How the Internet Could Save Democracy

In June, Mitt Romney’s campaign raised an astonishing $106.1 million, while Pres. Obama pulled in $71 million, reported Citizens United, the SCOTUS ruling that opened the floodgates of corporate spending in political campaigns can be credited for this discrepancy. While our president’s grassroots campaign focuses on smaller donors, Romney’s brings in large sums from wealthy individuals and corporations. These numbers have many people worried, but I’m unconcerned.

Unmitigated cash flow doesn’t matter as much because the internet is undercutting the need for huge campaign budgets. Much of this money is spent is on television ads, yet increasingly, people don’t passively watch TV: they browse the internet. People have control over the content they digest by selecting the sites they go to. Romney’s campaign won’t have the option of harassing viewers indiscriminately with false ads. Viewers can simply click out of it.

This is a new age of media. Websites and blogs are finding their niche, and are becoming more reliable sources of information. Extremist bloggers are frequently cited as representatives of the online community, but this too is changing. Discernment of online material is growing, as credible outlets do. There will come a time soon bloggers will be viewed as columnists; and quality sites are already acknowledged as the same as a newspaper.

This trend may ultimately negate the impact of Citizens United because online content is mostly free to readers. President Obama’s campaign in 2008 figured this out, and had incredible success utilizing the medium. This campaign season will continue down the same vein.

The media was purported by our Founding Fathers to be the fourth branch of government, and indeed the other three can’t function in a healthy way without it. Media is changing in ways that can support democracy.

Romney’s campaign could raise a billion dollars, yet it cannot buy the internet. It cannot own public discourse. All the TV ads in the world cannot control the conversation any longer. The media has diffused in a million directions, cross-pollinating all over the world through the internet. This multiplicity will undo the strangle-hold big corporate money has on political campaigns by allowing more people into the process.