Obama’s win through the web…a myth?

by Gary Howard on November 6, 2008 · 1 comment

in Culture, Odds & Ends, Politics as Usual, Tech & Telecom

Web 2.0 people

O’Reilly writer Andy Oram makes the case that the assertion President-elect Barack Obama’s victory is in large part due to his campaign’s effective use of the internet is an overstatement, to say the least.  Oram counters that when all is said and done, the mainstream media is what had the most significant impact on the elections.

I feel I have to temper the hype over how the Internet has changed elections. There’s no doubt that the Internet provides enormous potential, and that people have been using it in burgeoning numbers over the past four years to search for information, share ideas with friends, and form online coalitions. But several key observations show that the tipping point hasn’t arrived.

He goes on to give three points that illustrate why he feels this is the case:

1. Fund-raising proves the primacy of the mainstream media
2. Viral videos also prove the primacy of the mainstream media
3. Elections themselves have no Internet component

Fleshing out his points he states:

No one denies that Obama’s victory was driven by his astonishing ability to raise money (final tally: $650 million from 3 million donors, according to a Bloomberg story this morning). There’s nothing wrong with Noah Gift’s tribute to the Internet, just published on the same site where I’m typing out this blog. But let’s be honest: much of Obama’s famed online campaign–the social networking, the viral messaging, the constant emailing–was directed toward raising that money.

And it’s TV and radio that create the need for most of that money. Lots of us have built grassroots campaigns for various causes over the Internet, and we know we can do it practically cost-free. Certainly, fielding a team on the field in a fifty-state strategy takes money. But it’s really those thirty-second ads (or in Obama’s case, thirty-minute ads) on the incredibly expensive TV and radio stations that eat up the bucks.

Point 2:

Much has also been made in recent elections of the role of YouTube–a shorthand for the success by networks of determined individuals in raising items buried by the mainstream media to a newsworthy level. It looks like–at least when an embarrassing event such as George Allen’s macaca moment happens to get entangled with a sensitive issue–grassroots action can really shift the discourse.

But once again, these shifts in discourse don’t really make a difference until the mainstream media pick them up.

In his third point Oram simply illustrates that the physical requirement of actually going to a polling in person to vote removes the internet completely from the equation.  And that “elections have not been fundamentally changed by the Internet.” These points are well taken and puts the hype into perspective.  However, with Obama’s win and Ron Paul’s ascendance as a movement unto himself, I am still rather convinced of the power of web 2.0 to influence the political process.

Doom November 6, 2008 at 12:50 pm

It seems Oran defeats his own argument. If (A) the web community forces a shift to the MSM's discourse, which in turn (B) make it mainstream, wouldn't you say that A is still ulimately the reason why it became mainstream? Before the internet, A would be impossible, so point B would never occur.
Recent polls have shown that younger people – the 18-30 demographic that voted 60%+ for Obama -relate less and less on the MSM and more and more on the web to get their news. Of course, older voters which is the vast majority of US citizens, still rely on old media to get informed, which is why he feels it doesn't actually make an impact until they pick it up

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