Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (I)
Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (I)
BY Editors | Wednesday, November 8 2006
With the 2006 mid-term elections (mostly) behind us, we asked a distinguished group of technologists, politicos, bloggers, and journalists to respond to the following questions: Was the role of technology in politics different in 2006 than in 2004? How did new technology most affect Election 2006, and do you see any lessons for 2008?
First up: danah boyd, Andy Carvin, David Weinberger, Todd Zeigler, and Ethan Zuckerman. There's lots more to come.
Please register and join the conversation (responses may be posted as comments at the end of this feature.)
Obsessively flipping from CNN to Fox to Comedy Central last night, i couldn't help but notice everyone's enthusiasm about the role of technology in the election. TV anchors were drooling over blogs that told them what other stations were reporting. Personally, i found the full-screen pictures of blogs depressing.
Don't get me wrong - i'd love to see the internet create a revolution when it comes to politics but i don't think that has happened. Sure, 2006 candidates raised money using web technologies. And undoubtedly bloggers created echo chambers this year, discussing the ins and outs of different candidates and issues. Personally, i used my blog to guilt friends into voting and to provide analysis of propositions. But i don't think any of this changed the world.
Frankly, if i were to give the Internet any credit for 2006, it would be for taking Foley to task. ABC wasn't able to go big with the scandal because the emails weren't that juicy but they were able to put them on an ABC blog. From there, other former pages spoke up and they got the IMs which really broke Foley. But all that says is that less newsworthy news can go on blogs and it _might_ open up to properly newsworthy news. That's great for bringing down Foley but it doesn't say much about the status of blogs.
I have noticed that tons of candidates have Facebook profiles but i have no idea how effective this was. Did college students come out and vote because of Facebook? No idea. I've also noticed that MySpace did a huge rock the vote campaign. Did more young people register because of this? No idea. Every report says that more people came out to vote this year than in any other midterm in recent history and that a lot of those who voted were young people. Was this because of technology? Because of the war? Because of the scandals? Will we ever know?
There is one arena in which technology did play a major role in the 2006 election. This would be touchscreen voting. Thanks to technology, there were hundreds of election-day nightmares all across the country. Computers wouldn't turn on in dozens of districts; they crashed in others. Only time will tell us how many people didn't get their vote counted because of touchscreen technology. Or maybe only Diebold will ever know...
danah boyd is a PhD student at the University of California-Berkeley, a fellow at the USC Annenberg Center, and a social media researcher at Yahoo!
YouTube, Blip.tv and other video-sharing sites have forever changed the way the public participates in the election process. With legions of camera-toting partisans following around candidates 24/7, there's no way a politician can get away with saying something foolish or nodding off during a hearing.
Video-sharing sites may now be the ultimate platform for gotcha journalism, but we can do better than this. Just as political blogging is evolving beyond simply tearing down politicians, video sharing needs to evolve beyond exposing political gaffes. For example, Minnesota's e-democracy.org invited the public to upload videos in response to an online gubernatorial
debate. Meanwhile, VoteGuide aggregated videos of speeches made by candidates in California's 11th congressional district to make the candidates' positions as transparent as possible, capturing and tagging everything the candidates said on the record.
User-generated political video is only in its infancy, but the macaca kerfuffle demonstrates it can have real impact. The question remains, though, whether it will evolve beyond gotcha journalism and allow citizens to have a stronger grassroots voice while keeping politicians honest. Early signs are positive, and we should expect to see nationwide initiatives similar to e-democracy.org and VoteGuide during the next election cycle.
The old quip about AI applies: As AI succeeds, it's no longer counted as AI. In this cycle, what was groundbreaking two years ago now seems normal. Bloggers help shape the discussion. Sites aggregate info about who's raising money from whom. Candidates have blogs. Campaigns post YouTubes. They use the Internet to organize feet on the street. They raise money through email. And, they avoid talking about the details of their proposals by mumbling the URL of their Web site. The Internet transformation is well under way.
David Weinberger is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and was an Internet advisor to the Howard Dean campaign.
I think 2006 was a transition year for the use of technology by political campaigns. A lot of candidates experimented with the technologies that attracted a lot of buzz in 2004 (blogs, podcasts, video, online even planning, etc.), recognizing that they were important and trying to incorporate them into their overall strategies. But in most cases they did so badly, mastering the technical details but not the spirit.
The result was a lot of blogs featuring warmed up direct mail and press copy, podcasts made up entirely of recycled audio from archived speeches, and viral video strategies consisting of little more than posting campaign television commercials on YouTube.
So basically in 2006 candidates were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They brought an old way of doing things to a new medium.
The real sea change will occur when the candidates themselves realize that the web is about building a community of supporters, having a conversation with them and giving them the tools they need to advocate on your behalf. Some realized that in 2006. Many more will in 2008 and beyond.
It's hard for me to get too excited about general elections out here in Western Massachusetts. All the action takes place in the primaries, as the vast majority of my neighbors here are registered Democrats, as am I. While there was a modicum of uncertainty about whether Deval Patrick would win the election, most of his supporters were pretty confident going into yesterday's voting. And there was no uncertainty whatsoever about the re-election of Senator Ted Kennedy or Representative John Olver - I'd be lying if I told you that I remembered the names of either of their challengers.
That said, with so little actually undecided in this election, I heard more and knew more about my ballot before entering the basement of Town Hall on Tuesday morning than in any previous election. One of my neighbors, a retiree who is spending his golden years working for the Democratic party, had been sending mass emails to his neighbors every second day, updating us on opportunities to meet the candidates, put up lawn signs or stay at the polls - from him, I knew not only the location and time of the polls, but who'd be manning the Patrick signs in hour-long intervals all day long.
Three days before the polls, I got a long, thoughful email from a local politician - the long-time statehouse representative from the town to our northeast - explaining his opposition to one of the four ballot questions we faced. A day later, a political science professor from one town north offered his slate of candidates, explaining why he couldn't vote either for the Democrat or Rainbow Green candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth. (Yep - the Rainbow/Green party contested more statewide races in Massachusetts than the Republicans. It's that kind of state.)
In 2004, I heard an enormous amount about the national elections from folks like me - people who live our lives staring into computer monitors, emerging every two years to go to the voting booth, blogging the process before and afterwards. This year, I heard from my neighbors, the folks who are natives of my hometown, not of cyberspace. They're a little less chatty and speculative than my online friends, but they're significantly more practical, using these tools to bring people to rallies and to get voters thinking about the ballot questions and local candidates that rarely get mentioned outside the local press.
If there's a lesson for 2008 in my deep blue state, it's that there's always something to talk about in an election, even when the big races are fait acompli. According to the email I got this morning from my retired neighbor, one of the ballot questions - a complex proposition regarding the rights of home daycare workers to form unions - lost by four votes. I'm wishing I'd learned more about that ballot question and spent a bit less time listening to the blogosphere speculate about races I don't get to vote in.
Ethan Zuckerman is co-founder of Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org), an aggregator of citizen's media from the developing world. He lives with his wife and a small, fluffy cat in Lanesborough, a town of 2,990 in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. 1,070 of his neighbors voted yesterday.