Thomas Jefferson once wrote “The best defense of democracy is an informed electorate.” The Internet could be a positive or negative force in this regard. On the one hand, it makes it too easy to only hear from those sources that agree with youon different subjects. On the other hand, the full spectrum of political views and discourse are equally available.
I find that “first sources” are perhaps most valuable of all when I’m trying to make a judgment. I don’t want to hear what one candidate says that an opponent believes; I want to hear straight from the candidate where he or she stands (…or doesn’t stand, if they’re hopping about on some issues). As a result, I was encouraged to see the results reported by MSNBC about their online coverage of the Democratic National Convention last month. According to a company press release, their Web site streamed more than 1.2 million live video streams during the convention. The release also stated that MSNBC streamed 5.6 million videos on August 29 (many of which were presumably related to the convention) while CNN delivered an additional 4.9 million streams the same day.
I expect that many individual viewers watched more than just one of those 10+ million video streams, so the number of people watching the clips was likely a lot smaller than 10 million. Nielsen reports that Obama’s acceptance speech drew 38.4 million viewers. However, this means that the number of online viewers is becoming a noticeable share of the total audience. Given the online ability to watch what you want, when you want, and where you want, I expect to see that people will be using the Internet to get political information even more and more as time goes on.
And given the wealth of content that is available to all of us through online video, we have reason to hope that we’ll get an increasingly informed electorate. And that can only be a good thing.