It's A Wonderful World In The Neighborhood
Sat, 10 Oct 1998 14:30:05 EDT

Now even our politicians can spam us.

October 6, 1998

Dear Members,

With national elections less than a month away, I thought this would be the
perfect time to devote a Community Update to what AOL -- and the interactive
medium as a whole -- is doing to increase participation in national, and
particularly, local politics.

Of course, talking politics is always a little risky. With what's going on in
Washington these days, it's riskier than ever. But the problem is deeper than
the current preoccupation with scandal and finger-pointing. The fact is,
something is not quite right with our nation's involvement in the political
process and many Americans have tuned out. Some feel it's irrelevant to their
lives, while others don't believe that normal citizens can make a meaningful

At AOL, we believe that this medium offers an unprecedented opportunity to
reconnect people to the political process -- by helping people become more
informed citizens, by helping our elected representatives be more responsive
to those citizens, and by engaging more people in public policy discussions
and debate. In particular, we'd like to see more young people feel more
connected to the political process, and we know the Internet can help make
that happen.

The range of political activity online is limitless. Citizens can register to
vote, send e-mail to Members of Congress, post messages on issues they care
about, or chat with others who share or oppose their views. Already, the
medium is changing the way we interact with candidates and what we expect from
them. Candidates and political parties increasingly use Web sites and go
online to recruit volunteers and to communicate with supporters. Activists use
electronic lists to mobilize action on behalf of a candidate or cause. It
doesn't require a lot of imagination to see a future where many, or even most,
Americans vote online.

At AOL we are experimenting with new ways to enable more of our members to
participate more meaningfully and have greater influence in national, state
and local politics. Let me summarize some of our efforts.

Election 98: "Politics on Your Terms"

Our <A HREF="aol://1722:election98">Election 98</A> area takes advantage of
the interactive, customizable features that make the online medium unique, and
puts you, our members, in the driver's seat. The area makes it easier for
people throughout the country to learn about the fall elections. We have moved
beyond the sound bites and the cynicism; instead, we are offering the
information and the tools you need to do your own research, wrestle with the
issues, interact with the candidates, and voice your views about the
campaigns. The area's features include:

1) You can easily get to localized information about your Senate, House and
gubernatorial candidates and other important issues on your ballot by typing
your zip-code into the <A HREF="aol://1722:election98">form provided</A>.

2) You can express your views in weekly polls through the
<A HREF="aol://4344:2595.weekpoll.27987453.587486300">AOL/George Magazine poll
</A>. The first poll -- conducted in early September -- asked members to rank
the issues that matter most to them. Of the nearly 20,000 respondents, 27
percent said morals, honesty or character is their top issue. Other top issues
included tax cuts (19%), Social Security (7%) and health care (7%).

3) America's first prime-time online political talk show
<A HREF="aol://4344:2595.talkpack.27987928.590445540">"Talking Points"</A>
takes place on <A HREF="aol://1722:aol live">AOL Live</A> every Tuesday night,
between now and the elections, from 8 to 9 P.M. ET. "Talking Points" is your
chance to discuss the hot issues directly with government officials,
candidates, journalists, policy makers and party leaders at the center of the
fall elections.

4) In our <A HREF="aol://1722:nationalbrainstorm">"National Brainstorm,"</A>
you can contribute your ideas for improving political campaigns. And, you can
rate the Alliance For Better Campaigns' six-point agenda for lifting the
quality of campaigns.

Web White & Blue Day

AOL is also participating in a Web-wide campaign called
<A HREF="">Web White & Blue</A> Day, which
launches on Wednesday, October 7. The concept is simple: to call national
attention to the emerging role of the online medium as the best source for
political information, by creating, in essence, a portal for democracy.

More than 200 top news, academic, political and commercial Web sites are
joining together to place a red, white and blue icon on their front screens,
linking users to the Web White and Blue election resource area. This marks the
first time commercial and nonprofit Web sites have joined together at a
national level to get Americans informed about politics. And, with AOL and
others encouraging participation among the broadest possible range of Internet
users, we estimate tens of millions of people will learn about and have easy
access to the site. Why not take a look for yourself?

The easy-to-use <A HREF="">Web White and Blue</A>
site allows you to access information on issues, candidates and the elections,
- Voter Information - Candidate positions, polling locations, and youth
- Issues - Comprehensive issue directories and public opinion poll results
- Election News - National, regional and state news sites
- Campaigns - Candidate directories and more
- Your State - Government and nonprofit election-oriented Web sites, by state
- Participate - chat about politics and election issues

The Starr Report and the Internet

I want to finish with a couple of words about the recent events in Washington
and the role of the Internet. Although the power of the Internet has been
acknowledged for some time, it has never really been felt in quite the same
way as it was on September 11, when the <A HREF="aol://1722:starrreport">Starr
Report</A> and the White House rebuttal were released online, providing
Members of Congress, the news media and the American people simultaneous
access just minutes after they were released.

The response was overwhelming. People wanted to read it, talk about it and
share their views and opinions. More than 800,000 copies of the full Starr
Report have been downloaded on AOL -- 62,000 in the first hour it was
available. That weekend, 370,000 members participated in our online polling.

Of course, the report and rebuttal raised significant issues for parents and
teachers with children online. We prevented access to the report for Kids Only
and Young Teen accounts, and put parental warnings in place to remind users
about the importance of <A HREF="aol://1722:parental controls">Parental
Controls</A>. We also created
<A HREF="aol://4344:1363.billmess.10439127.589923322">information and
discussion areas for parents</A> looking for ways to discuss these issues with
their kids.

Through this saga, the Internet demonstrated its unique power to deliver vast
amounts of information instantly, comprehensively and simultaneously to a very
large and rapidly growing audience. And it also illustrated the
responsibilities those of us in the Internet industry have to build a medium
we can all be proud of. We believe this new medium can help improve democracy
by leveraging its potential to deliver a more dynamic, more inclusive and
better-informed debate about issues, political campaigns and public policy.
Make no mistake: our country's political process will not be revitalized
overnight and no technological breakthrough or campaign reform will solve
political problems that took decades to develop. But the Internet can play a
significant role in helping to reconnect people to their elected leaders and
those seeking public office. We truly believe the power and potential of the
interactive medium can help restore our sense of excitement about and pride in
democracy, and all of us at AOL are committed to doing our part to make that a

Warm Regards,

Steve Case