by Kent Morrison
12 p.m. on January 20, 2009 was a time of change in the United States. It was at exactly this hour that Barack Obama was officially inaugurated as the president and before he even raised his right hand in oath, he had already set forth a drastic change across the world.
As the clock struck noon Obama’s new presidential website was officially launched, instantly replacing George W. Bush’s homepage at www.whitehouse.gov.
The site is an extension of the new president’s campaign to make his administration the most accessible in U.S. It proclaims to “use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens.”
As newer generations of voters become more web-based, it is essential for government agencies to get online.
“Our generation goes to the internet before anything else and it will be even more so for generations after us,” said Mark Raffey, a political science major at the University of Regina.
The internet was a tool that Obama wielded early in his campaign. He used social network sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Flikr to not only inform, but connect with the public.
Dubbed “web 2.0” participatory internet allows users to access information as well as make comments about what they see to other viewers and Obama himself.
“It is not a cold medium like television, where you just sit and take in information,” said Raffey. “It encourages interaction like we have not seen before”
Obama’s new presidential site follows the same format. It allows viewers to see his policies on 24 issues such as health care, immigration and the economy as well as a link to current press releases regarding the White House. It also offers a new blog feature which offers instant updates as the president goes about his day.
The “contact us” portion of the website provides users with a way to email comments and concerns the president and his staff.
Though Obama’s “web 2.0” campaign was like nothing seen before in politics, Canada’s own government is also making strides to become more tech-friendly. The federal website provides an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed which allows users to sign up for instant updates via email and even Stephen Harper himself has his own Facebook page.
There is no question that internet networks will be an integral part of politics for years to come, however some users are wary about what lies ahead as web campaigns progress.
While the internet allows quick easy access to a vast array of information, users still need to take an analytical approach.
“Many people go online and expect to get all the information they need, but a lot of what is online is propaganda and a lot of input is biased,” said John Klein, a tech analyst and active blogger.
Klein also added that things may not always be as they appear on the internet.
In 2005 Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert landed in hot water after it was discovered that a public opinion poll posted on the government website had been tampered with. The poll, which was designed to see if the public supported a new energy plan, was rigged to show overwhelming support for the premier no matter how users voted.
However, many people hackers have interfere with similar polls to sway them in their personal favour using SPAM software.
“There are people on the web who like to cause trouble,” said Klein. “Sabotage is high on the web is high.”
Despite the inherent security risks involved with web politics, most believe that it is the way of the future and the reward is worth the risk.
“It is much better to have it than to not have it,” said Klein. “If you aren’t on the internet then you are invisible to a lot of people.”
There is no telling how much the internet will influence politics in the coming years, but for now the public needs to upgrade to the latest software, politics 2.0.