Later on, we had Martin Luther, who had some ideas and a message that were potentially powerful, whether you agree or not. He used the press, and the church store-and-forward network, and got his idea out, which created the Reformation — pretty effective.
That started in 1517 with his 95 Theses.
Power flowed from very narrow elites to a broader network of elites, that is, local churches and the grass roots, those who could read translated Bibles.
Also, Luther lost control of his message, resulting in broader networks propagating different versions of Luther's ideas.
We see the same thing now, particularly in U.S. politics, where social networking has been used successfully. Consider the Obama campaign, and also the very recent effects of the netroots and the grassroots factions of the Tea Party movement.
A lot is happening in 2010, a time at which political elites now realize the power of social media, and of its necessity. Social media can be used to drive "voter enthusiasm" and get people to vote, and now we see it's necessary.
However, social media is a grassroots thing, and we've seen in every case that the grass roots takes control of the message and the results aren't predictable.
That's happening now, and with near-term efforts being built now, things will be very different in the November midterm elections. Looks like Big People will get behind grassroots networking, and the genie's already out of that bottle.