Media Mêlée: The Emergence of the Internet as a Political Vehicle in Canadian Election Campaigns

Elliott Silverstein
Communication & Culture, York University / Ryerson University
January, 2001
 

Abstract


Welcome to the world of cyberpolitics. Combined with the Internet’s mainstream adoption, this new convergent medium has, and will continue to have, significant implications surrounding how election campaigns function. This exploratory study tackles the characteristics and issues surrounding the inclusion of the Internet into the political arena, highlighting differences between “push” and “pull” media. The Internet’s presence as a political tool is examined, concentrating on online practices by parties, interest groups, and media during Canadian elections between 1995 and 2000. Both the 1999 Ontario provincial election and the 2000 federal campaign are accentuated, as they provide contemporary examples of the Internet’s incorporation into modern election campaigns, for better and for worse.



With a primary focus on federal, provincial and municipal campaigns within the Greater Toronto Area, this examination of the Internet’s vast capabilities indicate that it is increasingly being integrated into current election campaigns, and for various political purposes.



As the Internet’s presence in election campaigns is a relatively new phenomenon, many issues have surfaced, highlighting both the lack of, and need for, effective policies to manage such evolving matters. In particular, this paper closely examines Internet broadcasts of election night results, political advertising online, the presence and increased use of “attack” Web sites by parties and citizens alike, online voting, and the use of preexisting domains by incumbents for reelection purposes, which were used for constituency purposes during their previous mandate.



This review of the Internet’s presence in election campaign involves an examination of political party, interest group and media Web sites, and the content they provided to visitors, including the emerging trend of online fundraising and political e-commerce. This analysis was facilitated, in part, through a series of interviews conducted via telephone and e-mail, and an investigation of Web sites throughout recent election campaigns.



In all, the Internet can be recognized as a rapidly evolving political medium, which remains unable to operate independent from other media. However, the Internet has proven to be, and should be regarded as, an effective political tool which should be employed by all candidates at every level of government. Moreover, the Internet, during its limited existence, has significantly rearranged the political landscape and has the potential to further the political process in subsequent campaigns. However, it is imperative that laws governing election campaigns in Canada increasingly encompass evolving issues on the Internet. This research depicts an increasing need for regulations to cover the numerous issues unfolding on the Internet, including the dissemination of election results, and protocols for candidates and parties (both incumbent and challengers) to follow when crafting an Internet campaign.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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