This year's Democratic primaries weren't just fought on the hustings and in the television studios. Some of the fiercest battles took place in the blogosphereby Peter Jukes / October 25, 2008 / Leave a comment
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I’ve spent much of the last year on the front line of one of the most contentious presidential nomination contests in memory—without moving from my London desk. I have been part of something historic: the first great political battle to take place in cyberspace.
For many in Britain, blogging, especially political blogging, is a bit of a disappointment. Many of our political sites are tacked on to party websites, or are simply online versions of established media outlets. They tend to be either controlled, conformist and rather dull, or unmoderated rants, the kind of online graffiti rightly parodied by Private Eye.
The US offers a glimpse of something different—how the internet can transform news and opinion. It is ten years since the Drudge Report broke the Lewinsky scandal. These days, American sites like Talking Points Memo, Politico and (as Andrew Keen described in the August issue of Prospect) the Huffington Post regularly scoop the conventional media by hours, or even days.
But what is happening now is more profound than a digital acceleration of the news cycle. The social networking craze best known through websites such as Facebook and MySpace has spilled over into politics, giving birth to an online form of grassroots activism, which includes campaigning, fundraising and advocacy—a movement known in the US as the “netroots”—some of it linked to mainstream parties (and their factions) some of it independent. Although Republicans are active in this area too—many attribute Bush’s 2004 victory to an email database that activated right-wing votes—it is with the liberal/progressive netroots that the political blogosphere has come of age.
By 2007, the annual Netroots Nation conference had become such a key event in the Democratic calendar that it was attended by all the presidential candidates (bar Joe Biden). When the scandal of John Edwards’s affair erupted a couple of months ago, it was on the most visited progressive site, Daily Kos, that Edwards’s wife Elizabeth released her public statement in response, and then replied to comments from some of the site’s 100,000 active members. More practically, congressional candidates regularly contribute to netroots sites to argue their cases, rally support and, most importantly, raise money.
The seeds of this can be traced back to 1998, when moveon.org was formed in response to Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. In their first decade, the progressive netroots have…