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Online election campaigns: a blessing or a curse?

Dani SchumacherThis year’s election campaign will increasingly be played out on the Internet. Social networks will have a central role. This is only logical, as most politicians are already using the Internet quite eloquently. The advantages are obvious: an online campaign is quick and cheap, and messages can be better communicated to the targeted audience. Whether the use of the new media will make political campaigns more effective or rather lead to more blunders, remains to be seen, says Dani Schumacher in an editorial in the Luxemburger Wort on Wednesday.

Since elections will not take place as scheduled in May of next year, but as early as 20 October, the election campaign will be unusually short this time. The parties have only three months to prepare for the polls. The campaign will therefore, in all likelihood, be much more hectic than usual.

All parties emphasize that they will focus on issues and not people. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the top candidates will be in the spotlight, even more so this year than during past elections. Party manifestoes dealing with the issues are yet to be written. In the meantime, the candidates will not keep quiet while waiting for the publication of their party programmes. It is therefore a welcome development that the parties have agreed to run a fair and issue-based campaign, as called for by Grand Duke Henri.
The 2013 campaign will be different not only for reasons of timing. The parties have in fact agreed a financial cap on their campaign spending. The number of gifts will be reduced to a minimum and elaborate media campaigns scaled back, not least for budgetary reasons.

Logically, this also means that the election battle will increasingly be fought online. Following rather timid attempts in 2004 and 2009, the parties have now finally arrived in the twenty-first century: social networks will play a central role this year. This is only logical, since most politicians already use the Internet quite eloquently.

The advantages are obvious. An online election campaign is cheaper, faster and messages can be communicated better to the targeted audience. Online campaigns are also interactive, allowing parties to respond to new developments and adjust their roadmap when needed. The direct participation of the electorate can only be a advantageous in any modern democracy. Whether this self-promotion through the new media will bear fruits remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, political activism on the Internet carries not only opportunities but also risks. Past election campaigns were strictly controlled by the party headquarters. Election strategists decided on the content and its packaging. By being in control, they also bore all responsibility. As a result, there were hardly any blunders. On social networking sites, however, the parties can easily lose control. While still able to manage their own contributions, they will have no control over online reactions, which can quickly take on a life of their own. Even though the parties want to abide by a set of self-imposed rules of fair play, it is likely that some kicks will be directed at the opponent rather than the ball. Punches below the belt, unprovoked or not, cannot be excluded. For these, however, no one will take responsibility.

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Election dayOctober 20th, 2013
The big day is here.
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