Social Networking

OMG: Picking a Prez Web 2.0 Style

MTV and MySpace are partnering to give voters greater access to the politicians running for U.S. president in 2008. They plan to hold a total of 11 hour-long dialogues from September through December, held on college campuses nationwide.

People will be able to e-mail, instant message or text message questions during the events, which will be streamed live on both MySpace and MTV. The streaming video will include viewers’ responses to the questions and answers.

The debate series will kick off with a chat with Democratic candidate John Edwards in New Hampshire on Sept. 27. Other participants will include Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican candidates John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Taking Hold

These dialogues are another big sign of Web 2.0’s encroachment into the political process.

Earlier this year, CNN and YouTube hosted presidential debates that generated significant buzz in both mainstream press and the blogosphere. They were both a step forward — in terms of Web 2.0’s influence — and a step away from the traditional debate formats with members of the media firing questions at candidates.

Voters submitted their videotaped questions, which were broadcast for the viewing audience. It was CNN, however, that selected the chosen few questions that would air from the many submitted. CNN’s role as intermediary left some political aficionados grumbling that the YouTube debates were no less scripted than the so-called traditional formats.

Squeamish and Having Nightmares

However, CNN’s participation undoubtedly went a long way toward persuading squeamish politicians to participate. “This is an area in which politicians are very leery,” David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, told TechNewsWorld. “Any politician, of course, is afraid of making a fumble during a live, unscripted moment.”

The nightmare scenario, of course, was George Allen’s famed macaca moment, which was subsequently splashed across YouTube and might have cost him his Senate seat in 2006.

However, even in relatively orchestrated town hall meetings, politicians have been known to stumble. During the 1992 campaign, Johnson recalled, George H.W. Bush was asked how the recession affected him personally, and took some lumps for his dry, statistics-loaded response.

Of course, for the consummate politician, an unscripted, live moment can be beneficial. During the same event, Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain,” in response to the same question — a phrase that has since become his calling card.

Buzz or Real Impact

While the live dialogues sponsored by MySpace and MTV will no doubt amount to a trial by fire for some candidates, their impact on the election remains a question mark.

Despite all the attention they garnered, the YouTube debates did not nudge poll numbers, Johnson said. “The question has to be answered: Are we as political strategists not gauging Web 2.0’s impact on elections correctly, or are voters not taking them seriously?”

After 11 hours of live grilling, surely that question will be answered.

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