As mid-term election fervor launches in earnest over the next few weeks, political candidates will pummel us with updates, texts and tweets. Up and down the ballot and across party lines, challengers and incumbents alike will inundate us with appeals to become their Facebook friends and Twitter followers as they mount their bids to gain or retain office.
They've all likely been reading Obama’s “Presidential Election Playbook” carefully, pulling pages to ignite their own successful bid for office.
But when their bloody battle is over, the public they pledge to serve will be the real losers.
Once the Web-based war for votes is won, their constituents will likely be sick of social media and the ways in which it was used to manipulate their voting behavior.
The most sinister loss, however, will be the solidification of social media’s place in the minds of candidates as a
cog in the marketing machine for individual candidates versus its inherent value to facilitate citizen communication with the elected office they hold but temporarily. This short-sighted exploitation of the Internet by the legislative branch flies in the face of open government efforts by the executive branch to be more transparent, collaborative and participatory. Moreover, it undermines the earnest attempts by the career civil servants I see on GovLoop every day who strive to leverage technology for the express purpose of engaging citizens more effectively and offering easier access to services and information.
Officeholders will seek selfishly to “own” the websites that they created to win election and fail to see themselves as stewards of Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and cell phone lists that should endure beyond the brief period that they occupy an office.
In my own state, Gov. Beverly Perdue (who is not up for re-election this year) has established a Facebook
page that purports to represent the Governor's Office of the State of North Carolina, but it's really not much more than a personal fan page.
What happens should she lose her next bid for office or decide to retire after one term? What about the content, the conversations, the ideas and the information – both provided by her office and the citizens of our state? Will it be preserved in a public or private place on the Web after her last day or will it become archived on an “unpublished” remote server? Will her Facebook page receive a facelift or her Twitter account twansferred (I know, I know - I couldn’t resist) when her successor assumes residency in the governor’s mansion?
If left unchecked, 2010 will be the year when America watched its politicians pollute and dilute the power of the
Web and widen the ever-increasing gap between the branches of government and their respective approaches to public service.
Let’s take a careful look at our potential leaders before flocking to become their friends, fans and followers.