Social Media in Politics

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Sometimes the most important revolutions are the quiet ones. This is especially true in the case of technology, which has a way of sneaking up on us.

Take cell phones, for example. A decade ago, they were a luxury item. Suddenly, everyone seemed to have one. What had once been a sign of status became commonplace, all with hardly anybody noticing — and without any central direction.

Such is the case with new media. Back in 2004, when Howard Dean launched his run for the presidency, his campaign’s revolutionary use of the Internet to raise funds and organize was considered novel.

Political writers spilled gallons of ink trying to understand the Dean campaign’s youth-oriented, technological approach to American politics. Then Dean let out his famous scream. John Kerry won the Democratic nomination. Dean’s campaign innovations faded in the background.

Dean took the Democratic Party to the new-media frontier. But it was Barack Obama who settled there. The Obama campaign’s use of technology was groundbreaking.

The campaign brass knew that Obama had a special appeal to young voters. They knew that young people communicate through media — Facebook, MySpace, SMS Text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, podcasts and so on — that leave the old fogies who typically run campaigns scratching their heads. So they recruited a bunch of tech-savvy youngsters to run Internet operations.

The Obama campaign blog was packed with content. The campaign updated it regularly. One of Obama’s top advisers was Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

The Obama team announced Joe Biden’s selection as vice presidential nominee through a text message. When he became president, Obama didn’t end his embrace of technology. The White House has a blog. Obama records a video edition of his weekly presidential message and posts it on YouTube.

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