It's been suggested in many articles that President Obama won the U.S. election in 2008 because his campaign used Twitter, Facebook and other social media effectively over the course of the campaign that spanned two years. But this new instant social media clearly it works both ways: Bad news travels much faster, and with significantly more power, than good news ever does. Face it: People love dirt and passing on bad news more often, with negative results which tend to stick in a voters mind for a longer period of time than good news does.
The snowball effect
There's more to it than just a story being uploaded and published on a blog or RSS feed. It goes a lot farther, much much farther. Internet news is now available in every language, where anybody who has access to a computer or smart phone is now a potential audience for 'news'. That has politicians nervous because just how many of these stories are published with incomplete information along with confirmation that the material they are publishing is true. Harder still, once it's published, how much effort do you put into getting a retraction if the story is inaccurate? And if the politician pushes too far, it may be perceived that there is in fact truth to the article, compounding the problem. Twitter spreads news like a virus and it's unstoppable and often it doesn't, if ever, post retractions or corrections at the same velocity. We thought we understood the 7/24 news cycle when the era of 200 television stations became a reality... uh no...not even close were we in understanding what this cycle means - until now.
Bad news is also how the opposition takes aim at its targets. Once a story is in the wild, you can bet your opposite is firing out their take on a story, sometimes with twice the venom and quadruple the amount of information that can literately engulf the target. If you thought spam was a problem, political drama is going to crush it in the years to come. One question it raises is: Can we absorb it all? The politician may have an escape route after all. But there's an old saying: If enough junk is thrown at the wall, some of it is going to stick...
News is also about agendas that elected leaders want to you to vote for. Out go the press releases, RSS alerts, Twitter, blogs and social portal postings. You become engulfed in it. You can't surf anywhere without it coming at you. Well, you can, but don't worry; they'll find you anyway and make sure you listen. As opposing sides pitch you why each respective side is right and the other is wrong, you wonder if they even remember what they represent you for in the first place. This onslaught of political news is ignored, absorbed and debated and the arguments and dilution of substance begins. Often it can be ugly at one extreme to complete blandness at the other. Politicians rarely remember which side of the bed they woke up on, why should it be any different trying to get a bill passed on the floor of the legislature?
What some leaders are starting to realize is that if they are not careful, their constituents will tune out. So far that's not holding true, with the majority of western world eligible voters having access to the internet and having an email address or a cell phone with a data plan. Most troubling for elected officials are secondary news sources that create perception beyond their editorial control. These secondary sources are your friends that pass on the news, as a tweet, email, blog or text message which are condensed and revised pieces of news. This audience tends to get engaged BECAUSE it came from a source they associate with. The future might hold that people create firewall or filter rules that prevent political messages getting to them, but rarely will they reject these secondary sources of news.
Reaction to government has moved from the lawns of universities and parks to the Internet.