The new armies of the ’net

By ERICA SAGRANS  |  February 1, 2007

While Jerzyk’s site (to which I am a contributor) is a staunchly progressive blog, and others of a similar ilk — including, and— have emerged, Anchor Rising spearheads a small but growing conservative blog movement in Rhode Island. Founder Justin Katz calls Anchor Rising “a long overdue forum for ideas outside of the local consensus.”
If the growing blogging movement has aided political organizing and fundraising, it is also increasingly making news — as with Lane Hudson, the blogger who first posted Mark Foley’s e-mails to congressional pages, leading to the Florida Republican’s resignation.
And though there is still a gap in access to new online technologies across age, race, and income, Internet use for political information and engagement keeps growing. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 60 million people (31 percent of Americans online) say they went to the Internet for information on the 2006 elections.

Pols still need a message
Politicos will remember YouTube’s fast rise in 2006 in connection with US Senator George Allen’s caught-on-tape moment, in which he called one of his opponent’s volunteers a “macaca,” leading to Allen’s unexpected defeat by new Democratic darling Jim Webb on Election Day in Virginia.
There are dozens of similar examples of how this popular technology is being incorporated into politics.
When an anonymous user recently posted a 1994 video of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney expounding pro-choice, pro-gay marriage rhetoric, for example, the video was viewed 12,000 times the next day, prompting Romney to respond with his own YouTube video, asserting he was now “greyer, heavier, and wiser” — and more anti-gay marriage and anti-choice.
Politicians are also readily embracing online social networks like MySpace and Facebook to target and communicate with supporters. US Senator Evan Bayh’s Facebook profile tells us his favorite car is a Jeep Wrangler, and his favorite food apple pie, cherry pie, and BBQ. Too much information, some say, or perhaps another entertaining distraction from the real issues.
But Matt Burgess, a media consultant with MacWilliams, Robinson & Partners in Washington, who was the spokesman for Matt Brown’s abortive US Senate bid, strongly believes that social networking has engaged many more people in the political process.
Burgess’s firm integrated MySpace profiles for campaigns with YouTube videos and got users to sign up for text message updates through the site, using today’s popular incentive — the chance to win an iPod — to encourage people to join their campaigns. “All these new technologies are great,” he adds, “but they need to be paired with a good message and a strong voter contact program to have the most impact in a campaign.”
Despite the buzz around progressive activists and the Internet in 2006, Chuck DeFeo, e-campaign manger for Bush-Cheney ’04, says the Republican Party maintained an edge technologically. He says the national GOP used technology to empower regular citizens to hold house parties, get maps and directions to the polls, and organize neighborhood get-out-the-vote efforts. “The only thing missing,” from the Republican strategy, DeFeo writes on Personal Democracy Forum, “was a message for grassroots supporters to carry.”

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  Topics: News Features , Mitt Romney, Blogs and Blogging, U.S. Republican Party,  More more >
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