It’s getting to that time again – the general election on the web

On Thursday there’s an event on at the US Embassy where a panel will present their thoughts on the influence of the web on the US election and, laterally, what it all might mean for the UK.

This will be the first of a flurry of online campaigning analysis as minds begin to focus on a general election at some point in the next two years.

Online campaigning is interesting for lots of different reasons: for academics it means data, the media see a rich source of scoops, and the parties see massive PR potential, if not a direct route to voters. No prizes for guessing what new media consultants see. For the electorate, online campaigning should mean having access to a sufficient amount of information on which to base informed decisions.

While all are agreed on the desirability of electioneering online, there is no agreement on what is feasible and what is worth doing. Online campaigning is still a ‘grey area’, which makes it a nightmare for the regulators – and probably the electorate – but while everything is up for grabs it also means that online campaigning is a rich source of innovation in a otherwise pretty mundane area of politics.

The event is invitation only but the FT is streaming it and has asked for questions to pose to the panelists. I’ve got a few:

  • What proportion of election resources will the winning party put into its campaign?
  • Can the parties genuinely strike a balance between presentation and functionality online – that is, can the parties truly offer something of value to the voter or is it all about appearances?
  • In the age of the permanent campaign and the social web, does online campaigning have to stop when the polls close?
  • The last time the Electoral Commission looked at regulation of campaigning online was 2003, and it concluded that there was nothing to be specifically concerned about online. Is this still the case?

I’ve formed views on these questions from research and discussions with ‘stakeholders’ of online campaigning. But what are yours?

2 thoughts on “It’s getting to that time again – the general election on the web

  1. Interestingly, when Justin Kerr-Stevens ( and I attended the politics online conference ( in Washington earlier this year we heard about how online campaigning by politicians was used to drum-up voter support for their cause and raise money. These campaigns used social media as a new channel to interact with people it may not have other wised reached, which is seemingly a huge selling point for UK politicians. However, I would question whether it is possible to transfer the lessons learned in the US to the UK given the different democratic structures and processes.

    Having said that, it is still worth investigating and I’m particularly interested in the outcomes of the event you highlighted as it directly relates to the work that I’ve been tasked to do at DIUS, which is to engage with existing online communities on how to stimulate innovation in the public sector (corporate function) and the regions. As Ministers are very keen for officials to explore new channels of collaboration and deliberation with citizens if they then chose to enter these online discussions does this classify as campaigning? Perhaps this is a question for the panellists.

    I will be sure to tune into the FT webcast of this event. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Ross.

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