E-campaigns gain momentum overseas

With the highest percentage of broadband users in the world, it only stands to reason that much of South Korea’s political campaigning takes place on the Internet. Experts see indications that campaigns in the North America may be catching a similar case of online fever.

South Korea’s government has established a national elections commission Web site, says Steve Cliff, a strategist with E-Democracy, a group that promotes similar types of political sites in the U.S. Despite the South Korean site’s state sponsorship, organizers are making an effort to keep the site independent, he says.

The site’s mantra is, “Judge wisely and choose precisely, or a bright future will not be reserved for you.” In keeping with that philosophy, the site offers a range of candidate information, including independent tax investigations, criminal records, campaign financing, and past voting records.

In an attempt to curb South Korea’s historical political corruption problems, the commission’s site features streaming animated videos encouraging citizens to report any suspect political action.

One video depicts two men in a car exchanging money when suddenly their facial expressions change from joy to panic. The scene widens and it becomes clear that you are watching the exchange through a camera phone. Someone with a mobile phone has just snapped a photo of the bribe and is dialing the electoral regulatory office to report it.

The government-sponsored site also hosts a special section for youth voters. According to Cliff, it features the South Korean equivalent of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. The celebrities encourage young voters to research candidates and register to vote. The government offers prizes to young people who register on the site.

The youth pages also offer campaign songs in .mp3 format for downloading. Teenagers can use the songs as background music for their homemade music videos; these videos are then uploaded to the site for their friends and other teens around the world to see. The novice music videos are intended to attract youth involvement and support of politics in South Korea’s new democracy.

While South Korea’s democracy is still in infancy, its use of technology to promote political involvement is leaps and bounds ahead of North America, where electronic campaigning and information is mostly mobilizing on a local level.

U.S. efforts to encourage youth voting and overall public awareness of political campaigns are slowly gaining momentum, according to Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Groups such as meetup.com have organized local groups to gather and discuss politics in cities all over the United States. Yahoo.com’s neighborhood lists allow people to communicate on a local level about important issues in their community.

E-Democracy offers visitors hundreds of links to electoral nonprofits, news organizations, blogs, pages dedicated to each candidate, and plenty other avenues for information. The site also features chat rooms, where users are required to use their real name and are only allowed to post messages twice a day, Cliff says. These restrictions are designed to prevent a few users from dominating the online dialog, he explains.

The organization’s Web site also “monitors the underbelly of campaigns,” Cliff says, adding that as the Net gains momentum in the political arena there is an increase in smear campaigns launched over the Internet.

Cliff says that the Internet offers the public a space for people to talk about the issues. He hopes that in the future candidates will take the online experience seriously and participate in Internet chats, giving the public a chance to directly communicate with their officials and eliminating some of the partisan politics.

Emily Kumler writes for the Medill News Service.

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