Politics on the net : NGO practices and experiences

Sammanfattning: This study investigates how different kinds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), operating in different national political contexts, perceive and use the Internet as a political space. The political space concept, as defined here, encompasses two dimensions of Internet use: one external, where organisations use the Internet for online activism and campaigning, and one internal, signifying organisational use of the Internet to promote engagement and interactivity with members and/or supporters. Another question raised is whether Internet use for political purposes by NGOs varies between different national political contexts. Moreover, do the organisations believe that the Internet has affected their political influence to any extent? The empirical data consist of the results of two surveys, one directed primarily to American NGOs, the other explicitly comparative, analysing NGOs in Sweden and the USA. Furthermore, content analyses of NGO websites have been conducted and additive indexes constructed. The findings of the study suggest that, overall, the Internet is most important to the studied organisations as a space for external political initiatives. There were, however, important differences in this regard, which could be related to the organisations’ national political contexts. For example, the American NGOs have oriented their websites primarily towards relatively superficial forms of member involvement, while the Swedish NGOs provided more interactive grassroots features on their websites. Regarding political influence, the Internet arguably has the potential to make the most dramatic difference by reinforcing the organisations’ offline political activities. The present results indicate that, despite the possible converging effect of the Internet on NGO political activism, national political culture exerts an inescapable influence on how the Internet is used as a political space by the studied organisations.