Where’d the Internet Go?

doug_thompsonBy Doug Thompson

The Internet got Blanche Lincoln an opponent in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. That’s a big deal, I acknowledge. However, it’s been a mixed blessing at best for the guy it helped find.

Other than that, I haven’t seen much that’s new or interesting out of the Internet in the whole 2010 primary election season, one of the busiest and most rabid in many a year.

It’s as if MoveOn.org got Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in this race, then the Web just lost interest.

Or maybe it’s just become part of the background noise. When everybody’s Twittering, what’s new?

We have a year in which there are 22 Republicans running for Congress in this state. Most are political unknowns. Most need something new and interesting to distinguish themselves. Almost all of them have well-run, polished Web sites. None in a crowded race has emerged from the pack, and it appears that most of the races will boil down to the same old name recognition contests they would have boiled down to if the Internet didn’t exist.

Here’s my point: As a money-raising tool, the Internet possesses proven, enormous power. As a vote-getter, however, it’s not so great because everybody has parity now. Everybody’s doing the e-mails.

Therefore, the Internet — the supposed great leveler of campaigns that was to give everybody a shot — has done the exact opposite. It further increases the power and influence of money. If a lefty (or rigthty, or whatever) Web site runs an article on you and carries a link to your campaign Web site’s contribution page, some lefty (or righty, or whatever) will give you money.

Carrying the logic a little further, the Internet makes the polarization of the country and its two major political parties much, much worse. Nuts and zealots who’d give money to anybody espousing their position can find you and donate with a few clicks of the mouse.

I realize I’m generalizing from one election year in a small Southern state, but I appear to be on pretty solid ground here. Yes, Halter got his real “seed money” from labor, a traditional liberal Democratic source. However, he’s received more than $2 million at last count from liberals all over the country who don’t know him from Adam.

The whole thing begs the question of whether $2 million is worth being branded as the candidate of people who live out of state and only heard of you on the Internet — who’ve never even met you, who wouldn’t recognize your voice if you called them on the phone.

At least they’ve seen your picture. Perhaps that will spare everybody embarrassment if Halter ever actually bumps into somebody who gave him $500 once. At least his donor would recognize him.

So far, the best service the Internet has afforded me is the opportunity to stay away from television. If some new attack ad makes the news, I can look at it on YouTube without having to listen to a barrage on the TV until it gets to the one I want.

According to a recent column by Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman and chief executive officer—whose company has the processing power to know — fully 80 percent of the “news reporting” on the Internet or carried by the Internet contains no original content: none, zero, zip. Of the remaining 20 percent, half comes from newspapers.

I’ve notice a lot since the newspaper I work at went behind a pay wall, which means you can’t read our stuff for free, much less copy and paste it. As I’ve said before, a lot of news at alternative sites simply disappeared. What little there is usually flares up when we publish an account or an opinion somebody strongly disagrees with.

I think this is contributing to the strange muting of the Internet that is my main topic with this column. The newspaper business isn’t providing “free” content anymore. I was reminded of that rather forcefully when a candidate for Congress was told by the newspaper to pull the paper’s editorial endorsement off his official campaign Web site — immediately.

We won’t even let the people we endorse use our stuff for free any more. The free ride is over.

Categories: Legacy Archive