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Sunday Must-Read: Charles Pierce, Boston Globe

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, June 17 2007

Don't wait til Monday to read Charlie Pierce's "Mud in the Digital Age" article in today's Boston Globe. The title makes it sound like the piece is mainly about dirty tricks online, but it's really more about the way things are now:

The Internet, and the exploding technologies it has produced, has transformed everything about American politics in two ways: It’s accelerated the process, and it’s brought in vast and innovative new levels of citizen involvement. Those changes have been enough to break down the barriers between the actual campaign and the virtual campaign in every area, whether it’s the elite political press coping with bloggers, or in the structure of the campaigns themselves. The campaigns are lost in a new and strange landscape, trying to harness the raw materials there for conventional political advantage.

The question of how much citizen involvement is good for the country is one that bedeviled even the Founders. But this new influx of people and technology has been so sudden, and so overwhelming, that nobody’s had time to ponder fully its benefits and its drawbacks.

Pierce interviews many of the internet strategists of the top presidential campaigns, plus our own Andrew Rasiej, and he's done a great job of summarizing the key events of the internet in politics 2008 so far. He makes more of the acceleration effect of the internet than most observers have made, and I think that's a key insight of his piece. I might take issue with his statement that "nobody's had time to ponder fully"--after all, that's what we've been doing here at TechPresident.com since January. But no matter, even if much of this is familiar, read the whole piece, it's worth it (and a perfect story to forward to friends who may not yet have tuned into how much politics is being changed by the net).

One last comment--Pierce picks as his opening anecdote the episode where Mike Davidson of Newsvine changed some content on John McCain's MySpace page because McCain's staff hadn't asked his permission to use his MySpace design. While Pierce gets the details of that story right, a far better example of the tricky new terrain of web-based campaigns where outsiders may hack their sites at crucial moments took place last summer, when the Joe Lieberman campaign website crashed on the day before the Democratic senatorial primary, and they immediately blamed the Ned Lamont campaign, even though there was no proof that Lamont supporters had hacked the Lieberman site. In the end, it appears the fault was with Lieberman's ISP, which wasn't ready to handle the spike in traffic it got around the primary. But the press fell all over the meme of "blogger-driven Lamont campaign must have hacked Lieberman site." It strikes me that this is the moment we have to fear, when the self-correcting nature of the web bangs up against the old news media's ignorance about how it works, especially at a crucial moment in a race.