There are a lot of hot button political topics out there. However, some are so deeply rooted in political discourse that they not only manifest as a hot topic on the campaign trail, but impact the machinations behind the scenes, and even the way that we, as private citizens, view politics and consume political information. Technology plays a major role in shaping the political landscape. Evidently, three major ways preside in which technology influences politics– as a tool for political actors on the campaign trail, as an often divisive political topic and as a potential landmine that can upend political aspirations.
Two of the most powerful methods for using technology as a tool include data collection and the use of digital media. For example, Barack Obama famously rose to the position of the President of the United States in large part due thanks to a revolutionary and unprecedented effort at collecting granular data about the demographics and voting patterns of key voters all over the United States. Data collection has always been a key aspect of political and information campaigns, but President Obama’s capitulation brought the potential for the state of data collection to the forefront of national attention. In the following years, such focused and granular data collection – about everything from past voting behavior to household income to internet browsing patterns – has become an essential part of any modern (and successful) political campaign. The data is used to create marketing campaigns to broadcast political messages, cultivate donor relationships to solicit extra donations, as well as identify and assist new voters with getting to the polls.
More controversially, most political candidates and many political organizations have strong stances on many topics that have to do with technology, such as data privacy. Many politicians (and members of the public) feel strongly about securing the rights of individuals to privacy. The “right to be forgotten” has become almost a household term, and in some political circles, such as the Libertarian Party, this right is as crucial to personal liberty as freedom of speech.
Finally, another political hot topic is the regulation of major tech companies who are growing more and more powerful. It’s not difficult to argue that companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple are more powerful than many countries in the world, and so the interest of these entities is also a common topic on the campaign trail. In March, President Trump blocked the acquisition of tech infrastructure giant Qualcomm by Broadcomm, citing national security. This was a controversial move, even to some members of his own political party, who deemed such regulatory moves to be detrimental to economic growth. Along similar lines, but with a more mission-focused bent, is the advent of “fake news,” a term coined during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Fake news is media written and published usually with the intent to mislead, in order to damage an entity or person, or to gain financially or politically. Fake news often utilizes sensationalist, dishonest or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership. The internet has given fake news an unparalleled platform for distribution.
Technology and politics have always been connected, dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution, which led to some of the most seminal issues in American history, such as labor protections. But in recent years, they have become more or less inseparable. You can’t engage in politics without engaging in technology, and you can’t use technology – whether you’re a tech visionary, consumer of digital media, or avid Tweeter – without engaging in politics as a whole.