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How the web is changing politics

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 2nd October 2008

As we slowly/finally build up to a climax in the US presidential elections, it’s really interesting to look at a number of new online developments that are changing the way the two candidates and the media communicate, inform and persuade voters.

Barack Obama, for example, has today launched an application for the iPhone that allows you to “tap your iPhone’s existing address book in order to prioritize your contacts ‘by key battleground states’, presumably so that you’ll call them up to persuade them to vote Obama.”

This innovative (if slightly scary) development follows what has already been a political and ideological war fought as much online as it has been offline.

In addition to the iPhone app, we have already seen campaign microsites (Obama/McCain), Twitter feeds (McCain/Obama), YouTube channels (Obama/McCain), Facebook groups (Obama) and the list goes on.

Of course there is a downside (for the candidates) to all this online democratisation as well, with every single gaff being taken up even more quickly in a splurge of viral activity.

The media and the ‘social’ media has been quick to jump on the bandwagon. CNN in the US for example is now advertising its own reporters’ Twitter feeds on TV to encourage online dialogue. Twitter itself has created an election site, where you can follow all the latest election twitterings as they appear.

On this side of the pond too, we are no strangers to experimenting with how politics can use the web as a powerful vehicle, with the Conservatives relaunching their all singing, all dancing website this week and the recent blog-like incarnation of the new No.10 portal. The Guardian never likes to be left out and joins the fray with its own Twitter feed for its US election coverage. Popular political bloggers on this side of the pond include Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes and Tom Harris MP.

At the end of the day, it will be hard to tell how much all of this will change the eventual outcome in the election. But from a marketing, PR and media point of view, it’s fascinating to see how these new channels will evolve and how they are already being used (and exploited).

Danny Whatmough