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British Politics and the Internet

The internet has changed the nature of the mass media and to a significant degree may be replacing them.

The New Media and Social Media are not terms that are clearly defined but clearly technological changes have taken place in the last 20 years that may become as significant as the development of the printing press in the 15th century.[amazon_link asins=’0198739850′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’brituniversity-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’46665807-9b6b-45b2-8a9c-4d61aaa3356b’]

These changes are:-

  • Digital technology has allowed for the content of communications to be divided into units that could be organised in a much more flexible way than previously possible.
  • The storage of images, sounds and texts digitally so that all these could be transmitted easily.
  • The Internet provided a means to communicate large amounts of material quickly and easily. It was opened to the public in 1992.
  • Personal computers meant that the benefits of digital technology and the internet were widely available although, despite access in public libraries and internet cafes, there is an issue as to which groups of the population do not have internet access.
  • Rich Site Summary (RSS) feeds which allowed for the regular updating of internet sites.
  • Out of these technological developments have developed a whole range of techniques that we are now familiar with such as podcasts, social networks, text messaging, blogs, wikis, virtual worlds and so on.

New Forms of Communication

These changes allow for a new form of communication. Previously society had two types of communication:-

Person to Person Communication

This is two or more people talking to each other and was the basis of everyday conversation and small group discussion, for example, in small meetings.[amazon_link asins=’1514713993′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’brituniversity-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’d2c98bda-476b-485f-9783-4f7b67a75e2c’]

Over distances this was originally only possible by the fairly laborious mechanism of letter writing (although the political class in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used this extensively and a great deal of political history depends on the reading of the letters that have been preserved in archives) but later extended via the telephone. This is interactive communication

Mass Communication

This is one to many from the ruler speaking to the people in the central square to all the modern means of mass communication (newspapers, radio, television) but in all cases the content was controlled by the sender. However, the same message is sent to all the people receiving it. Feedback in terms of letters to papers and telephone phone-ins provide some though limited interaction.

New Opportunities

The internet provided new opportunities for both of the existing forms of communication.

Person to person

Person to person takes place via email and mass communication via newspaper, commercial, government or party political websites giving out information and opinion. But it also made a new many to many communication possible with control by both the sender and receiver.

Digital technology means that the message can be tailored by the sender to different individuals. The newspaper website can be organised to just provide the items that the receiver is interested in and the political party can send more individualised messages. All this depends, of course, on collecting data about individuals.

Communication between groups of people is also possible creating virtual communities related to particular interests and computer mediated forms of production, distribution and communication are developing.

Many to Many Communication

Many to Many communication is most in evidence in what have been called the Social Media or, sometimes, Web 2.0 technology, which allows not just the provision of information but the ability to connect with others.

The social media are social, collaborative, interactive and responsive. AJAX technology which allows websites to communicate with the browser meant that the social media can be constantly updated so that users are always aware of new items.

The social media have expanded rapidly with MySpace in 2003, Facebook 2004, YouTube 2005 and Twitter 2006 and it has been pointed out that academic research is bound to be behind the changes that are taking place.