TCU Daily Skiff Tuesday, February 03, 2004
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Internet serves as lauching pad for many organizations

The Internet is a great place for contagion of all sorts. Viruses, ridiculous quizzes, inspirational chain e-mails and urban myths have always spread on the Internet at an alarming pace. Recently, however, the Internet has come into the public eye as a breeding ground for a certain contagious form of political activism.

In the past few months, Salam Pax, the famous Iraqi blogger, published his own book. Howard Dean achieved temporary “front-runner” status in the Democratic primaries through a successful Internet grassroots campaign, and even set up a special page through which shoppers can make presidential campaign donations online to anyone who signed up to be on that page, including Lyndon LaRouche and various “independent” candidates.

When the conservative American Family Association put a gay marriage poll on its Web site, people on the Internet who were in favor of gay marriage circulated messages via mass e-mails, message boards and Weblogs, exhorting like-minded readers to vote on the AFA’s poll. In only days, such Internet activists managed to flood the poll, which soon had registered twice as many respondents in favor of gay marriage than against it. The AFA, unsurprisingly, canceled the poll’s results within a couple of weeks.

This is the power of the Internet: People with similar opinions are able to communicate instantaneously with each other, thus spreading ideas and calls to action at an impressive rate. Through reading the “blogs” of people who have similar viewpoints to their own, Internet denizens can find news articles that are relevant to their pet issues without having to dig through the back pages of more mainstream, corporate news sources. Advertisements that were deemed “too controversial” to air on broadcast television can still reach a large audience on the Internet, and pundits who haven’t broken into the mainstream media may still find a substantial Internet readership.

However, when people are able to settle into niches, they develop increasingly different subcultures. Although The Washington Times and The New York Times will give a reader very different takes on current events, such gaps pale when compared to the differences in leanings among independent Internet news sources, which are better equipped to cater to niche demographics. Viewpoints among Americans are increasingly polarized, and tensions among different demographics have become more pronounced, causing people with a variety of political viewpoints to declare that a “culture war” in America is either ongoing or imminent.

The Internet has clearly played a large part in setting the stage for such a culture war and in providing a kind of virtual battleground. Even better, while one has to pay for a subscription to those obsolete, bulky “newspapers” and must watch television at specific times of the day in order to catch broadcast news shows, the Internet is free for us college students, and most Web sites are available 24-7. So, while the rest of the campus watches primaries coverage on the dorm televisions, I’m staying glued to the computer (at least until November), reading my blogs, forwarding mass e-mails and nervously looking at online real estate in Canada.

Samantha Crane is a columnist for the Swarthmore Phoenix at Swarthmore College.
This column was distributed by U-Wire.

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