Micah Sifry

The "Stop Hillary Clinton" group on Facebook is a million people strong. Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken was stung by a blogger – Michael Brodkorb – who unearthed damaging details about Franken's business tax filings. Conservatives are discussing John McCain's conservative bona fides. Videos, emails, talking points, petitions – everything but the kitchen sink – is flying at politicians these days.

It's a whole new ball game out there.

We've lost count of all the national figures who have been impacted by online activism. Millions of small donors, people giving less than $200 per donation, have flooded into the presidential campaign process. Far more people are making, watching and sharing online content—from blogs to videos—than are visiting the candidates' own websites. And well more than half the electorate, especially the young, are relying on the internet for political information, rather than traditional news sources like newspapers or TV.

Try to imagine Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton without the Internet. It's like imagining Ronald Reagan without television. Just on YouTube alone, his videos have been viewed nearly 50 million times, four times as many as Clinton and twelve times as many as McCain. He's approaching 900,000 friends on Facebook, again vastly outpacing the other candidates. Without the internet, there's no way that Obama's campaign would have already surpassed 1.5 individual donors at this stage in the cycle.

Four years ago, we wrote these words:

Democracy in America is changing. A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of capital-intensive broadcast politics. Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader. If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.

The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero. Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation. More people, everyday, are discovering this new power. After years of being treated like passive subjects of marketing and manipulation, they want to be heard. Members expect a say in the decision-making process of the organizations they join. Readers want to talk back to the news-makers. Citizens are insisting on more openness and transparency from government.

All the old institutions and players--big money, top-down parties, big-foot journalism, cloistered organizations--must adapt or face losing status and power. Personal Democracy, where everyone is a full participant, is coming.

Micah Sifry

Micah L. Sifry is a co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, a daily website and annual conference on technology and politics.
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