The Internet will ask (some of) the questions in the Fox News/Google Republican debate

On September 22, the Republican candidates for president will be in Orlando, Florida for the next debate. Unlike the last debate, where moderators from NBC and Politico chose the questions, Google-Fox News debate will use Google Moderator and YouTube to bubble up questions from the Internet. Questions can be submitted as text or video through the Fox News YouTube channel. The deadline is September 21st. The video embedded below introduces the concept:

Fox News anchor Brett Baer explains the process below and encourages people to submit questions “creatively” — which means that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could potentially be confronted by a YouTube snowman of the sort he didn’t care much for in 2007.

For good or ill, that kind of question in that kind of costume is likely to be part of the warp and weft of presidential politics in the 21st century. President Obama’s Twitter townhall” featured several questions from people with quirky account names or avatars. Bringing YouTube into the discussion will allow even more self expression and, while Fox News has the ability not to broadcast a video, millions of connected Americans can go watch the videos themselves if they choose. At the moment, the top-rated questions are substantive ones:

  • How do you intend to shift some of the power and influence of large corporations in Washington DC back to the average American and small business owner?
  • Would you support term limits for Congress?
  • As president, would you support the elimination of government agencies or departments as a means to reduce our government’s size and spending? If so, which agencies or departments would you eliminate or substantially downsize?
  • We’ll see if the question about marijuana legalization that has so frequently bubbled up to the top of Moderator instances for the president ends up in this one.

    Designing digital democracy is hard. The structures and conventions that have evolved for deliberative democracy, as messy as it can be offline, don’t transfer perfectly into machine code. Many different companies, civic entrepreneurs, nonprofits and public servants are working to create better online forums for discussion that make better use of technology. Last week, ASU journalism professor and author Dan Gillmor commented in the Guardian that is was past time for “presidential primary debate 2.0, where the Internet would a much bigger role in the structure, format and substance of these events. As Gillmor observes, “truly using the web would mean creating a much more ambitious project.”

    Imagine, for example, a debate that unfolds online over the course of days, or even weeks and months. While they’d include audio, video and other media, these debates would necessarily exist, for the most part, in the more traditional form of text, which is still by far the best for exploring serious issues in serious ways. Questions would be posed by candidates to each other, as well as by journalists and the public. But an answer would not be the end of that round; in fact, it would only be the beginning.

    We’re not there yet. In less than two weeks, however, we’ll see if the hybrid Fox News-Google Moderator approach comes any closer to bringing the Internet into the debate in any sort of meaningful way than it has in the past.

    You can learn more about how Google Moderator is being used for civic discourse in this article on #AskObama on YouTube.

President Obama to take questions on YouTube after State of the Union

Next Tuesday January 25 at 9 p.m. EST, President Obama will deliver his 2011 State of the Union Address, which will be streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov and on the major television networks. Today, Steve Grove announced a YouTube interview with President Obama next Thursday, January 27, with questions coming from the online audience. The deadline for questions is Wednesday, January 25 at midnight EST.

Once again, YouTube is taking questions using Google Moderator, which allows people to vote questions up and down. Before anyone jumps and calls this “Obama 2.0,” the president sat down for a similar live interview with Grove in the White House last year, and used a similar mechanism for an online town hall in 2009. The Google Moderator instance for last year’s YouTube interview on the CitizenTube channel received over 11,600 questions and over 660,000 votes. While the number of questions submitted the last time around suggest the odds aren’t terrific for the average citizen to see a question asked, it’s worth noting that a good pertinent question about the economy, energy, healthcare or foreign policy could be voted up for the president’s consideration (along with the persistent questions about legalizing marijuana.)

For a look back at last year’s YouTube interview, including a sense of how Grove pulls from the public’s questions. watch the video below.

Eight lessons for social media and politics from Politico, Facebook and media

Ten years ago, staffers thought Al Gore was weird for texting Tipper. Fast forward a decade to late 2010, when any politician who doesn’t use check email on a smartphone or monitor what the media and voters are saying on social media platforms risks being judged out of step. As the midterm elections loom large next month, a large majority of the United States House and Senate are on Facebook. A smaller majority uses Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. While the effectiveness of that usage varies from candidate to candidate, the question of whether social media is a fad is largely settled.

One of the great unanswered questions of this election with respect to social media will be whether fan or follower numbers have any predictive value with respect to elections. Another will be whether more interactive candidates are more successful. What remains is to decide which strategies and tactics will make the difference in winning elections.

Earlier tonight, a panel of experts from media, campaigns and academia came together at George Washington University for “Going Viral: How Campaigns are Using Social Media,” an event jointly sponsored by Politico and Facebook. The panel featured:

What was the high level take away? You can judge yourself: Video of the panel on political campaigns and social media is available at CSPAN and embedded below:

Politico’s own Meredith Shiner reported that “social media still has much to prove.” As Shiner noted, Finn told the audience that “Despite the increased attention paid by the media to political Facebook and Twitter accounts, campaigns today still spend less than 5 percent of their media expenditures online.” Determining whether that spend is consistent across all campaigns would be useful. That said, part of the allure of social media is that it requires an investment in time and expertise, not classical media buys. Sarah Palin, Scott Brown and Barack Obama could use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to achieve awareness of their messages without huge campaign war chests. For underfunded campaigns, using those tools isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.

Drawing from those take aways, here are eight more lessons for social media and politics:

1) Politicians have to use social media themselves to realize its full potential. Most campaigns are on Facebook. As Facebook’s Adam Conner pointed out, however, what remains is for candidates to understand tech personally and use it. “When you put a communications manager or staffer in between 140 characters or a Facebook update,” he said, “it’s much less authentic.”

2) Social media is not going away. “It’s the place we all have to be,” said Smith. As citizens turn to the Internet for government data, information, e-services, not to mention news, media and government entities have to “fish where the fish are.”

3) Very few Congressional candidates are doing a good job with these tools. At least, that was Professor Matthew Hindman’s take at the event. Judging from the feeds of many candidates, there’s clearly a learning curve with respect to style, conventions and technical acumen. Posting press releases to Twitter or Facebook does not realize their potential. Neither does treating the platforms the same way. For instance, Finn said that “tweeting from Facebook” is one of her pet peeves. Connor had seen enough “double third person posting” by staff to find it annoying. Voters are likely no different.

4) Social media enables candidates to build the intensity of support. While tweets and updates may not sway independents in of themselves, building strong online communities of supporters can translate into electoral success.

5) Friend power is important. Online, people are increasingly finding news stories from one other on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks, as opposed to through a search engine. That makes creating content with high “shareability” key, whether it’s embeddable videos, polling widgets or tweetable campaign slogans.

6. Leaving negative comments online builds trust, up to a point. In order for voters to see a page is a place for debate, you need to leave as many negative comments up as possible, said de Vellis, with the exception of abusive or pornographic content, which should be moderated. “Leave as much up as much as you can stomach,” said Finn. If the site is a place for supporters, “they’ll jump in and support you.” Conner suggested setting a policy up ahead of time, which a campaign can use to tramp down bad publicity. He said that it’s even more imporatnt to internal staff to have discussions ahead of time to get universal understanding of that policy.

7. This is the year of mobile. Again. As Pew Internet researcher Susannah Fox powerfully articulated in her presentation on the power of mobile this fall, 82 percent of American adults have a cell phone. Six in 10 American adults go online wirelessly with a laptop or mobile device. “Mobile was the final front in the access revolution,” she said. “It has erased the digital divide. A mobile device is the Internet for many people. Access isn’t the point anymore. It’s what people are doing with the access that matters.” As important as social media may become to the future of campaigns, reaching voters using email, text messages and calls to their cellphones – good old “Web 1.0” – is still paramount, along with a ground game to get them to the polls.

8. Candidates who use social media personally are more likely to use it on campaigns and ultimately in governance, says Adam Conner.

Once in office, the challenges of using technology for open government are even greater. Just ask the staffers at the Obama Administration and federal agencies, where open government initiatives in beta are moving from plans to implementation.

Telling the story of social media and politics

Befitting the occasion, below are selected tweets and images from the event, curated using Storify: