Googling the 2012 election

Lunch with @stiles @ethanklapper @ginnyhunt et al to hear about new elections tech

The Internet will be a core component of the 2012 election cycle. Of course, you follow technology and politics, you know that’s been increasingly true for years. Last week, speaking at a briefing in Google’s DC offices, Google’s Rob Saliterman cited a 3/10/2011 op-ed by Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote that The impact of the Internet on elections has only begun to be felt:

The Internet makes it likely that more campaigns will be self-directed from the grass roots. The tea party movement, for example, would have been impossible to organize and coordinate without email and the Web. Thus campaign managers will have to rely less on activity in centralized headquarters and more on volunteers—working at their pace and in their way—to reach voters on their laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Cutting-edge campaigns have quickly grasped how the Web makes it easier and less expensive to transmit information. But campaigns are only starting to understand how to use the Web and social-networking tools to make video and other data go viral—moving not just to those on a campaign’s email list but to the broader public.

It took decades for the changes inaugurated by the “We Like Ike” TV ads to fully take hold. It will likewise take time for political practitioners to figure out what works and what doesn’t work on the Internet. But we are seeing a version of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” fundamentally alter the landscape of American politics. It will have huge implications on how campaigns are run, who we elect, and what kind of country we become.

A year later, we’re seeing that reality writ large upon the canvas of the 2012 elections. The portrait of the impact of the Internet and mobile devices upon the decisions that Saliterman painted through statistics offers a glimpse at where the future is trending. (Sources noted where provided.)

  • 83% of mobile phone owners are registered voters. (Nielsen Mobile)
  • One third of voters learn from online-only sources. (Pew).
  • 33% of likely voters don’t watch live TV. (Accenture)
  • 70% of likely Republican voters in South Carolina went online before the primary.
  • 2012 Primary voters viewed 14-20 sources before voting.
  • 49% of people compared different candidates online.

Political campaigns using geotargeted, contextual search ads for rapid response in primaries, says @robsaliterman

In that context, Saliterman shared out to the room of Washington politicos and media three ways that campaigns are using the Internet — or, more specifically, Google products — to reach voters and influence the political conversation:

  1. Google search advertising, used for rapid response to the political news cycle, anticipating what people are searching for and putting a campaign or media’s story where it will be found.
  2. Geotargeted advertising, where likely voters in a primary, municipal election or state election can be served contextual messages based upon the location from which they’re accessing a webpage
  3. Promoted video ads on YouTube, the world’s biggest video platform

More information on Google Elections is, naturally, available online, along with a toolkit.

There’s also a directory of public data that contains information on countries far beyond the borders of the U.S. that will be of interest to journalists and researchers who are not engaged in electoral politics.

Googling "unemployment" using public data

Postscript: For an excellent discussion of where campaigns are going in search of the digital voter, read Amy Schatz in the Wall Street Journal.

Correction: A statistic provided by Google about the percentage of smartphone/tablet owners that are registered to vote was removed from this post after it could not be confirmed.

Networks of Networks: What Defines Power Politics in the Age of Google? [VIDEO]

The Web changed Washington in one of most powerful uses of the Internet as a platform for collective action the world has ever seen. What does that mean for the future? This afternoon, a powerhouse panel of of big thinkers will talk about the implications of the networked protests that halted the progress of the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act in the U.S. Congress. Susan Crawford, Nicco Mele, Elaine Kamarck, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and the editorial director of TechPresident, Micah Sifry, will speaking at Harvard University at 4 PM ET today. The panel will be moderated by Alex Jones, director of the Harvard Shorenstein Center Director. The livestream is embedded below. If you’re interested, video of Clay Shirky’s 2011 lecture on journalism and free speech is looping on the channel.

Watch live streaming video from shorensteincenter at

Hat tip TechPresident.

Why don’t Google and Facebook use ChillingEffects to mitigate censorship like Twitter?

At the request of the government of India, Google India and Facebook have removed content from Blogger and the world’s largest social network after a court order. As Alex Kirkpatrick reported at Mashable, “Indian prosecutors are suing a host of Internet companies on behalf of a Muslim religious leader who has accused them of hosting content that insults Islam.”

If Google and Facebook used Chilling Effects like Twitter, we’d know what content they had censored in India For context, consider Twitter’s stance on censorship and Internet freedom.

While Google’s Transparency Report for India is laudable and impressively visualized, it doesn’t show what content was removed.

As far as I know, Facebook neither posts data of content takedown requests by region nor the content itself. If you know of such data or reports, please let me know in the comments

Open Government News on Gov 2.0 TV: The Year in Review, SOPA and POTUS on Google+

On Thursday, I joined Edmonton-based social media consultant and digital strategist Walter Schwabe on “Gov 2.0 TV” to talk about what’s new in open government since our last interview.

Over the course of the show, we talked about the following stories:

The 2012 Barack Obama campaign joined Google+. When will he host his first @WhiteHouse hangout?

As 2011 comes to a close, the Internet and social media are playing an increasingly big role in Politics.  Google has been trying to attract politicians to Plus, with mixed success. That’s changed rapidly over the last month. Google’s published a guide to Google+ for politicians to help them on their way. With the addition of the president’s campaign this morning, I think it’s likely that today will be a tipping point for Google Plus adoption in the political space.

As Drew Ulanoff reported at the Next Web, the 2012 +Barack Obama campaign for president joined Google Plus today. The Page has been verified by Google: this is the real thing.

The president’s campaign will be able to do more than ask questions on Twitter or post a picture of Bo on Facebook with Plus, however: he’s be able to host a Hangout with and then broadcast it live through Google’s platform using improved features that rolled out this fall. In the future, that might include mobile hangouts with the president through Android devices.

Of course, that’s already true for all of the leading Republican contenders to be next president of the United States. All of campaigns of the candidates currently leading in the polls to be the Republican nominee for president are on Google+, including +Mitt Romney, +Herman Cain, +Newt Gingrich +Ron Paul. Romney participated in the first of a series of Hangouts with candidates from the GOP primary. Bachmann, Santorum, We can expect more of them this winter.

Politicians, by nature, are drawn to crowds — particularly registered voters from their home districts. For Plus to be worth the additional time of elected officials or their staff, they’ll need to get substantial returns on that investment. If the presidential campaigns are there, it will show what’s possible to others and draw politically engaged citizens in.

The prospects for that outcome are looking better recently: Google Plus traffic surged after the addition of brands and media companies this fall. If people see it as an attractive destination to interact with candidates and their campaigns, that’s likely to continue. To date, aside from notable exceptions like +Bernie Sanders, congressmen, mayors, governors and other elected officials have not yet joined in bulk. We’ll see if that changes after the Thanksgiving holiday.

When is the first presidential Hangout?

Chris Taylor (“Barack Obama joins Google+“) writes that “at least one prominent user was making active use of the site Wednesday: President Barack Obama.” Ulanoff at The Next Web? “it’s definitely the President himself.”

Well, not so much. It’s campaign staffers, not the leader of the free world, just as it is on @BarackObama on Twitter or the Obama 2012 Facebook page. The only tweet the president has composed and sent went out from the @WhiteHouse account (more on that later).

Taylor makes it clear that he knows that Obama is not using the account himself — “it isn’t being run by the President himself, but by his reelection campaign” — but the imprecision here doesn’t help matters for readers. That’s doubly so when Google executive +Vic Gundotra writes “Welcome Mr. President! Follow the President at +Barack Obama” in introducing the new page.

As is often the case, Nick Judd has some of the smartest analysis of the intersection of campaigns and politics, over at techPresident. In his post on team Obama joining Google+, he gets to the heart of the issue: whether candidates or sitting elected officials use a given social platform to its fullest capacity to engage constituents and built community, as opposed to yet another (virtual) podium to deliver messages and speeches. So far, the Obama campaign isn’t going there.

Campaigns are using these channels primarily as another outlet for information to reach a different audience — if any candidate has used a brand page to actually go back and forth with constituents, beyond hangouts by Gingrich and Romney, it hasn’t appeared on the techPresident radar. But that isn’t stopping the hopey-changey crowd from asking: One of the most prevalent comments on Obama 2012’s first post, from around 9:17 a.m., is a request for a Google Hangout with the commander-in-chief.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching new audiences, of course — particularly for those trying to get elected — but how political accounts use social media will factor into whether they’re successful reaching and engaging them, much less influencing them. Each platform has developed its own culture and styles, from the reblogs and retweets of Tumblr and Twitter to the “Ask Me Anything” forum — or AMAs – on Reddit. (For an interesting thought experiment, imagine if the president did an AMA like former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.)

As Carl Franzen points out at TPM IdeaLab, as Google+ gets political it’s encouraging politicians to create pages, not profiles. Future analysis of the social network’s political prospects might dwell upon that initial choice. Facebook, by way of contrast, has been transitioning many fans of pages to subscribers of profiles. Senator Sanders has a profile, although the use of the third person makes it clear that its’ staffers that are updating his page.

Danny Sullivan makes another important point at SearchEngineLand: while Barack Obama joins Google, White House is still not there. (It may be a while yet, depending upon how quickly the respective legal teams at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway can work out an agreement. They did it for YouTube eventually, so stay tuned.)

There’s a larger point to make about how, where and why our elected leaders choose to use social media. Radio and television dramatically changed how political leaders could communicate with citizens domestically and humanity globally during the 20th century, both for good and ill.  In the 21st century, that capacity has further expanded and will continue to do so, in ways both expected and unexpected. Politicians can speak to the electorate whenever and where ever they are, if they choose to subscribe emails or follow profiles. Citizens can, in return, speak back using new connection technologies and, of course, speak to one another. That conversation is ongoing, whether or not an elected leader chooses to participate in it.

When President Obama stepped to the podium in the first Twitter Town Hall, he did something unexpected: he asked a question. In return, he received a selection of answers that Jack Dorsey shared at the end of the event. For this remote participant, that moment was the most interesting aspect of event, singular as it was in many respects. The president asked a question, the public replied and he read the responses.

Given the demands on the president’s time, using Twitter like this all day isn’t likely to be scalable (he might consult with Newark Mayor @CoryBooker about his experience) but it’s not hard to see the potentially utility of asking a good question occasionally and collecting the answers with ThinkUpApp or something similar. The same is true for other elected leaders too, naturally.

Given that Plus enables comments and Hangouts, there are new possibilities for sharing presidential questions and answers there as well. If the president decides to “Hangout” at the White House* himself, he’d be tapping into a new form of the potential of the Internet to connect him with the people he was elected to serve. Given the president’s current job approval ratings, he could expect to encounter some discontent, but then that’s part of the role. As with any position of great responsibility, it has its pluses and minuses.

*Mike Kruger, director of new media at the Department of Commerce, pointed out a key stumbling block for the use of Hangouts by federal agencies and the White House: they’re “easier for campaign to do. Hangouts fail 508 compliance/accessibility.”

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.

Google reaches agreement with FTC on Buzz privacy concerns

Google has agreed to an independent review of its privacy procedures once every two years and to ask it users to give “affirmative consent” before it changes how it shares their personal information. The agreement raises the bar for the way that companies handle user privacy in the digital age.

Alma Whitten, director of privacy, product and engineering, announced that that Google had reached the agreement with the United States Federal Commission in an update in Buzz posted to Google’s official blog this morning.

“The terms of this agreement are strong medicine for Google and will have a far-reaching effect on how industry develops and implements new technologies and services that make personal information public,” said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology.  “We expect industry to quickly adopt the new requirement for opt-in consent before launching any new service that will publicly disclose personal information,” Harris said.

In a statement posted to, the FTC charged deceptive privacy practices in Google’s rollout of its buzz social network. (Emphasis is mine):

The agency alleges the practices violate the FTC Act. The proposed settlement bars the company from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. This is the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers’ information. In addition, this is the first time the FTC has alleged violations of the substantive privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States.

“When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations.”

The FTC turned to Twitter for a live Q&A with the Web. Here’s a recap of the conversation:

In her post, Whitten highlighted the efforts that the search engine has made in this intersection of Google, government and privacy:

For example, Google Dashboard lets you view the data that’s stored in your Google Account and manage your privacy settings for different services. With our Ads Preferences Manager, you can see and edit the data Google uses to tailor ads on our partner websites—or opt out of them entirely. And the Data Liberation Front makes it easy to move your data in and out of Google products. We also recently improved our internal privacy and security procedures.

Google Public Data Explorer adds Census Bureau data, state government statistics

Last month, the Google Public Data Explorer went public. Today, Google added U.S. Census Bureau and state government finance statistics to the database, allowing everyone to gain new insight into our present.

The numbers may be beautifully displayed but they tell a grim tale when it comes to state budgets. The crisis in state budgets across the country will be the primary driver for the adoption of new approaches to governance and service delivery in 2011. If Gov 2.0 goes local, citizensourcing smarter government couldn’t come at a more timely moment.