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SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

#004--August 11, 1998; For immediate release
Contact:Rol Risska
Phone: 415/338-1665

Politics and the Internet: San Francisco State professor examines increasing impact of new technology on elections

In "Electronic Whistle-Stops: The Impact of the Internet on American Politics," a San Francisco State University professor presents an intriguing analysis of how computers are reshaping politics.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- August 11, 1998 -- New technologies often make a significant impact on the development of American politics. A new book by Gary W. Selnow, associate professor of business analysis and computing systems at San Francisco State University, titled Electronic Whistle-Stops: The Impact of the Internet on American Politics (Praeger, 1998), explores the intersection between computers and campaigns.

Fifty years ago, the political whistle-stop tour was so named because trains blew their whistles twice when making unscheduled stops in backwater towns. Like its distant cousin, the electronic whistle-stop brings the candidate's message directly to the people, but with one outstanding difference: the new whistle-stop offers politicians an accuracy, efficiency, and success at voter persuasion unimaginable to earlier whistle-stoppers such as Harry Truman.

As Selnow shows, American political campaigns have an extraordinary affinity for electronic devices. They have seized upon electronic bulletin boards, home pages, and electronic libraries. Since political campaigns are communication campaigns, Selnow concludes that candidates who successfully inform, persuade, enlighten, and even confuse voters will win votes. Selnow also examines the debate between those who argue that new technologies have improved efficiency and those who believe that the innovat ions have affected society in other ways.

The author organizes the book into three major sections. Part one outlines past formats of technological influence in political history, such as newspapers, radio, and television, and continues with a look at the Internet's place in the evolution of the media. Part two introduces ideas about why political communication on the Internet is both worthwhile and effective. The third part explores, among other things, the impact of the Internet on how journalists gather information for stories.

Among the provocative ideas presented by Selnow is his assertion of the Internet's special impact at the grass-roots level. The author argues that with the Internet, the public has an extraordinary tool for political communication, what he calls "a deliciously democratic confusion of tongues." Because of its "democracy of access" any interest group from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association can have a similar site at the same affordable rate. It's a long shot, the author writes, but th e importance of money in political campaigns may lessen as campaigns join the Web.

Although television and radio currently have a more dramatic impact on the election process than the Internet may seem to have, considering that the Internet has only been widely available since 1993 its impact is impressive. Selnow points out that about 2,000 political discussion groups formed on the Internet during the 1996 election and about 85 percent of all U.S. Senate candidates had Web sites. Candidates are able to track users who view their site, discern their interests from the items they view, and craft personalized appeals to those users.

Gary Selnow is the developer of America's Voice, a nation-wide program using television and the Internet to air the political views of American voters. He is the author or editor of six books, including Society's Impact on Television and High-Tech Campaigns.

San Francisco State University is a highly diverse community of 27,000 students and 3,500 faculty and staff. It is one of the largest campuses of the nationally-recognized 23-campus California State University system. Founded in 1899, the University is approaching its 100th year of service to San Francisco, the Bay Area, California and beyond.


A limited number of books are available for review upon request.

This release was co-written by student writer, Edward Wilkinson.

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