Tuesday, October 30, 2007

1.2 Million Refrigerator Boxes for Stephen Colbert

In my last post, I talked about comedian Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report's run for the Presidency. The big news over the weekend was that his Facebook group, 1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T Colbert, actually reached a million members (one of which is me) - a feat no serious Presidential candidate has been able to achieve, as I noticed here.

Colbert commented on this, saying, "it took only 8 days for my group to triple the 400,000 members in Obama's group, and and only 8 seconds to triple the number of members in Gravel's group, One Refrigerator Box for Mike Gravel."

This New York Times article quotes a Facebook spokeswoman who says that Colbert's group was so popular it overloaded Facebook's servers for a brief period. The article's author, Brian Stelter, remarks that this is "the kind of grassroots support that the established candidates can only dream of."

And, speaking as a member of Colbert's "one million strong" group but no others, Stephen Colbert is the type of candidate us Facebookers can only dream of.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Online Crusade for Truthiness

Comedian Stephen Colbert no longer just plays a political pundit on TV; he's also running for President - though only on the South Carolina primary ballot. And he's already polling over 2% among Democrats. Despite his claim that Doritos is the main sponsor of his campaign coverage, I don't think that his campaign would be possible without the internet.

The Colbert '08 site was set up to mobilize his voters as soon as his candidacy was announced. The Colbert Report website, No Fact Zone, has a collection of blog posts that cover his Presidential run, as well as a trove of links to articles and other media about this event.

The internet also allows his fans to discuss his Presidential run and express their opinions. Fans all across the country are able to share information with each other about the rules and procedures involved with South Carolina primaries. There are also debates on blog communities over just how far he will, or should, take his Presidential campaign.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Online Politics and Women

Last week, I posted about the effect that age and rural locations have on whether or not people use the internet for political information. Well, a New York Times article from earlier this month gave me another factor to think about: gender.

In the article, Katharine Seelye claims that men participate more in online politics than women because men can show their opinions online and focus on problem-solving without being concerned with details, as women typically are.

Seelye also points out that Hillary Clinton, while devoting a lot of time to courting the female vote, gears her website more towards men, with her up-to-the-minute updates and her calls for action. But I found that she also takes a conversational tone in many of her videos and frequently talks about "softer" issues like health care, which Seelye says women are more interested in. Although men might dominate the political sphere on the internet, I do think that politicians like Clinton are making efforts to draw in female voters online.

You can help me find out more about internet demographics and politics by filling out the poll I just added to the sidebar of this blog. Thanks!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Fluff of Candidate Family Blogs

Yesterday, Alex Beam of The Boston Globe lambasted what he called the "ham-handed use of the Internet" among the Presidential candidates. Who does Beam name as the greatest offenders? Beam singles out Hillary Clinton for spamming supporters with contrived emails from Bill, and Mitt Romney for the corny "Five Brothers" blog.

When checking out "Five Brothers," I found it to be a great example of all the pitfalls that come with the blogs of political insiders and family members. It manages to contain a lot of words without really saying anything at all. Does anyone who isn't already a huge Romney fan honestly care about seeing staged pictures of Mitt Romney with his grandkids or reading about how Tagg Romney was convinced by his dad not to register as a Democrat and become part of the GOP instead?

The brothers also linked to the blog of John McCain's daughter Meghan. This is just as painfully cutesy as "Five Brothers": it refers to itself as a "blogette" and, according to the Bros, will be discussing "shoes and … fashion tips" as well as the realm of politics. Like, oh my God!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

They're Just Not That Into the Internet

Despite the craze of the internet during this Presidential race, some people just aren't into it. In a New York Times article last week, Julie Bosman looks at some Iowa caucus-goers who use traditional means of getting political information and opinions. Retired art historian Jean M. James of Iowa says she "can't be bothered" with things like blogs or YouTube, and a lawyer in Iowa says online commentary on politics just "never seemed important" to him.

Bosman attributes this to the fact that Iowa's population is generally older and more rural than average. Though they're not involved with the internet, they're still very involved in politics. Older people avidly watch television or read newspapers, and farmers listen to talk radio on their tractors.

With all the frenzy surrounding this new kind of political communication online, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the perspective of voters who still rely on traditional media. We have to remember that while the internet is a good way for politicians to spread their message to a broad audience and gain support from young people, traditional media is still what dominates politics and determines votes in the end.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Even More on Facebook!

Scott Shrake of the Huffington Post wrote an amusing article analyzing the popularity of candidates on Facebook. Shrake approaches Facebook as an outsider, since he is outside the normal demographic, and also just recently joined the site. But he decided to check out the politics on Facebook, since young people think traditional polls are "lame."

Though Shrake readily admits his data isn't exactly scientific, the observations he makes match up with what I found in my first post about Facebook. Obama is the most popular candidate on Facebook, since his supporters are so active online. The "one million strong" group for Obama has about 375,000 members, the closest to a million out of any of the purported "one million strong" groups.

Surprisingly, when I put "one million strong" into the search engine for Facebook groups, the first group that came up wasn't Obama's, but an anti-Hillary Clinton group. As Shrake mentions in his article, the divisiveness over Hillary Clinton reigns on the web.

Internet-Only Ad: A Smart Move?

On the five-year anniversary of the often-referenced Congressional vote on the Iraq war, Barack Obama has made an interesting choice. He decided to release an ad about his opposition to the war both then and now, entitled "Blank Check" - an internet-only ad. Why internet-only?

Well, in today's post on the New York Times blog The Caucus, Jeff Zeleny points out that "the ad is largely aimed at Obama supporters or people who are already a part of his vast online community." Zeleny believes that this is because all that can be said about the issue has already been said to the broader audiences.

I think that, seeing how strong Obama's supporters are in the online realm, there's more to it than Zeleny suggests. Instead of putting the ad on TV, the ad could gain internet popularity through word of mouth from his supporters. People are more likely to pay attention to the ad this way, rather than passively seeing it on TV and then forgetting about it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Facebook, Part Two: Ron Paul Edition

In my last post, I talked about how Obama and Clinton easily have the highest numbers of supporters on Facebook's politics application. What I didn't mention, though, was the surprising candidate with the third most supporters on Facebook: Republican Ron Paul, with about 28,000.

I think the internet is perfect for nonconformist candidates like Ron Paul who don't follow the party line and don't have name recognition. Ben Worthen, a business technology blogger for the Wall Street Journal, agrees with this idea in this post. Worthen calls the internet "the great equalizing medium" and said that businesses and other politicians could learn from Paul's approach to Web 2.0, which allows supporters to interact with the campaign and feel engaged.

It's no surprise that Ron Paul supporters are described in this article as "clogging Internet straw polls." And it's also no surprise that, in the same article, Ron Paul is quoted as saying "the internet ought to be left free." Since so many of Ron Paul's supporters utilize the internet for his campaign, it makes sense that he supports this medium.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Politics and... Facebook?

Like most college students, I have a profile on the networking site Facebook. But unlike most college students on Facebook, I haven't added any of their new application features. These applications let you rate your top friends, attack said friends with zombies, or buy them a virtual drink, to name a few, all while cluttering your profile page with graphics.

Today, though, I decided to check out the Politics application that Facebook offers. By adding this application, Facebookers can browse Facebook profiles of different candidates, select which candidates they support (the equivalent of "friending" them), and have their choices shown on their profile.

The candidates' profile pages serve essentially the same purpose as a candidate web site, except that Facebook allows them to be less formal, so they can quote their favorite Bible verses, tell us that they like to watch 24, and get Wall comments. Personally, I'd enjoy it if the candidates truly used Facebook the way college students typically do, so you could get into a poke war with them or send them pointless virtual gifts like lava lamps.

One thing I noticed was that Barack Obama has by far the most supporters on Facebook, with about 150,000. Distantly in second is Hillary Clinton, with about 45,000 supporters. In a previous post, I noted that Obama won the youth vote in a Yahoo! online-only poll, as well as winning the poll itself, because young people were the most likely group to view the debate and vote in the poll. It looks like the same is true for the politics application on Facebook.