Last Friday evening, I went to a panel discussion on "How the Web is Changing American Politics" at New York University. The panelists were Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, Micah Sifry of techPresident.com, Jay Rosen of NewAssignment.net, OffTheBus and NYU, and Lisa Tozzi of The New York Times' Caucus Blog. Jeff Jarvis of CUNY and author of the blog BuzzMachine moderated the panel.
The High Points:
The Web has dramatically affected the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. In fact, if it weren't for the Internet, Hillary Clinton would probably be the unquestioned Democratic nominee for President, said Micah Sifry. He described the deep network of grassroots supporters that Barack Obama's campaign has built by using the Internet. Because of blogging, the established media is becoming more democratic and more stories are being told. Sifry said that Obama is making fantastic use of technology and online communities.
Arianna Huffington described how Obama's campaign used Facebook to get out votes for the Ohio primary. By looking through all Obama "friends" on Facebook, his campaign picked out those in Ohio networks and then, by going door to door, encouraged them to vote. She's also starting an organization called "Partnership for a Poll-Free America" because she feels polls are so misleading in elections. Huffington also believes strongly that there is a truth in politics that is often not reported by mainstream media, and that blogging helps get that truth told.
Jay Rosen told how the Obama campaign hired Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, to use community organizing to mobilize voters for Obama, and it's working. It's all about how to organize people, Rosen said, and because of this ground-level work, the elite cannot predict how the voters will vote this time. The race has too many transparency wildcards in it now. If Obama wins, he has a Web strategy in place to use technology in his presidency to implement his policies and make them work.
Lisa Tozzi explained how things work at the Caucus Blog, where reporters not only write full-length features but also regularly write short, quick blog posts (very unlike the traditional-print-newspaper process). News moves at light speed in the Internet age, and Caucus writers have adapted to get the accurate word out as soon as they can after it happens.
Traditional media has been broken wide open and become democratized because of blogging, citizen journalism outlets, and YouTube. The power is moving from the elite to the people because of it. Look for more campaigns to be run using the Web in more sophisticated ways in the future. (But will we see fewer political commercials on TV from now through November? Stay tuned.) Though much already has been created using the Web, much more can and will be made — 2008 is just the first, truly Web-oriented presidential election. Now that politicians have experienced the Web's power, watch out for how they will use it in future national, state and local elections.
There was a lot more to this panel discussion than the few points I've described above (including how protesters in Tibet and China used Twitter to share news about political crackdowns there). This is a hot topic which affects many. If you're interested in seeing video of the event, citizen journalism site GroundReport is hosting the complete telecast.