Social media will influence the next presidential campaign. Or will they?

By September 04, 2007
Keywords : Smart city, usage

Back in July 07’, the CNN-YouTube democratic presidential debate created quite a stir. But was the first Internet-based debate an over-publicized gimmick that mostly benefited YouTube? Or was it a political revolution with the pow

er to change democracy and voter participation? According to CNN and YouTube, nearly 3,000 Internet users sent in their video questions in anticipation of the historic debate. Most videos were straight shots of the voter asking the question while sitting in front of a webcam. Some were more creative and powerful, like the snowman asking about global warming or the question about Darfur shot inside a refugee camp there. In the end, CNN staffers acted as gatekeepers in selecting the final questions. Some observers wished that, in the best social networking tradition, videos could have been chosen because they had attracted the best ratings or the most views from YouTube users. Other critics complained that the moderator, CNN Cooper Anderson, did not push back on the candidates as hard as he could have. YouTube boasts millions of viewers. The “Evolution of Dance” video alone has attracted over 56 million viewers. By comparison, receiving 3,000 video questions can be considered a meager result. How many people tuned in to the debate, live or later online here? According to reports, the debate did not break any ratings record when it aired on CNN. YouTube, usually happy to display the number of views, does not indicate that number on the debate page. Though it was much discussed both in old and new media, it is hard to measure the impact of the debate. One thing is sure, CNN was able to project the image of a hip old media and YouTube got a shot of credibility as a new media. Influence of social networks may be minimal Bentley College professors Christine Williams and Jeff Gulati continue to track the use of social networks by presidential candidates in this campaign. According to findings of a study they are presenting at the American Political Science Association annunal meeting this month, “the 2008 presidential candidates continue to wage a vigorous battle for supporters on social networking sites, even though it is still unclear whether a formidable online presence is having any effect on the dynamics of the nomination contests.” The two researchers quote a study by Nucleus Research and Knowledge Storm which found that “fewer than 5% of respondents report YouTube is a source of election information; 19% use candidates’ websites, but 72% rely on mainstream sources such as newspapers and magazines.” This leads Jeff Gulati to believe that “the translation of internet strategies into votes may be minimal.” Williams and Gulati write that “the data provide interesting insights into the role of the Internet in the 2008 presidential election. First, the [Ron] Paul, and to a lesser extent, [Barak] Obama, examples show that a dominant online presence does not necessarily convert to a commensurate standing in offline polls or campaign contributions. Similarly, a weak online presence relative to other challengers need not preclude reaching the top of the polls, as [Rudy] Giuliani’s numbers show. Of course, these data cannot answer the most important question about the role of the Internet in 2008: are the Paul and Obama campaigns doing much better than they would be if they did not have a dominant online presence? Or, would Giuliani be further ahead of the pack if his online presence were stronger?” Democrats outpoll Republicans almost five to one on Facebook, and almost three to one on MySpace and YouTube. With 100,000 Facebook supporters, Obama demonstrate his stronger appeal among younger voters compared to Hillary Clinton’s nearly 25,000 supporters and John Edwards’ barely 10,000. If you liked the CNN-YouTube debate, you will love the MySpace/MTV one Regardless, there will be more online presidential debates and more efforts by candidates to grab people’s attention online. For starters, the Republicans candidates will get their chance in a CNN-YouTube debate originally planned for September, but now scheduled for November 28. And then, there is the “me too” crowd. In August, MySpace and MTV announced their “Presidential dialogues” where viewers will be able to send their questions, and react to the answers, via instant messaging. Watch for John Edwards on September 27. Let’s not forget about Yahoo, online magazine Slate and political blog The Huffington Post who are teaming up to offer their own presidential debates. Beyond asking questions, participants will be able to react in real-time and to decide who seems to be coming on top in the debate. Candidates, as well as informed voters, are going to be busy. Isabelle Boucq, for Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at

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