The Urgency of Digital Politics in 2021

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the 2021 edition of “How to Use the Internet to Change the World – and Win Elections”.

If I could describe politics at the beginning of 2021 in one word, it would be “unsettled”. As I finish this text, the world remains in the grip of a vicious pandemic that has disrupted life in countries large and small and killed far too many of us. In America, millions of people just used the peaceful power of the ballot to change their leadership democratically. Inspired by their president and organized via social media, thousands of others just launched a violent attempt to change that outcome by force. Across the planet, activists have risen up against oppressive governments and sensible pandemic precautions alike. The future feels uncertain, our fates teetering on a sharp edge.

But upheaval creates opportunity alongside chaos. Activists, organizers and leaders now have political technologies in their hands that previous generations could not imagine. The tools don’t care who uses them, though, and demagogues can captivate minds via digital channels as easily as do-gooders. In America, the hard work of building trust in democracy has run smack into a web of conspiracy fever-dreams, and our situation is far from unique. But obstacles like these fade next to what we can achieve when we work together to create the lives we want to live and the societies we want to bequeath. In times like these, our actions matter.

As 2021 progresses, we simply can’t know how events will play out, but political campaigns, advocacy organizations and individual activists will surely rely on the tools and tactics described in this book to fuel their everyday work. National political dynamics will loom large for many candidates running for office, but plenty of political races will buck the national trends, hinging on local issues and local personalities. Some political fights will be entirely independent of campaigns for office: they’ll revolve around issues, organizations and initiatives, not candidates. Around the world, citizens are restless, and traditional political actors risk being upstaged by the people they usually seek to influence and govern. It’s on us to make sure that the results are to our benefit, not to our hard regret.

Twenty years ago, political communications depended on television, but we live in 2020 and the world has changed. From Ankara to Alabama, the internet has become an integral part of the political battlefield. Smart campaigns from Senate to city council will integrate digital tools into their plans to contact, persuade and mobilize voters. Activists will do the same, whether they’re fighting for democracy or for a little clean water. More than at any time in history, everyday people have the power to change the world. How will YOU use it?

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