September 26, 2008

The financial crisis online

When it comes to keeping up with the current global economic crisis, I find myself in the same boat as most Americans–wondering how this will impact my future, but with only a vague idea of what’s really going on or how best to fix the problem.

And while I’m still not sure I really understand the situation, it’s been fascinating to watch the way the debate over the crisis itself and the proposed bailout bill has proceeded in cyberspace. Just as our recent report on the internet and politics found record numbers of Americans going online to get news and information and share their views about the campaign, the online community has been front and center in the debate over the financial crisis and the administration’s bailout proposal. Over the last week, people have been going online to…

Read the bill and offer their suggestions. Opposition to the administration’s initial bailout proposal seemed to take off after the text of the bill was posted on numerous online news outlets. Fully 39% of internet users go online for “unfiltered” campaign materials, and a perusal of the “most popular” sections of many online news sites indicates that large numbers of concerned citizens decided to go online to see for themselves just what was in the proposal. At the Sunlight Foundation’s excellent Public Markup site, North Carolina Senate candidate Kay Hagans offered her own take on the Dodd bill, debating the merits of the proposal with commenters as she went.

Ask the experts and blog their concerns. Economic bloggers from Berkeley to Chicago have weighed in with their views on the situation, offering up the type of detailed, expert analysis that often isn’t possible in an 800-word editorial or a 2-minute TV clip. The political blogosphere has also been active, pushing for the inclusion of consumer protections, or for the scuttling of the bill entirely.

Organize online. Given the speed at which the crisis has unfolded over the past week, new communications tools have proven invaluable to advocacy groups hoping to line up supporters/protestors on extremely short notice. Groups such as Moveon.org and the National Taxpayers Union have been encouraging their supporters to inundate their representatives with email, and several progressive groups used email to organize a Thursday afternoon rally on Wall Street.

Channel their inner SNL. Of course, sometimes humorous mockery can be the best way to get your point across. Several online memes sprouted up this week that crystallized the political debate in a way that no amout of analysis could hope to do, including a fake email casting the Treasury Secretary as a Nigerian spammer, and a site that offers citizens the chance to submit their own “toxic assets” for consideration in the bailout. Indeed, nothing quite sums up the online reaction to this week’s events like this picture that went viral a few days ago.