Even before the results came in, the 2012 presidential election was being dubbed the First Digital Election, with 24-hour news content supported by online commentary, including explosive use of social media among the candidates and voters alike. In a recent survey, The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found social media is a significant part of the process by which voters are talking about their ballot selections. In addition, social media platforms have also become a notable venue for people to try to convince their friends to vote.
While the Internet is very much a mainstream tool in today’s political process, it was not always clear what the Internet’s role would entail. Leading up to the 2000 presidential election, the Markle Foundation designed an online election project, Web White & Blue. It explored ways in which people’s political experiences could be enhanced through the use of the Internet, very much “new media” at the time. Markle collaborated with multiple Internet sites, news organizations, and portals to provide this non-partisan, comprehensive online resource for news, debates, and other political resources. Web White & Blue demonstrated the Internet’s critical role in enhancing individuals’ relationship to the political process. The project was recognized as a nominee for the 1999 Webby Awards.
As the Internet continues to transform our political process by leaps and bounds, we have a ripe opportunity to learn lessons for thinking systematically about how to broaden the benefit of advances in information technology to create a vibrant economic future. Zoë Baird, President of Markle, echoed this point during a recent panel discussion at Techonomy 2012. She said that the big winner in the recent Presidential election was big data and social media, and she highlighted the opportunity for “taking that impact on the election process to making government work for people” and using the Internet to create jobs.