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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Today's internet has taken three decades to dominate the American political system, going from a wonkish yet campaign-trail-friendly bet on a connected future to a central force in the electoral process.

Catch up quick: Here's how the evolution has unfolded so far.

1992
  • The internet was still largely an academic network, but the Democrats' Clinton/Gore ticket made "building an information superhighway" a key plank of their pro-tech campaign.
  • Their victory opened the gate to the federal government's commercialization of the public-sector internet, blowing up the "Big Tech platforms" of their time — America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy — and ushering in the Web era.
1996
  • The Web had begun to spark early-adopter enthusiasm but most voters weren't online.
  • When the septuagenarian GOP candidate Bob Dole tried to promote his campaign's website at the end of a TV debate, he botched the web address.
2000
  • Four years of dotcom-bubble internet growth made this the first election in which the online world played a significant role.
  • The Clinton impeachment saga left in its wake both big political email lists and charged-up partisan websites that jumped into the fray when the election outcome turned into a legal siege in Florida.
2004
  • Howard Dean's campaign on the left and, on the right, the rise of the "warbloggers" (post-9/11 hawks who brought conservative energy to the blogosphere) established a teeming new underbrush of digital activism that stoked political controversies online — notably, the debunking of Dan Rather's CBS story questioning Bush's military service and the "swiftboating" of John Kerry.
  • 2004 laid the groundwork for today's political environment of partisan trench warfare, online echo chambers, and competing-reality narratives.
2008
  • Obama's victory rested in part on his campaign's online fundraising and organizing savvy on an internet where Facebook and Twitter were both newcomers.
  • Democrats failed to follow up online post-election, ceding the digital advantage to a fired-up, Tea Party-inflected right.
2012
  • The first social-media election saw the stirrings of misinformation campaigns, including "birtherism" and controversies around the attack on the U.S. Benghazi mission. But online ad spends remained minuscule.
  • Leaked video from a Romney fundraiser — showing the GOP candidate talking about 47% of Americans who don't pay taxes — foreshadowed a future of information wars.
2016
  • Welcome to the social-media Thunderdome! Trump's upset win rested on many foundations, but cornerstones included a smart use of targeted online advertising and a flood of disinformation from both foreign and domestic sources.
  • Trump turned Twitter into a blaring megaphone for his political tactics and personal obsessions, effectively outmaneuvering the old-line political media and setting the election-news agenda.
2020
  • Facebook, YouTube, Twitter along with Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok and other services: These platforms are where Americans now wrestle with their electoral choices, share news and argue over truth. They're also where campaigns spend an increasing share of their ad dollars.
  • With the coronavirus pandemic limiting in-person contact, the internet has become the primary channel for politics — putting a hot spotlight on the platforms' rule-makers and fueling charges of censorship and bias.

Go deeper

The social media addiction bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Right now, everyone from Senate leaders to the makers of Netflix's popular "Social Dilemma" is promoting the idea that Facebook is addictive.

Yes, but: Human beings have raised fears about the addictive nature of every new media technology since the 18th century brought us the novel, yet the species has always seemed to recover its balance once the initial infatuation wears off.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
35 mins ago - Health

Nursing homes are still getting pummeled by the pandemic

Data: AHCA/NCAL, The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The U.S. has gotten no better at keeping the coronavirus out of nursing homes.

Why it matters: The number of nursing home cases has consistently tracked closely with the number of cases in the broader community — and that's very bad news as overall cases continue to skyrocket.

56 mins ago - Technology

Showdown looms over digital services tax

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A fight over foreign countries' efforts to tax big American tech companies' digital services is likely to come to a head in January just as Joe Biden takes office.

The big picture: Governments have failed to reach a broad multilateral agreement on how to structure such taxes. That could leave the American firms that dominate consumer digital services — including Google, Facebook and Apple — stuck with massive tax bills from different countries.