Bimber uses the introduction section of chapter 4 to lay out the arguments he intends to address in the following sections of chapter 4. The chapter starts off with the introduction of Mike McCurry, a pioneer in the Political Internet Business, who started the firm Grassroots.com with the initial goal of providing "Internet-basedcommunications and mobilization products for the American political market."(111) McCurry's actions illustrate the "new political processes and opportunities associated with changes in the information environment of American politics."(111) Bimber then cites the NAM's use of "electronic mail networks and a password-secured wed site to coordinate a very rapid and intense exchange of information among groups, including working drafts of legislation that would be requested of Congress." (115) Bimber then alludes to the fact that
"the internet has brought more people into the loop…it just picks up the pace on everything…(and) gives everyone more time to communicate."(115) Bimber continues in the introduction to reveal the rest of chapter 4 will look at particular case studies to show how the "Internet could play two major roles: providing a means for highly responsive, rapid coordination among groups, and facilitating the large-scale mobilization of citizens."(116)
Consumer Protection and Privacy investigates the "Know Your Customer" regulations proposed by the FDIC, which hoped to identify money laundering through national banks. This regulation "would require each banking organization to develop a program designed to determine the identity of its customers; determine its customers' sources of funds; determine, understand and monitor the normal and expected transactions of its customers; and report appropriately any
transaction of its customers that are determined to be suspicious."(128) Insisting this proposed legislation infringed upon
civil liberties, the Libertarian Party sought to challenge the "Know Your Customer" proposed regulations. However, "the party lacked both the funds for a major mass media advertising campaign and a sufficiently large membership to provide much of a direct political threat."(130) Thus the Libertarian Party set out to create chain letter-type phenomenon, which they hoped would "leverage citizen involvement beyond he party's own membership."(130) Eventually the
Libertarian Party succeeds in their attempt of using the internet as a "new means of organizing collective action" and defeated the proposed regulations. (132)
Environmental Advocacy section highlighted how the power of the internet could be used to take "environmental activism to the next level."(139) Bimber cites the EDF who "undertook a major change in strategy in an effort exploit new possibilities for communication and information management made possible by the internet."(139) the key element of the internet was its capability of narrowing and focusing "information-rich messages linking local events and issues with citizens' individual interests. Prior to the internet, environmental groups worked more on a national level which overlooked many local
issues. Due to these new information and communication systems, environmental organizations have "dramatically ramped up the amount of cooperation and coordination with other groups because of its move onto the web and use of Internet-based communication."(147) Bimber closes this section of chapter 4 with an interesting conclusion; the internet has not only enhanced the capabilities of lobbying groups it has also changed the relationships between lobbying groups.
Campaigns for Office in 2000
According to Bimber, with the development of new technology the Internet has found an advantageous role in election campaigns. It is a new medium for political communication. Web sites can now supplement TV ads and allow a new venue for communication between voters and candidates. In 1992, a few candidates used e-mail to organize themselves externally as well as inform supporters. In 1998, the use of Internet expanded, but only well endowed candidates could use the Internet to their advantage because it was very expensive to create a Web site. The Internet offered real value for interaction with supporters. For example, Reform candidate Jesse Ventura relied exclusively on his Web site and e-mails and had no paid employees. Instead, he organized volunteers to run campaign events through his Web site. This produced about $600,000 in donations. Information technology was vital to his victory. By 2000, the Internet became an even more widely used tool in election campaigns
especially for the under-dogs. It was used to engage supporters, raise volunteers, collect donations, and send out informative e-mails. Bimber goes on to talk about the different experiments with Internet that candidates have used. He explains that in the end, the Internet cannot displace traditional media.
Summary of the Cases
All five cases show some sort of post-bureaucratic organization. The cases show the relationship between politics and and information technology and changes in organizational structure that have occurred. Smaller organizations are able to use the Internet to replace staff and lack of money. Larger organizations also use the low-cost communication to reach more people. Bimber says that technology expands the capacity to organize collective action. These cases also show that information abundance can lead to the fall in traditionally bureaucratic forms of political organization. However, the cases also show that there is a limited capacity to Internet and cannot displace other media like broadcast and television.
CHAPTER 5 centers on the question of whether or not the increased abundance of information and new structures for collective, action are linked to broader political engagement—is information producing more responsible, informed and virtuous citizens? He outlines the voter turnout trends from the first revolution to the third—which started in the 1820s at 80 percent and decreased to 50 percent by the 1980’s, only increasing once in the 1960s era.
Before delving into the true examination of why this might be, Bimber outlines the two theoretical assumption of the relationship between information abundance and engagement
1) Rational/instumental model assumes (202-203):
- that changes in the cost and variety of sources of information directly affects levels of political participation. As information becomes more inexpensive and abundant, citizens are more likely to participate.
- It is not possible for an individual to know what information is most relevant if he or she doesn’t know all of the content of information. Thus it becomes necessary for the public to establish “gatherers and transmitters” of information to reduce the uncertainty.
2) Psychological Model assumes:
- As information costs fall and sources multiply, the information-rich get richer and the information poor stay poor.
- Acquisition of new information does not necessarily make citizens better informed in an objective sense. (Individuals search for information that they believe, thus reinforcing opinions, “Citizens do not use a richer and more diverse media environment to better inform themselves about conflicting ideas and positions, but instead select a narrower and more parochial set of sources.” )
- The process whereby political information stimulates political engagement is contingent upon social context,
Bimber then explores the validity of theoretical approaches, by examining the demographics of those with access to internet technology between 1996 and 2001 and how they use this tool to politically search or engage. We see that between these times, the gap between educated and uneducated users decreased and the number of female users also increased. By 2001, the digital divide between users and nonusers was most visible in the areas of education and race (those with more education & income were still more likely to have access, and elders, women and Latinos less likely). As far as the actual use of internet, statistics displayed an increase in the extent to which users politically engaged online, but not markedly (in my opinion)—less than half of 2001’s users used the internet for political purposes at all.
Lastly, he uses NES data to examine the correlation between the number of individuals that partake in certain political activities (such as putting up lawn signs, donating money to campaigns, and voting). In essence, Bimber concludes that his findings are similar to that of the psychological theoretical assumption: the new information environment does not substantially change political engagement. The results, he admits, are so null and unsubstantial that they offer little insight into the true effect of the fourth information revolution’s effect on political participation.
Bimber essentially sums up his argument by explaining that, despite the incredible impact of the contemporary information revolution we currently are experiencing, this new abundance of information only serves to reinforce patterns of political behavior and involvement at the individual level that have existed since before the revolution began (229). For example, though such a plethora of political information exists that it would be so easy to research and inform oneself about politics, only those who wanted to be politically informed before are primarily the ones who continue to seek political information through new media and information techologies (229). Interestingly, Bimber concludes his book by introducing a model that he simultaneously lauds, yet does not completely support. Dahl believes the remedy for this inequality in information gathering is to utiilize telecommunications technology, because the availaibility of and access to the information will surely lessen any gaps in public participation between various parties (241). Similar to Bimber, Dahl acknowledges that, even in the face of all this information, only a subset of the population will participate in political decision-making and information-gathering. However, he says, this subset is still a substantial enough group to constitute a "check and counterbalance against the power of professional, institutionalized information elites" (241). Bimber offers more information both for and against Dahl's theory, and concludes both hopefully and skeptically that only time will tell whether or not that small subset will be large enough to constitute a Fourth Estate during the Fourth Information Revolution (249).
GROUP FOUR QUESTIONS:
1.How have political groups and interest groups integrated the use of
the internet to influence the general public who maybe unaware of
specific issues or political ideals?
2.Do you think the internet will be used more during the next
presidential election? If so how and to what degree do you think the
internet will affect the outcome?
3.Is it feasible to foresee the internet as facilitating the growth
and emergence of a united third party?
4. How would you describe the virtuous citizen today?
5. How would you describe your use of the Internet as a tool for political engagement, and what implications does the availability of this have on your role as a “citizen?”
6. In his analysis, Bimber does not address the indirect effects of technology on citizen engagement. What are the ways in which citizens’ political participation are indirectly influenced by the increased abundance of rich information found in the fourth revolution?