frontline 11

dot.communism | Making the web work for political campaigns

Alister Black looks at how US politicians are making very effective use of the web, how the Scottish Parliament online presence shapes up and rounds up some of the latest sites.

In the last issue of Frontline I touched on how politicians are increasingly seeing the internet as a useful campaigning tool. In the US, where launching a political campaign is an expensive business, it has also helped to level the playing field slightly. One of the contenders for the democratic candidature for the US Presidency, Howard Dean has attracted a lot of attention from supporters and rivals alike, because of the way he has used the web in his campaign. With a tiny staff and relatively little money Dean was able to cut across the big money campaigns and actually organise on the ground by using the internet.

He used an internet service called 'meet up', which was originally designed for people with an interest in a specific area, whether stamps or hamster breeding, to find others living nearby. The Dean campaign used this to bring together Dean supporters in each town and city of the US. Dean was able to organise an amazing 130, 000 supporters across the US. These supporters then organised grassroots meetings across the country.

Dean also has a blog and was one of the first politicians to really use the medium effectively. A blog is a regularly updated online journal. He solicits feedback from supporters and enemies alike. Each post can get up to 300 responses from readers in easy to use comments boxes on his site. Dozens of his supporters have also set up their own blogs and websites.

Along with online surveys, polls and petitions Dean has used the net as an effective way of giving his supporters and constituents a voice.

The majority of funds raised for the Dean campaign has come from online donations. One commentator noted that "Dean has made better use of the internet than most Nigerian entrepreneurs". He has raised millions via his website.

Dean's efforts have spurred his rivals to try to follow suit. George Bush has a slick online campaign. He even has a blog now, although it is highly unlikely that he writes it himself. British politicians are sure to take note - expect the next election to be fought just as hard in cyberspace as it is on the streets.

What none of this changes is the politics behind the sites. A cool website does not make a cool politician. Young people in particular are very web-savvy now, for many the web is the first place they turn for information, but they are not stupid. An effective online campaign is a big plus but you have to get the politics right first.

Site Roundup.

There are a few new sites out there which are worth checking out. describes itself as a Marxist Documents and Information page. Based in England it is sympathetic to the SSP and the idea of building new parties. It carries a lot of useful stuff including translations I haven't seen elsewhere and debates on some of the key issues of the day. It even includes material carried first in Frontline. The design of the site has improved a lot since it first went up. Marxsite seems to be heading in the right direction and is well worth a look.

If you are looking for information on what is going on in Venezuela or Bolivia the following sites have a lot of useful information.

has articles in English on Venezuela seems to be a US based site giving very regular updates on the situation in the country in English. It contains some absolutely essential articles. Indymedia Bolivia is, of course, the first place to look for the very latest information, live reports, film and photos of what is happening in Bolivia.

Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament has made quite an effort to make itself accessible using the web. Transcripts of all the key debates can be read online so you can cut out the media distortions. It is also easy to use the Parliament website to get info about your MSP's, how to contact them, what questions they have asked in the parliament and more.

The site itself could do a little more to make itself fully accessible for the disabled and ensure its compatibility with different operating systems and browsers by being standards compliant. The sites code fails the basic accessibility tests at the online service Bobby

The parliament also recently set up a service whereby the Scottish Executive could send out updates via SMS text to your mobile phone or via email. A great initiative. I signed up to check it out. Unfortunately there has only been one email in about two months and that was completely illegible not to mention slow loading.

Oh well, if you want to watch your money being spent you can always check on the progress of the new Holyrood parliament building via an online webcam.