Marshall Ganz recently published a review of Micah Sifry’s “The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet)” on The Nation website. In addition to being a graduate of Ganz’s online Leadership, Organizing, and Action class, Sifry is the cofounder of the Personal Democracy Forum and an adviser at the Sunlight Foundation, and has been investigating the Internet’s impact on our democracy for over a decade.
Ganz finds that while Sifry gets much of the technological issues right, he misses the organizing lessons and fails to explore why this is a particular problem for the left and not for the right.
The trouble with “Big Email,” the kind of online advocacy Move.On pioneered, is that even as the Internet makes it easier for us to “find each other,” it makes it harder for us to “bind with each other,” writes Sifry, in “common focus.” Big email mobilizers may aggregate millions of individual voices, but fail to connect owners of these voices to each other to create any new collective political capacity. As a result, Sifry wisely observes, it is easier to generate what he calls “stop energy”—that is, the reaction of individuals to crises—than the “go energy” created by people working together to solve common problems. Big Email franchisers of “distributed campaigns” like Change.org simply increase the number of individuals mobilizing mini-campaigns to support customized causes. The result is a cacophony that is much more “noise than signal,” says Sifry. Even more significant, at most online advocacy organizations, the people being mobilized aren’t the ones making decisions as to when, on whose behalf, or for what purpose to mobilize. Instead, the individuals who “own” the lists make these calls, relying on polling to “sample” their “base” for “input.”