Politicians and the "internets" Pt.II
From a piece on the use of blogs, bloggers, social networking sites, and the internet in political campaigns from Dispatch/Argus:
The 2008 presidential campaign is revving up earlier than ever, and candidates are using new online tools or techniques already used by advocacy groups and non-profits. They include popular social networking sites to organize, a growing reliance on high-profile bloggers and use of widely shared video -- such as the Webcasts of Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama announcing their campaigns.Those volunteer computer nerds everyone took for granted are ending up in the candidates inner circle. It was inevitable, but I'm sure it still comes as a surprise to some old hands.
"Web campaigning is becoming highly sophisticated, a central part of any candidate's plan to win," said Rick White, a former Republican congressman from the Seattle area and a consultant on tech issues.
"Each campaign is looking for the best ways to use Web 2.0 applications," said Julie Barko Germany, deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.
As evidence of the growing importance, Germany notes that the Webmaster consigned to the bottom rungs of a campaign a few years ago is now an "online communities strategist" who can be just as influential as any other adviser to the candidate.
Two examples: Matthew Gross, whose online work helped elevate Howard Dean as a candidate four years ago, was an important hire for Edwards, who has made online outreach a major part of his campaign; and Becki Donatelli, who led Republican John McCain's breakthrough effort in Internet fundraising in 2000, is working for him again.
While the Internet is a powerful engine, it's also unpredictable. Its real-time, free-wheeling and unfiltered nature, coupled with the ubiquity of mobile phone cameras, can magnify the most trivial event and wound a candidate.
"Think of it -- we're at the point where every single moment of one's life can be recorded," said Bradley Horowitz, a Yahoo vice president, at a recent forum on the Internet.
At a recent appearance in New Hampshire, Clinton was reminiscing about an old Girl Scout song but promised not to sing it. "You go to YouTube and you'll know why," she said, as several hundred people laughed knowingly.
Two weeks before, Clinton's hilariously off-key rendition of the national anthem had been picked up at an Iowa rally, and it was a YouTube hit. Some of her campaign staff worried that it could be damaging, but they decided not to respond.
Every candidate wants to avoid the "macaca" moment that brought down Sen. George Allen of Virginia. He was caught on video using that apparent racial slur while deriding a staffer for his opponent, James Webb, who went on to defeat Allen.
"They're all going to mess up some time, and the big question is, how do they handle it?" said Jonah Seiger, an online veteran who has worked on several campaigns.
"One slip, and it's out so fast and goes so far," said Bruce Hildebrand, who worked on many GOP campaigns pre-Internet. "You're more exposed, but you can react faster, too, so it cuts both ways."
Palfrey, Seiger and other analysts agree that the bigger question is whether the fear of YouTube moments and other surprises will drive candidates and their consultants to make campaigns more controlled and scripted.
"There's a danger in the unscripted moment, but it's a real mistake to be too controlling," Seiger said. Because of the Internet, voters are hungry for spontaneity, he said, and they also want genuine interaction with the candidates.
"You have to walk a fine line with control," Germany said. "The Internet is not about airbrushing and perfection. It's about spontaneity. Candidates need to loosen up some."
The candidates are trying. Edwards grouses about his consultants in one clip on his Web site. Obama's site includes the "60 Minutes" interview in which his wife, Michelle, urges people to "monitor" the candidate to make sure he doesn't sneak a cigarette.
In another online initiative, candidates are enlisting well-known bloggers who already have a strong following among activists. A recent survey conducted for the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimated that during the 2006 campaign, there were 14 million Internet activists -- defined as someone who generates or shares content.
These are the committed activists, the base of both parties, that every campaign covets.
"I'm not sure you need to hire an established blogger," Seiger said. "What you need is a good net-roots liaison to the blogger community, to build relationships."
When I read pieces like this, and they're everywhere, I like to go back and gloat as I read through the several mocking and scornful comments from sceptics on my previous posts where I asserted that the internet is a necessity to any modern campaign. Something tells me those comments will soon hold the same curiosity value as columns from past eras snorting at the idea that the automobile would ever take the place of horses or promising that television was just a passing fad.