As someone who is equally as fascinated by the impact of social media as by the happenings in the political arena, I’m a happy camper when the two find a crossroads. Because of this, I’m sure you could guess that I was more elated than a congressman on Seersucker Thursday when I found out SxSWi was offering an entire smorgasboard of panels on politics and technology.
These panels fell under the category Government and Global Issues and featured some of the best and the brightest minds in new government tactics, who shared how disruptive technologies are changing the practices of politics, the goals of government and the concept of campaigning. As the SxSWi guide defined the driving force of these panels,“Technology has entirely rewritten the relationship between citizens and governments.” It’s opened the avenues of communications and enabled a level of transparency and accountability never before possible.
Despite the fact that all 6 of the government and global issues panels that I was lucky enough to attend were out-of-this-world stellar, for the sake of brevity I’ll highlight one of my favorites. With this year’s election being particularly susceptible to the implementation of new social and digital media practices, my top panel focused on disruptive technologies in the presidency, campaigning, and the election.
Socializing the Presidency: Digital Politics 2012
This panel was moderated by Christina Bellantoni who is the Politics Editor for PBS Newshour. The panelists were Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, Maria Teresa Kumar, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Voto Latino, and Mary Ham, a Fox News Contributor.
The panel promised to explore the evolving social and digital media practices on the campaign trail and analyze their impact on the 2012 election. It delivered.
While much of what was discussed are items of common knowledge (you should have Facebook and Twitter accounts, use social media to connect to your constituents, etc. etc.) what struck me the strongest was the ongoing insistence of the panelists that politicians and their campaign teams need to be genuine. Yes, the political arena is an admittedly muddled venue in terms of good intentions and presenting things at face value, but in a day and age when people interact largely over their social media networks and consume news via online news and blog outlets, candidates who can’t at least appear genuine come off as artificial and are ostracized by their possible voter pools.
Gone are the days that communication during a campaign leaked through slow and heavily monitored channels. There are now direct avenues through which the public can speak to the presidential hopeful, and vise versa.
While the discussion of tools used during a campaign was insightful, what really blew me away was the topic of how voter registration and the voting process itself is being revitalized by digital capabilities. Smith, president of Rock the Vote, and Kumar, Executive Director of Voto Latino, were especially passionate in their discussion of how technology is empowering voters.
With the ways to register for voting and getting to the polls changing in the face of technology, it is more important than ever that eligible voters are well informed on how to register. Organizations like Rock the Vote are implementing attractive branding and strong messages to mobilize the millenials, which according to figures from Rock the Vote, is a key generation to get to the booths.
“Already, the Millennial Generation is changing the face of politics. Forty-four million strong, we are the largest generation in history and represent more than one-fifth of the electorate. We are also the most diverse generation. Sixty-one percent of Millennials identify as White, while 17% are Hispanic, 15% are Black and 4% are Asian. ”
Voto Latino has similiar goals, but for a different demographic. As defined on their website, “Voto Latino is a dynamic and growing non-partisan organization whose civic engagement campaigns have reached 55 million Latino households nationwide. United by the belief that Latino issues are American issues and American issues are Latino issues, Voto Latino is dedicated to bringing new and diverse voices into the political process by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change.” They leverage social and digital media to target a classically under-represented, but crucial group of voters, American Latinos, and get them informed, registered, and voting.
Social and digital media have politely pardoned the gatekeepers of campaign and political information. With conversations, speeches, and platforms more accessible than ever before, “the message” has a chance to circulate at a much wider rate than ever before. When voters are informed on the issues, when they know how and when to get to the polls, when they can directly communicate with the candidates, this will be the day that voices can truly be heard and not just counted. While this panel may have been named “Socializing the Presidency,” I believe the width of its scope should have constituted a change to “Socializing Politics.”
All of these concepts will only become more important as the 2012 election creeps up on us over the next several months and the impact of these practices become more tangible. Syracuse University has acknowledged the immense potential for learning in this scenario, which has resulted in the teaming up of the School of Information Studies and the Maxwell School of Citizenship offering a joint course on disruptive technologies and the election, called “Social Media and the Election of 2012” (also known as #electionclass). The class will be taught by Professor Anthony Rotolo for all SU grads and undergrads as IST 500, or through Maxwell as a graduate course with Professor Ines Mergel. It will be offered in Fall 2012 only.