Meerkat GOP

The _______ Election

Look, the Internet and its related technologies have dramatically changed the human landscape, I get it. In fact, the only person not to notice technology’s role in shaping our lives is likely to be found at the bottom of Mamie White’s mine shaft (she’s got three you know). It’s gotten so bad that the average human being now carries at least 2.9 devices on them at all times. In fact, there are now more people on this planet with a mobile phone than a toothbrush. Sad, especially during close conversations. And, if those weren’t startling enough, in 2009 Google handled an estimated 1 billion search queries a day, generating almost 200 tons of CO2 and using more electricity in a year than almost two-thirds of the world’s nations. So sorry Beyoncé, it’s obvious. Who runs the world? Tech…tech now runs the world. Technology has even changed the way we elect our political leaders, or at least that’s what everyone in the news keeps telling me. Every election cycle we are blessed to have some of the sharpest journalistic minds remind us that not only do they know where the cool kids hang out online, but our news media can predict how those technologies will change our vote. You see, before the Internet, we were forced to actually understand our candidates. We had to weigh things like their sociopolitical agendas, stances on democratic dogma, and plans for foreign policy…you know, the really boring stuff. Luckily, technology saved us from that doldrum. Now we can do cool things like Spotify the Election. Which can be helpful when there are more candidates in the race than Duggars on TV (too soon?). I myself was lost until The Guardian thankfully decoded Hillary’s music playlist. There’s just something about an Arianna Grande track that makes me think things in the Middle East will be alright. And this isn’t a new phenomenon.

The Bullshit Shiny Object Syndrome

Eleven years ago an underdog Democrat named Howard Dean decided he was going to run for president. You may remember him: Howard Dean yelling One of his secret weapons was a little-known website called, a site which made it easy for people to self-organize online and meet in-person. But, he lost…and he lost a lot. So, naturally, the news media dubbed 2004 the Meetup Election. Because, you know, that makes sense. But in 2006 political candidates started to figure the whole Internet game out and began taking their messages to the Web. In particular, they were uploading their campaign videos to a website called Only a year old, it was clear that YouTube was changing the way we consumed political messaging, and so the media affectionately dubbed 2006 the YouTube Election. Well, that was until the Obama-McCain race in 2008. As U.S. News & World Report writes, THIS was the real YouTube Election. Which is odd, because at the same time CNN was claiming 2008 was the Facebook Election. Others clearly agreed, as there was a book written about that election called New Media, Campaigning and the 2008 Facebook Election. Okay, so was 2008 actually the “Facebook Election”? Well, the mainstream media would likely have gotten together and agreed with CNN if we’d never had another election, ever again. But that’s not the way it works. Before the election in 2012, The Guardian proudly claimed that Obama was turning 2012 into the real Facebook Election. Later, they even went as far as to say Facebook was the new swing state. Which makes it even more puzzling that they soon switched gears and claimed that the really big winner of 2012 was…wait for it…Twitter. Forbes took their analysis of 2012 even further claiming that the others were wrong, 2012 was really our country’s first Digital Election. Keeping up? 2012, as the news media tells us, was our first American election in which Facebook and Twitter dramatically changed the political landscape, conceivably altering all subsequent campaigns. Or not. As MediaShift later writes, 2012 was actually not the Twitter election we all thought it was. But, as they predict, 2016 will definitely be the Twitter Election we all expected years ago. Okay, so there you have it. 2012 was the Facebook Election and 2016 will be the Twitter Election. That’s easy enough to understand. Since it took 12 years for Facebook to earn its own “election” in the eyes of the mainstream press and 10 years for Twitter to do the same, surely there can’t be any other, newer technologies deemed as transformative? Wrong. Tech media site Re/Code proclaims 2016 is the year of the Snapchat Election. And it turns out the ambiguous men’s magazine DETAILS agrees. Buckle up, looks like 2016 is going to be the Snapchat….wait. This just in, Fox News is reporting that we’ve got it all wrong. Actually, 2016 will be the year of the Meerkat Election. And it looks like Politico agrees. Well, with so much new technology flooding the market, I guess that makes sense. I suppose it is totally reasonable to assume that a recently launched, untested mobile live-streaming application with a cluttered interface, low user adoption, zero ability to record or later watch missed videos, built entirely on a competitor’s platform sounds like just the thing to disrupt Washington! Meerkat was dead on arrival. But don’t fret, turns out 2016 is being re-established as The Periscope Election by journalism titan Poynter. And I can’t imagine anyone would challenge that notion. Well, anyone but The Huffington Post. They boldly claim that 2016 is simply going to be remembered as the Live Stream Election. Let’s stop here.

The Bullshit Shiny Story Syndrome

Why do news outlets seem so intent on finding the newest, shiniest tech toy to throw into the national political debate? Why do journalists think they can predict adoption rates and voter behavior? Much of this hype is driven by a combination of tech journalists and political reporters with an endless need for new content. They are constantly looking for political operatives with loose lips and lately, it seems the loosest have come from digital consultants with something to prove. With little vetting (read: knowledge of technology), respected news outlets lend credibility to digital and technology firms looking to increase their share of the campaign budgets. Which is understandable. That’s why it is paramount journalism report on the news, not pass along the opinions of others. What often lacks from these obtuse pieces of journalism is the important perspective of experienced political professionals and those that sit high above the digital trenches, those that understand how each “team member” works together in harmony to solve the ultimate objective: fifty percent plus one. Respected Democratic strategist David Plouffe is famous for saying:
“Balanced communications across all mediums is critical in any messaging effort today”.
There are no “old” or “new” media. It evolves and contributes. There isn’t an either/or scenario at play here. Radio did not displace door-to-door and Twitter will not displace phone calls. Technology cannot decide the election because technology doesn’t vote. Politics is about the most fundamental of societal objectives: living civilly amongst strangers. Therefore it matters little how we communicate, because what we say and what it means changes little, despite the medium in which it is delivered. But don’t tell the the New York Times. They still think 2016 is going to be the year of the Selfie Election. May God have mercy on us all. If you want to talk tech, then take a page from NPR and talk about how the most widely adopted, often forgotten, most prolific one-to-one communication technique since door knocking is still king of the Internet. It’s not sexy, but it’s what matters. Because, as noted in a previous link teenagers are the leading indicator for successful social media apps and if you’ve been doing your homework then you know, they don’t vote (18 – 29 were barely 19% in 2012). Maybe those in the media need to stop trying to predict a market, a medium, and a generation you don’t understand and start doing the one thing you are supposed to do: report campaign news so we can make up our own minds. This isn’t a Selfie Election, a Live Stream Election, a WhatsAppp Election, a Bitcoin Election, or even a Digital Election. It’s a political election. So journalists, just do your jobs.

But, Maybe I’m Wrong

With that off my chest, let me try this one more time. What will technology’s role be in the 2016 elections? Looks like the Washington Post is back on Facebook:
“If your goal is to get people to see your campaign’s blog post or get your new TV spot shared, an early stop (if not your first) in 2016 will likely be Facebook.”
Okay, I’ll buy that. And it looks like BuzzFeed agrees:.
“Facebook is on the cusp — and I suspect 2016 will be the year this becomes clear — of replacing television advertising as the place where American elections are fought and won.”
Okay, so there you have it, folks. 2016 is the year Facebook actually kills traditional media and we finally see the shift in the political strategy they’ve always predicted. So maybe I was too hasty in my criticism. Wait… As Politico recently writes (with confidence I might add), “Despite all the hype about tools like Snapchat and Meerkat, the 2016 campaign will be dominated by a technology that’s been around for decades: TV.” F*** it. I quit.

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  1. What is more transformative about tech / apps is not necessarily the roles they play in each election, but how they integrate into daily consumption of current events. Take Snapchat, for example. Snap carried a live story of curated snaps during the operation to retake Mosul. Your average 45 year old wouldn’t have seen it, but how will such intimate media shape the way young people see policy / politics in the future? What will the long term impact of such personal perspectives be on political policy?