Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (II)

Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (II)

BY Editors | Thursday, November 9 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 were: danah boyd, Andy Carvin, David Weinberger, Todd Zeigler, and Ethan Zuckerman.

Now commenting: Allison Fine, Howard Rheinghold, Nancy Scola, and Liza Sabater. Stay tuned for more.

Please register and join the conversation (responses may be posted as comments at the end of this feature.)

Allison Fine

Elections are made of two parts: campaigns and voting. This election season, the use of social media in campaigns was primarily a maturation of technologies and techniques first employed in 2004. Rock the Vote integrated its voter registration mechanisms on FaceBook and candidates honed their use of email and meetups. But, sadly, those campaigns that were competitive, of which there weren't enough, continued to have a command and control structure and reach out to voters only enough to collect their contributions.

The greatest impact that social media had on the election was on the voting process, and I don't mean the stupid voting machines. 2006 marks the first YouTube election and the ability to not just document but actually fix voting irregularities in real time is the great triumph for social media in this year's midterm elections.

In years past the most a voter could hope for to correct harassment, discrimination or incompetence at the polls was to call and complain to their local board of elections. The chance that anything would change on election day itself was virtually nil.

This election, voters had a variety of ways to report, post, echo and shout their problems and complaints. had a widget to capture email stories about voting difficulties. It was posted on over 40 websites and the aggregate results will be shared later this week. sponsored by the League of Women Voters hosted a polling place finder that had over a million page views on election day helping voters find their correct voting precinct. And, of course, there was YouTube. My favorite of the day was Jean Schmidt, an ardent supporter of the new voting machines, captured on video struggling to use one in Ohio.
The promise of social media is not just that it will grease the wheels of elections but that it will make the process more transparent and fairer. Citizens are taking steps in that direction, now all we need is the candidates and politicians to join us.

Allison Fine is a successful social entrepreneur and writer dedicated to helping grassroots organizations and activists implement and sustain social change efforts. Allison was the Founder of Innovation Network, Inc. (InnoNet) and served as Executive Director and President from 1992-2004, and served as the C.E.O. of The E-Volve Foundation in 2004-2005. Wiley & Sons published her first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, in 2006.

Howard Rheingold

The use of blogs and videos to document potential voting irregularities was the most important role of technology in 2006. What could be more important than keeping elections honest?

Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs, teaches at Berkeley and Stanford, and is a non-resident Fellow at the Annenberg Center, USC.

Nancy Scola

I think the subtle difference in 2006 is that we've reached a critical mass of people who are fluent in using technology to communicate, and not just young people or the super tech-savvy. There's a growing sense that all of the many things we now do using our tools and gadgets (blogging, IMing, text messaging, recording videos, building communities, posting photos, and on and on) are just different means to the same end. Some people are finding remarkably creative and poetic ways to do it -- my current favorite is friends who are using the tiny "status box" on Google Talk or Facebook to communicate in haiku-like form -- but I'd argue that in November 2006 some degree of fluency is almost part of the shared American experience. There are political implications. So many of us are discovering and polishing our voices that I don't even think it's crazy to suggest that one of the factors behind the sweeping change we saw on Tuesday is that there are just more of us now who are comfortable expressing who we are and want our leaders to be.

One of the losers (and yay! that it might be so) on Tuesday night was the idea that it's some measure of personal refinement to disdain the culture of communicating online. At this point, it takes willful ignorance to not see that there are some bloggers who add value to politics or that journalists with the some of the brightest futures are those willing to blog or otherwise engage their readers online.

As for 2008 -- while we're getting pretty good today at putting that fluency to work to shape electoral politics, I'm cautiously optimistic that by then we'll have started to figure out how to use it to better effect in movement politics.

Nancy Scola is a writer and activist who has been an aide to former Virginia governor Mark Warner and a staffer on Capitol Hill.

Liza Sabater

A new trend in politics : the neighboroots

It's more than netroots activism. It's more than neighborhood politics. Neighboroots is becoming and interesting trend : I find myself exchanging on almost a daily basis notes about what is happening here in my little slice of New York City with people who are in far along places like Oregon, Texas and Ohio.

The idea of neighboroots is simple : Many people are using the social networking practices they've developed online to expand their political engagement and strengthen relationships within their offline neighborhoods. So I have been able to share notes and ideas with bloggers and campaign volunteers in cities and towns across states such as California, Virginia and Connecticut.

These are not people involved in high profile national races. These are micro-targeted or hyper-local politics offline : City councils, school boards, state senates. Contrary to the trend of online activists or netroots to target national campaign or high profile races, neighboroots are hyperlocal, microniche politics that are being discussed and even provided with resources by online activists across the country. In most cases, these are the races abandoned by their local party machines. So finding others in similar situations is key to some of these activists. You can say that, as they are more engaged in localities, neighboroots activists also happen to be creating online neighborhoods or affinity groups through forums, blogs, wikis an email lists, in order to to exchange ideas and share resources.

So if there are many more local races these year too close to call, now you know why. Thank the activists who are growing the new political phenomenon, the neighboroots.

Liza Sabater is the publisher of CultureKitchen and DailyGotham.

Civic Hall
Personal Democracy Media presents Civic Hall, a one-of-a-kind community center for the world’s civic innovators. Located in the heart of New York City, Civic Hall is your home for civic tech.


Sign up for email updates from Personal Democracy Media and Civic Hall.