Blogwars: Internet, politics, and the youth

October 30, 2008

Compiled by Ching Jorge, Lead Convenor of Young Public Servants (YPS)

Two weeks ago, we were invited by the US Embassy to attend a video conference on the US elections, specifically on the use of the Internet and blogging for political campaigns and how this was implemented by both Obama and McCain. The speaker was Prof. David Perlmutter, who wrote the book Blogwars: The New Political Battleground.

Here are some notes from that activity:

>> One of the highlights of Obama’s campaign was his successful capture of the youth through new media. He implemented a combination of old campaign strategies and new media to attract the youth (voting age up to 40).

>> While Clinton continued intimate dinners for fundraising, Obama used the Internet for fundraising and organized more rallies to address bigger groups.

>> With the advent of new technology, there is the realization that everyone can become a potential journalist. Many of the political campaign lines, comments, statements and photos were captured by individuals during rallies and were eventually posted on the Internet. Many of the discussions are not generated by the campaign anymore, where there used to be a top-down approach in communication plans; there is now a lost level of control in the discussions. People can comment about anything, at anytime.

>> Social networking sites have become a place for politics. They provide a quick personal glimpse into the private lives of the candidates, making them more accessible to their constituents. Obama’s followers were constantly updated on his whereabouts through Twitter (check it out at http://www.twitter.com). (Personally, it still takes some getting used to for me. It’s like having your daily planner on line for everyone to see. But then again, you only communicate what you want the people to know.)

>> In John McCain’s office he has one person (not one department) dedicated to uploading his videos and campaign materials online and making sure he is updated on various social networking sites. One thing about technology and the youth is that all this new technology is not actually new to them–the youth having grown up in it. It is new to the much older generation.

>> Just because something is new doesn’t mean it will always work. The example that was given was on how Howard Dean focused on this new technology and eventually failed to derive the outputs he wanted. Both Obama and McCain used a combination of old and new for their campaigns. Obama was able to provide a more personal touch by sending messages through text.

>> You can win in polls but lose in the actual elections. It is no guarantee that the people who participate in blogs and rallies will actually vote. Sometimes, it is those who are much older (65 and above) who provide the actual votes (a challenge both here and there–thus the critical combination of both old and new).

>> McCain is said to have given too many messages and should have just focused on one or two key messages in his campaign.

>> The people organized themselves around the media and not the other way around.

>> Success factors for Internet use in the campaigns:
(1) literacy and computer access
(2) society with the passion and energy to provide commentary
(3) national character

Some lessons:

>> Our programs in Youth Vote Philippines highlight the need for online and offline collaboration and the fluid integration of both. We are very excited about it and thank everyone (most especially the youth groups) for their support.

>> As seen in the growing local blog community, Filipinos (and the youth) want to be heard and give their opinion on almost any topic. They have shown themselves to be intelligent, outspoken and well-versed in their blogs (although, we also have those who hide behind anonymity in providing comments or suggestions). But we have to provide the opportunity and the venue for them to be heard and make them feel that it is cool to be heard, that it is cool to love your country. It’s one of the reasons why I love the “iamninoy” campaign. Many other groups (artists, creatives) are beginning to get together to develop new material to encourage a sense of nationalism.

>> We are lacking in a sense of nationalism and pride in our country. And not just for our youth but for all ages. It is natural to have the spirit of nationalism in school–but to maintain this out of school, in the work community becomes very difficult to do. And this is not just about the 40 and below but the 40 and above who are the parents and who were the ones who raised the youth we have today.

>> Our candidates should think of new ways to engage the people and their constituents. It is important to make people feel like they are really a part of the campaign. I wish I saw more efforts of some potential candidates to reach out this year, but did not see any. Next year would be so predictable. I also wish we had more time till the next elections. What we will get in 2010 is probably not what we really want but the best available option–unless people start to shape up and step up (like what we always say in YPS).