Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (III)

Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (III)

BY Editors | Friday, November 10 2006

With the 2006 mid-term elections 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, Allison Fine, Howard Rheingold, Liza Sabater, Nancy Scola, David Weinberger, Todd Zeigler, and Ethan Zuckerman.

Now commenting: Benjamin Rahn, Michael Silberman, and Gur Tsabar.

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

Benjamin Rahn

If 2004 was the year of the online donor, 2006 was the year of the online raiser. ActBlue made it possible for anyone, anywhere, to fundraising for the Democrats of their choice. The result: $16.5 million sent to over 1000 candidates and committees.

The highest-profile fundraisers at ActBlue included eleven sitting Senators and a host of top-tier bloggers. At the same time, the netroots page, which raised $1.5 million, is a concentrated example of what was happening in a distributed fashion all over ActBlue's web site -- money was raised through 1200 different ActBlue fundraising pages this cycle. Sure, not each page raised $1.5 million, but in aggregate those pages collectively fueled races all over the country, not because one person (either a blogger or a DC strategist) decided each race was worthy, but because many, many individuals decided it was important enough to chip in some money and ask their friends to do the same.

To give you a taste of the new ways in which ActBlue will help online raisers have a huge impact next cycle: the FEC just issued an advisory opinion permitting us to collect funds for prospective presidential candidates, which ActBlue will hold in escrow to entice the potential candidate to enter the race. Stay tuned!

Benjamin Rahn is the president of ActBlue. After graduating from Harvard College in 2000 he led a 20-member staff as Assistant Director of the Research Science Institute at MIT.

Michael Silberman

Biggest change? The center of gravity in online politics is shifting from campaigns to citizens, where it belongs.

In '04, major election campaigns lead the way by using technology to build massive supporter networks, which they then engaged in a range of volunteer activities both online and off. With a few exceptions, candidate campaigns initiated almost all of the major online activity -- from creative online fundraising efforts to self-organized meetups and house-parties. Many top political bloggers even joined the ranks of official campaigns.

This year, we saw the first signs of citizens and third party organizations taking the reigns away from the campaigns. We're beginning to realize, collectively, that we can use these new social tools to influence politics without the campaign's direction. We learn quickly, for example, that we can capture a video of Sen Allen making racist remarks during a campaign stop and post it to the web within minutes. Better yet, we know that the network of bloggers, blog readers, and YouTube watchers has grown large enough and is well-connected enough to create an online ruckus so loud that the national media is compelled to cover it.

We're also creating and sharing local voting guides with one another, just like we do iTunes playlists, or placing our Fantasy Congress bets. While at the polls, we're taking photos and notes for The Polling Place Photo Project, a national experiment relying on a distributed network of citizens to build a national picture of voting in America through basic technology. If we saw any problems or dirty tricks at the polls, we could capture a video and upload it to the grassroots Video the Vote collection. Or else we'd complete the VoterStory voter complaint form, whose success depends on the number of distributed websites that agree to host the form.

By 2008, I'm hopeful that the growing online population will more fully realize its power to use the 'net as an organizing vehicle and to influence elections. If that happens, more candidates will be forced to engage with the medium in earnest rather than use it as an additional distribution channel for campaign ads or press releases.

Michael Silberman is the Director and Senior Strategist at EchoDitto, an internet strategy consultancy specializing in online community building. Previously, he directed the national meetup program for Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

Gur Tsabar

The Politics of Risk-Aversion

Since the 2004 elections, technology has dramatically increased the intensity of our political discourse as well as the frequency and reach of its distribution; which, from the perspective of a more personal democracy is a beautiful thing.

That said, it is my impression that the technology has not yet proven itself as far as the incumbent political power structure is concerned. With the exception of a few stray candidates (mostly challengers), we saw little from our sitting representatives by way of taking progressive steps towards real engagement online.

The reality is that many of us in the online world operate under a slightly different premise: that what makes for good government, also makes for good campaigning - and by good campaigning, I mean doing what it takes to win an election (which, many would argue, isn't always good government "good").

Truth is, there's a palpable combination of fear and skepticism in the air among many politicos. And unless we can figure out how to demonstrate to them in clear, unadulterated terms the value of going online (meaning, this is how doing x will win you the election), I suspect many of these fears will persist.

Alternatively, we need politicians who are willing to put their personal politics at risk. That's the leap of political faith ultimately required for success online.

Gur Tsabar is the co-founder and publisher of Room Eight, a blog of blogs and vlogs covering New York politics.

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