Arianna Huffington’s recent mega-payday from AOL was powerful evidence of the tight connection between the hard-left netroots and the online establishment. And AOL isn’t the only web giant to provide apparently favorable treatment to the left. Google has been accused of blocking certain right-wing websites or lowering their standing in search results, and its YouTube subsidiary seems to remove files uploaded by conservatives far more often than offensive content posted by liberals.
The love affair between the tech giants and the big-government left can be traced not only to Silicon Valley’s geographical proximity to San Francisco but also to the two groups’ shared agenda. President Obama’s stated goal of having the FCC regulate the Internet will ensure that bandwidth-heavy websites will not have to pay for the billions of dollars in investments that private broadband companies made. Of course, money from the technology industry flows freely into Democratic coffers.
Yet somehow the right is more than holding its own in the online activism arena.
Tea Party groups are using technology created largely by left-wingers at Harvard and Stanford to denounce — and often defeat — the very shibboleths of establishment liberalism that these institutions stand for. Republican members of Congress are better than their Democratic counterparts at using Facebook and Twitter to inform and motivate their constituents. Ironically, the most adept new media maven among congressional Democrats, Anthony Weiner, was more interested in using these tools for, shall we say, personal gratification than to advance his political ideas. His career is now effectively over — thanks to conservative online activists who would not let the Weinergate story die.
Conservative and libertarian activists have raised millions of dollars for their candidates, recruited tens of thousands of supporters to attend rallies and protests, and influenced legislation at the local and federal level with a click of the mouse. The Tea Parties themselves are partially a Twitter phenomenon, where the influential #tcot hashtag was an early organizing force. The predecessor to the Tea Parties was the remarkable “drill here, drill now” movement in the summer of 2008, which is again picking up steam as gas prices return to economically painful levels.
It is no accident that activists fluent in ideas of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and economic freedom are also well versed in new media and social networking. These tools appeal to their sense of individualism, bypassing the old bureaucracies of big media organizations to give anyone with ideas a platform to share them. It’s a perfect fit for those who believe in a free-market philosophy.
Moreover, our institutional efforts to facilitate sharing of best practices and training in online strategy and techniques have, I hope, played an important role. The RightOnline conference I founded — sponsored by Americans for Prosperity Foundation — is in its fourth year of bringing together political activists and technology gurus. The conference helps to train local leaders, bloggers, and students on the best practices in online communications, and has created a wave of content and excitement that the left cannot match. This year’s event (June 17-18 in Minneapolis) will feature new media luminaries like Andrew Breitbart mixing with political leaders like Michele Bachmann.
It is because the grassroots, bottom-up nature of new media fits so well with the right’s sense of individual liberty and hard work that the Internet battles are more often than not won by conservatives.
While AOL is willing to spend $315 million to purchase the Huffington Post and make rich liberals richer, conservatives remain focused on educating voters and winning key public policy victories. I encourage everyone who believes in the free market to head to the keyboard and join the fight.
Erik Telford is Executive Director of RightOnline (www.RightOnline.com) and Director of Online Strategy for Americans for Prosperity.