The first cyber president


Believe it or not, it wasn’t so long ago that Youtube, Facebook, and about 99 percent of the blogosphere didn’t even exist. In fact, one need go no further back than the last presidential election to remember the last of the Web 1.0 contests.

In 2004, the web wasn’t much different from television, newspapers and radio in that one needed either a good amount of money or a pretty valuable education in .html programming to make their voices heard. The folks using the internet in 2003-2004 were essentially the gatekeepers. Blogging and the ability to post on-line diaries existed but even the popular blogs that were around back then were only a couple years old and, while their followers were quite rabid and a good source of low-dollar donors, they didn’t have the numbers to tip the scales against the tens of millions who engaged in the political process through their “first screen” – the television screen.

My how things have changed. If you are reading this blog, you have come to us after choosing from among literally millions of outlets that are dedicated just to this election. That doesn’t even count all of the tens of millions of others that discuss other topics while occasionally veering into presidential politics.

In 2004, campaigns, including the one I was on, saw the internet as an ATM machine, encouraging easy participation by supporters by getting them to donate five or ten dollars a pop. That was itself leaps and bounds ahead of campaigns in 2002 and 2003 which used the web as a place to put a picture, a bio and some policy papers.

Now we have a situation in which video sharing, the spread of broadband and wifi, the portability of the internet, and its user-friendliness have radically changed the way “normal” people engage in politics and the way candidates engage “normal” people.

A couple weeks ago, the Philadelphia Metro did a short report about this phenomenon:

“‘Crush on Obama’ showed you can create something in a weekend for a couple thousand dollars and have it reach millions of people around the world,” [“Crush” creator Ben] Relles said. “In the 2004 elections, you didn’t have YouTube. You had to have the budget that the Swift Boat Veterans had.”

A number of other outlets have done similar stories, remarking, for example, on the fact that more people watched Senator Obama’s famous Philadelphia Speech (or so I’ll call it until it becomes known as that in the history books) on race relations on the internet than saw it initially on television.

In fact, that New York Times piece points to the shift that is happening right now as young people jump into the political fray at a younger age than previous generations precisely because of how easy it is for politics and social networking to feed off of each other:

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.

If you think about it, it is easy to see why.  The internet has long been a place where people with opinions can come together and find like minded folks to engage in a discussion.  It’s been happening with music, movies and television for a few years.  Why not politics?  Is it a stretch to go from talking about your favorite band to talking about your favorite candidate?

Nope… especially when the candidates, like many of the bands, are starting to put themselves out there on the internet in ways that are actually appealing to these audiences:

Candidates are capitalizing on this social development, and so are their supporters. A youth-minded music video called “Yes We Can” has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary. A musical version of Mr. Obama’s campaign speech made by the singer of the Black Eyed Peas and a bevy of celebrities, it was released on YouTube three days before the series of coast-to-coast nominating contests on Feb. 5. Counting hits on YouTube and other sites, the video has been viewed more than 17 million times.

Whichever candidate wins this election, there is little doubt that his or her use of the internet will play a crucial role in the victory.


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