 percent of their total funds from donations under $200.
[fn. 2] See here. On the question of solo vs. community blogging, almost all the progressive blogs have transitioned from the former to the latter. The “Scoop” technology, a so-called “collaborative media application” introduced in 2003, allows a site to be community-driven by submitting stories, comments, and also act as editors and site managers. It is free under the GNU General Public License.