Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Internet: The Cure For Campaign Lies?

Arianna Huffington writes in the Huffington Post, The Internet and the Death of Rovian Politics:
Age has finally become an issue for John McCain. But the problem isn't the candidate's 72 years; it's the antediluvian approach of his campaign.

McCain is running a textbook Rovian race: fear-based, smear-based, anything goes. But it isn't working. The glitch in the well-oiled machine? The Internet.
Micah L. Sifry writes on techPresident: The Crowd-Scouring of the Presidency (and the End of Rovian Politics?):
...this is the rise of the "sound-blast" over the sound-bite. I don't know why the McCain campaign hasn't made more use of this potential by sitting McCain in front of a camera in a setting most congenial to him, but you can be sure that this will be the last Republican presidential candidate to miss this opportunity.

Arianna makes one last point:
Back in the Dark Ages of 2004, when YouTube (and HuffPost, for that matter) didn't exist, a campaign could tell a brazen lie, and the media might call them on it. But if they kept repeating the lie again and again and again, the media would eventually let it go (see the Swiftboating of John Kerry). Traditional media like moving on to the next shiny thing. But bloggers love revisiting a story. So when Palin kept repeating her bridge to nowhere lie, bloggers kept calling her on it. Andrew Sullivan, for one, has made a cottage industry of calling Palin on her lies. And eventually, the truth filtered up and cost McCain credibility with his true base: journalists.

The Internet may make it easier to disseminate character smears, but it also makes it much less likely that these smears will stick.
Well, we don't know how true this statement is, yet, do we? Would more Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim if the Internet didn't exist? Or less? Given how quickly the net can now find and spread a compelling message, will it make the events of the next 14 days even more volatile?

If anything, the next two weeks are the final test for Arianna's thesis. It's been said that "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on." Can the Internet catch lies and expose them faster than it can spread them? And will low-information voters--the people least likely to be paying attention to the net--get the message?

If there's any silver lining here, it's that once the election is over, these new habits and tools will get aimed at making government more honest, open and effective. That's my hope, anyway.

No comments: