Internet Alone Won’t Change Politics

Internet Alone Won’t Change Politics

The Current Discussion: Egypt has detained a number of its citizens for using the social networking site Facebook to organize anti-government protests. What online sites are most effective in influencing politics — and is the impact positive?

When I first read Jack Fairweather”s report on “Egypt”s Facebook Revolution” a few days ago, I was immediately reminded of what happened in Turkey back in 2007. Around a million Turks had just joined the Facebook craze and it was the only subject heard in the streets besides, of course, politics. Obviously, it wasn”t long before the two subjects inevitably merged.

In a very short time, Facebook was flooded with political groups of all sorts trying to attract like-minded users. The supporters of Turkey”s two main secularist opposition parties were quick to create groups with thousands of members which enabled them to organize some of the largest public demonstrations seen in modern Turkish history. Yet in the end, both the rallies and the massive online groups proved useless when the opposition bitterly lost all the elections and parliamentary votes that their enthusiastic web supporters had campaigned for. What I learned from the vain activism of the Turkish secularists was this: Without grass-roots action on the field, online political activism is useless.

Of course, the internet has enhanced freedom of speech in most countries in unprecedented ways, by breaking government monopolies on information, communications and the media. We can say that even the sheer range of political opinions available to the public online has improved the quality of democracies around the world. Yet if we wish to start a revolution, we cannot do it from our beds with our laptops. If we want change, we have to go out and knock on the doors of those who are not our friends on Facebook and those who never used a computer.

Take Barack Obama”s campaign for example; what he did was to use the internet to organize his supporters and raise millions of dollars, but what brought him success was his ability to combine this with a grass-roots campaign which tirelessly knocked on doors. America was craving for change after eight lousy years of the Bush administration, just as Egypt and Turkey now crave change after decades of failed governments. If utilizing the power of internet paid off for Obama, then it could also pay off for our agents of change – provided that they show some real leadership and the capability to combine it with some real politics.