The Facebook President

by Ekua Boateng // Published May 13, 2008

In this extended presidential primary cycle for the Democratic Party, it is interesting to consider how the presidential candidates are using technology to connect with voters of all ages. The explosion of the Internet, broadband, digital television and the advancement in cell phone technology has many applications that can be used for political campaigning. It would seem as if the millennium generation of young people are addicted to social networking sites, such as Facebook, My Space and video sharing websites such as YouTube. Therefore it's easy to bring politics to the masses in an easy and entertaining way that gels with the life style of this generation. In keeping with this theme, news is viral and as one young person said in passing was that news "finds them" and is passed on through social networks, family and friends. That may mean that traditional modes such as television are less effective in reaching this generation. As an example of people taking the initiative and offering presidential candidates star power, through using the medium of video sharing on YouTube, the "Yes We Can" song endorsing Barack Obama was an instant hit. Other candidates have also had unsolicited songs inspired by them and written about them.

However, the new technologies are not exclusively the monopoly of young people and can be used in simple ways for organizing and forming local groups for candidates, donating money to candidates, finding out where candidates are holding rallies and finding out where the candidates stand on the issues. Hillary Clinton launched her campaign on an online video saying, " I'm in it to win it." It is well documented that Barack Obama has a more youthful following and to that end his website is based on the social networking style that allows for easy grassroots organizing and makes supporters feel like they are able to interact with the candidate. Hillary Clinton's website has not gone as far as the Obama camp in embracing technology in helping to garner support and to interact with supporters. Maybe it's a generational thing, with Hillary Clinton being of on older generation and of the older top down guard of political organizing and Barack Obama being of a slightly younger generation more willing to embrace technology and what it has to offer the campaign.

I think that a note of caution should be thrown in-- new media will not replace traditional methods of communication. The telephone, the television and good old face-to-face communication will never die out, but they maybe enhanced by technology. Also as excited as I am about the youth vote and young people feeling engaged in politics and voting in this election cycle it should be noted that the populations on the whole are aging.

One final note of caution is whether these technologies become so cheap that it is truly for the masses or will there become a technological underclass lacking access and the skills to keep up? Having said all that, I think that it will come full circle and people will hanker for the personal touch of that face-to-face and intimate type of communication, leaving no one behind. It is generally said that older people can be relied upon to turnout and vote, it remains to be seen if this explosion of youth participation will be sustained and if it will have any effect on the election of the next president of the United States.

Finally I would like to end with this borrowed analogy indicating the future of mass communication, Franklin D Roosevelt was the radio president, John F Kennedy was the television president and for this millennia we will see the Internet and technology president, whoever that may end up being.

I would also like to recognize the New Politics Institute, whose inspiring event New Tools, New Audiences on May 9 2008 inspired this post.

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