< Googlitics


Friday, June 15, 2007

Google isn't just raising eyebrows with its voyeuristic street mapping images. Its foray into campaign politics has some media watchers furrowing their brows. YouTube, the videosharing site Google snapped up for 1.6 billion dollars last fall, stands to play a prominent role in the 2008 presidential election. It's already the go-to site for “macaca moments,” those embarrassing or incriminating videos of candidates.

But Google wants to get serious. It's encouraging presidential hopefuls to post their 30-second ads on YouTube, as well as hours of campaign footage and exclusive Google interviews. Candidates have uploaded more than 900 videos so far. And YouTube's co-hosting a debate with CNN next month.

At the same time, election-related search terms like "Hillary" and "Romney" are likely to generate millions of dollars in ad revenue for Google as the election season wears on.

Are there any rules guiding Google as it both covers and makes money from campaigns? Peter Leyden is director of the New Politics Institute. He says Google could have a significant influence on the future of politics.
Politics has always been closely linked to media, and so when the media changes in any kind of fundamental way, politics changes fundamentally too, because reaching consumers or listeners is the same kind of way that you essentially reach voters and constituencies.
You say as media has changed in the past, politics has transformed itself to catch up. Could you give me some examples in the early days of television, and how that happened?
By the early sixties, as soon as television kind of got in there, there was an explosion of innovation around this new medium. Gosh, you had Kennedy/Nixon debates. You’d go, oh, my God, this is a good way to kind of really look at the sweat, you know, [LAUGHS] going down the guy's forehead, as opposed to what we used to hear on radio.

There were some early advertisements. There's a classic ad that they called the "Daisy" ad, of a little girl plucking a flower and counting the petals and, in fact, it morphed into a countdown for a nuclear bomb that exploded on the television sets in 1964, with Johnson's voice coming in, basically - you got to vote for me, or if you don't, this guy's going to get us in a nuclear war. And it just was so powerful and so visceral, it's so emotionally kind of impactful, that it actually only aired once and they pulled it off the networks ‘cause it was just terrifying [LAUGHS] people. But anyone who saw that ad basically said that's how you're going to do politics from that time on. And, in fact, that's what happened.

And so this is where we are is we're in that crazy explosion of new stuff going on the sixties. But soon enough it'll settle down. It'll essentially figure itself out.
One thing, I think, illustrates this difference between new media like YouTube and Google and mainstream media like television and radio are these “macaca moments,” these embarrassing videos that can make their way onto YouTube. This unflattering clip of John McCain doing his rendition of the Beach Boys’ song made its way to the Internet.
John McCAIN:
That old, that old Boys song, Bomb Iran?
[SINGING] Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb -
Anyway -
The clip was taken down, but it was reposted, and YouTube later said it was “mistakenly removed.” YouTube has a lot of power to remove clips like this. Does it have any rules for handling situations like this?
Now, in terms of what happened with that one video, I'm not really sure what, but they are trying to use the model in getting - for example, the same guy who works on the content of the politics side can't have anything to do with the advertising side.

On the other hand, when you go down [LAUGHS] there, I mean, it's much less clearly defined than traditional newsrooms and newspapers.

What happens, because this is a more democratized environment, when you start to suppress certain views, it gets more into free speech territory, as opposed to within a newsroom, when a reporter comes in with a story and the chain of command of editors actually can look at it and say, you know what, this isn't really right, or it isn't really responsible, and we're not going to print it.

But in this environment, you know, you start wondering, well, you know, what are the rules? Like is this some individual citizen putting something up, and who are you to stop it? Or is it starting to cross the line where it starts being libelous or something, and who gets to step in at what time?
It makes me wonder, couldn't a candidate post something that makes the Swift Boat ads look tame, with virtually no consequences? Should we be worried about candidates and political groups abusing the lack of order in these early days of user-generated sites?
Well, I think in terms of the formal political players right now, if anything, they're just trying desperately just to kind of stay abreast of these changes and use them. I don't see anyone kind of mastering it in a way that would manipulate the whole system to some end right now.

On the other hand, you are probably going to see bottom-up visions of the Swift Boat coming out of nowhere, and you don't know where they're coming from, you don't know who's behind them, and there's all kinds of ways that, you know, that could be quite disruptive.

But I will say this about the Internet: When false things come up, pretty quickly a lot of eyeballs go in that direction and say, wait a minute, this doesn't look right, and alternative views come up and other kind of contrasting points of view come together. And there is a way that actually things like this get neutralized pretty effectively and pretty quickly on the Internet.

So I would say the risk of going down this space is much less than the broad benefits of getting all these new voices in, getting more ideas on the table and actually working on a national conversation around really important issues in politics that we need to deal with today.
Many candidates have already visited the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. So is that visit to Mountain View going to soon be like a visit to the editorial board of The Des Moines Register, something a candidate has to do?
Yeah, I think that's actually not a bad analogy. You know, it's not like the presidentials trooping into The Des Moines Register's, you know, editorial board is seen as a new influence. It's just seen as a kind of routine thing that people understand. It's a sign of respect and all that stuff. I think that's actually what's happening here.

But I think it is also - you know, Google's one of the preeminent companies in the tech world, and, in fact, in the larger economy and, in fact, in the world. And for that reason, if you're going to be President of the United States, you want to know the people there.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
It's been a pleasure.
Peter Leyden is director of the New Politics Institute.