I have heard a lot of discussions about the use of the Internet in relation to political engagement in one form or another. Political science approaches at the ECPR are becoming attuned to the new 'communicative ecosystem', in particular that it is no longer sensible to talk of a politics as usual when participation at some level is unavoidable - and if initiated by the political actors and organisations or not. Equally, discussions at the Web Metrics symposium organised by Royal Holloway University of London largely centred on understanding the users and fitting that to the strategy of either the research or the organisation.
In terms of political communication what seems clear is that organisations have a choice of whether or not to develop a Web 2.0 strategy, and in considering this the organisation has also to consider what benefits and threats exist. Parties and governments may see open access as a threat, as individuals contribute and so distort the message and make communication unmanageable. However individuals and other organisations see only opportunities. I noted this example from Greenpeace's use of Facebook. Canadian activists have seized two giant dump trucks and a shovel at the Albian Sands open-pit mine north of Fort McMurray and have vowed to remain chained to the equipment until their message was heard. It has received widespread news coverage; however Greenpeace are reaching a global audience via Facebook also, posting pictures and receiving 'likes' from their audience (see screenshot). The reason they may do this is that this might target their supporters better, mobilise support online and gain greater interest in this and their other campaigns. While 155 likes and 14 comments may seem paltry, one has to remember that all the friends of those 155 have been informed of their friends' endorsement. Some may look at the link out of curiosity, and thus the reach increases. Such tactics seem increasingly common and a part of the new networking ecosystem that social networking facilitates. Electoral politics, Obama aside, are behind the curve on this but activists are showing the way in reaching wide audiences quickly and cheaply.