Ars Technica Newsdesk, January 12, 2004
Make no mistakes about it, MoveOn.org is a site dedicated to ousting George W. Bush as president in the 2004 elections (it was originally dedicated to getting Congress to "move on" after the Monica Lewinski scandal). What makes MoveOn.org noteworthy is the level of exposure and influence it has as compared to other partisan political sites as of late, and the trend that sites like MoveOn.org reflect. The site has evolved from a kind of grassroots political forum into a powerhouse player that's buying TV ad space and influencing political heehawing. This comes at a time when more and more Americans are turning to the 'net for election coverage, especially younger people more comfortable with the Internet. In an election year where more young voters are expected to turn out, the 'net is heating up as a sincere battle ground for politicians. The curious thing is that, like so many things online, the trends are bucked by people who have their own way of doing things.
While Bush has a war chest to make Napoleon blush, the dicey election contribution laws in the US are leading some donors to lend their support to political agendas by supporting organizations not tied directly to candidates or even parties. And with these newer breeds of organizations, donations and support can be made in an anonymous way. Recently MoveOn.org has received considerable financial support from the left (though the biggest donor was not anonymous), allowing them to run ads in hot spots targeting the president while not explicitly supporting any other contender. Some see this as just another way to play dirty politics (negative politics anonymously), while others see this as an interesting symbiosis of online community and old school political know-how.
A lesser-known, right-leaning group has also experienced, uh, such spontaneous growth. The Club for Growth has been building steam to attack Howard Dean on a number of fronts, but again, the group is neither politically affiliated with a candidate or a party per se. In the case of the Club for Growth, there's a political agenda there that even takes aim at some economic centrists in the Republican party. What I find most interesting about these kinds of groups is this: they're not so much politics as usual as they're surgical instruments with specific aims and interests that cannot be lumped easily into a "MoveOn.org = standard Democrat platform" mentality. And the vehicle is the 'net. For example, MoveOn.org recently sponsored a "Bush in 30 seconds" homegrown ad campaign that's raising quite a ruckus. The winner, to be announced tonight, will be pitched to the major networks for airtime, but even if they get a no-go, the amount of coverage the campaign is receiving online is considerable. This recent AP article details some of the movement's usage of emerging technology to gain a voice where once there wasn't one. Our own Soap Box currently features a thread debating the finalists in the ad contest. The point isn't so much that MoveOn.org is raising eyebrows, but that there's many more sites like this in our future. Welcome to the world of "your own lobby is just a click away...".