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.

    Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.


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