In 2004, the Howard Dean campaign in the United States blazed the way in taking the election campaign online. Dean not only raised more than anyone else online, but more importantly also pioneered the use of the internet to gather and mobilise support both online and in real life.

Since then we’ve seen social media explode with YouTube, Facebook and similar services. Now Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential hopeful, is using the internet to harness the crowd by calling on them to create his official TV spot.

Romney has made a wealth of video footage, photos and audio clips available on (a Yahoo! company) where you can easily create and edit the clips to produce your own “cut”. This move will

  1. help engage Republican activists with his issues — this could lead them to choose Romney instead of one of the other candidates;
  2. provide a platform to get out more aggressive messaging since Joe Soap who comes along to create a video can say things that Romney or his staff can’t;
  3. increase the number of videos being produced for Romney, which will increase the changes of a single one of them going viral; and
  4. radically increase the presence of Romney online — just because a video doesn’t make it on to TV, doesn’t mean it is lost; say they get 1 000 videos that each get 1 000 views, that’s a million additional people who were exposed to his message.

In fact, the strategy has probably already paid off. The only Republican candidates who I would have been able to recognise in a line-up were Giuliani and McCain. I had heard Romney’s name in passing but nothing more (here is a list of all of them). Now I know who he is and what he stands for. Well, at least I think I know …

The first one I came across ended with “Mitt Romney: We can do a lot better”

This sort of subversion should be expected and can hardly be avoided. It shouldn’t stop campaigns from engaging and trying to leverage their supporters. Regardless of Romney opening up this process, someone could have (and probably has) created a negative ad anyway.

In the age of cheap digital cameras, massive searchable media archives, online video-editing tools and free distribution platforms, campaigns cannot control the message in the same way that they may have in the past.

Welcome to Politics 2.0.


Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay

Mohamed Nanabhay is the Head of New Media at the AlJazeera Network based in Doha, Qatar. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 and...

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