During his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama delivered on the democratic promise of Web 2.0 technologies by using them to give voices to millions of Americans who had traditionally been drowned out by TV pundits, politicians and wealthy donors. And he's already shown he'll continue to use them when he's in office. That was the contention made by speakers this morning on the third day of the Web 2.0 Summit here in San Francisco.
Three guest speakers included San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, considered by many to be a candidate to run for governor in California. He was joined by Joe Trippi, the political advisor credited with harnessing the Web to build Vermont Governor Howard Dean's grassroots presidential campaign back in the 2004 democratic primary, and Arianna Huffington, founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post (which publishes a lot of citizen journalism).
The group first reflected on the 2008 campaign. Trippi noted that innovations in the Web 2.0 space, particularly around social technologies and the proliferation of online video, allowed Obama to take internet-generated politicking to a whole new level than realized under Gov. Dean back in 2004, when mainly the fundraising abilities of the Web were realized.
"Back in 2003 and 2004, Facebook was just on a few college campuses," Trippi said. "All these new tools came in [since then] and changed everything."
As Trippi noted, Obama has carried Web 2.0 into his upcoming administration by launching Change.gov, a website that allows users (or citizens) to interact with their new president by weighing in on issues of importance to them. A user could click on "health care," for instance, where they'll be taken to a page where they can send their ideas to the new administration.
But while Obama raised an unprecedented amount of money on the Web, and many see Web 2.0 technologies as enabling his rise to power, it also left questions as to whether a gaffe can unfairly bring down a candidate in the public discourse.
Though verbal miscues for Obama were rare, during a fund raiser here in San Francisco, he was quoted by a citizen journalist writing for the Huffington Post that some people in small towns of Pennsylvania "get bitter...they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
According to Mayor Newsom, such comments can beat down a politician due to the relentless way in which information travels the internet. As politicians become more aware of that fact, and there's less of line between on-the-record and off-the-record interactions with constituents, it can constrain what comments they might make.
"Everything you say is exposed," he said. "It's an extraordinary thing. Hopefully, we can be forgiven when we make mistakes."
But Huffington and Trippi countered Newsom by noting that Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs have a way of vetting information more thoroughly than the mainstream media, which will help canidates when false information gets stated about them.
"The internet has changed Karl Rove politics," Huffington said, which drew applause from the audience. "All the fear mongering, with Bill Ayers and calling Obama a socialist terrorist all got proven wrong [on the Web]," she said.
Despite Obama's success in harnessing Web 2.0 technologies during his campaign, and using it to gather input from citizens with change.gov, Newsom said much more work needs to be done to bridge the digital divide in America.
"There are people near here that have no idea about what we are discussing," Newsom said. "They don't have internet in their homes. We have a huge digital divide, for the people who really need this [Web 2.0 technology] the most. The only media these folks are getting is the TV set."