2010: The Year That Politicians Polluted the Web?

Here’s my bold and terrifying prediction: 2010 will mark the point at which politicians ruined the Web.

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
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.

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Daniel Bevarly

Andrew, first tell us how you really feel. Most of your assumptions will be realized –some already have from the 2008 elections. Another point to be made is while politicians (even current office holders) launch their Web 2.0 social media solutions, it doesn’t mean they are using them as a Web 2.0 or for a So-Me experience. Instead, they serve a Web 1.0 purpose: broadcasting to a wide audience or for individual transactions (meaning donations or two-way conversation –that which cannot be viewed by others).

The collaborative nature of Web 2.0 holds excellent potential for candidates, except for the fact they really don’t know how to use it for engagement and collaboration or simply don’t want. As for the elected official, forget about anything Web 2.0 (collaboration) under their official office or jurisdiction once elected (see my 2008 blog post “Campaign Social Networks after Election Day”.

Office holders at the federal, state and local levels who create their own blogs, email, face book pages and Twitter accounts on their own usually do so for legal and maintenance reasons in their official capacity. As for the record, these “episodes” of citizen outreach, dialog and feedback will most likely will be retained for a year, based on a recommendation from legal, then placed on a CD-ROM or DVD and provided to that official. I’ve heard it and seen it happen before.

As citizens, we have to be the ones who drive our govt officials to Web 2.0/social media tools. Don’t expect it to come from them. Right now, they do need to use the Web. They just don’t have to elevate it to Web 2.0…yet.

Sterling Whitehead

This brings up a few interesting points, Andy: How can social media manage the transition of webpages from one administration or politician to the next? Are the websites “owned” by the politician or is the website is on loan from the people for the duration of the politician’s tenure in office?

I don’t know the answers to these questions — I’m not smart enough (and certainly don’t claim to be). Maybe someone reading this will have some answers…(hint hint people).

Andrew Krzmarzick

Ari – you are precisely the kind of person whose perspective i’d like to hear! Do you know of someone (you, perhaps?) who has used social media responsibly/effectively?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Dan – Exactly…social media is being used to disseminate marketing messages, which is fine yo s degree, but if it becomes more about the office holder than the office, then we have a problem.

Sterling – raises all kinds of questions, eh? The office is ours, not theirs…or is it Facebook’s? 🙂

Adriel Hampton

Andy, great discussion in the comments. But I’d hope my experience last year as a congressional candidate demonstrated in some small way that social media is a tremendous leveler when it comes to politics – and I believe it will continue to have that impact. Big money marketing hasn’t changed, but now people with good ideas have cheap and effective ways of spreading the message. And politicians adopting Twitter, for example, don’t seem to be really polluting that medium. Check out this cross section of the political left on Twitter – mostly candidates and officeholders.

Ari Herzog

Perhaps the issue to focus on is not the candidate or office-holder, but the campaign staff. In many federal and state campaigns, the candidate does little if any online media, but the staffers are the ones creating and generating and interacting.

So, if the staffer does the work (as proven by Obama’s example), what happens if the campaign team does not get hired when the candidate gets elected? That’s where you should focus and I don’t have a good answer other than having the staff train the candidate, no different than teaching the candidate how to sign his name in grade school.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Adriel – Forgive the delayed response. Your candidacy (and Ari’s) are great examples of how newcomers can get in the game…and I applaud that. So my question is: what would you have done if you won? Would you have set up something to sustain you as the officeholder…or something that sustains the office and continuity of citizen engagement!

Ari – You won! How have you set up tools that will last beyond you?

Exhibit A: @DowningStreet becomes @Number10Gov – http://bit.ly/cdQwd1 – All of the UK Prime Minister social media IDs are changing. Are they laying the foundation for the future and standardizing…or will these change every time there’s a new officeholder?

Exhibit A: http://bit.ly/cdQwd1

Ben Burnett

Andy, good discussion and valid concerns, but I think that the “social media” sites and web 2.0 systems are more robust than you think. At least they are as robust as “people” in groups are. The diversity of thoughts, opinions, actions and the ability for people to “hide” feeds or block info and spam will serve to filter out the politicians that abuse the systems. The collaboration will happen by everyone filtering out the political spam (not all of it of course). In the web 2.0/social media world anyone can make a splash at any moment but to keep the wave going and growing takes true dedication and wherewithal that just a bunch of interns broadcasting messages can’t replicate. From a technology perspective, I guess I don’t see politicians as having the power to control the massive numbers of diverse people and opinions out there….no matter how much they want to. what we will see is politicians finding movements already taking hold (tea party, unfortunately) and riding the movements coat tails… then the movement will continue once the official is elected. Obama’s genius was that he was able to tap into the collective feelings of the country and start his own movement that he was able to control a bit, and then road the wave. Is he still on the wave, or has it left him?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Ben – Good to hear from you! Nice point on the ability to filter…my hunch is that the average American isn’t taking much time to filter their email, much less their social media sites.

And I think you confirm my point with this statement:

“In the web 2.0/social media world anyone can make a splash at any moment but to keep the wave going and growing takes true dedication and wherewithal that just a bunch of interns broadcasting messages can’t replicate.”

This is exactly why we need to ensure that all social media accounts are tied to the office and not the officeholder! Continuity that rides out all of the waves and movements!

Thanks for your thoughts, Ben!