Posts about Politics

Guardian column: YouTube debate

My Guardian column this week is about the YouTube debates, bringing together some of what I’ve talked about here. (Nonregistration version here.) Snippet:

The two media did not mix well. CNN displayed the YouTube videos in small squares on a big screen shot by a big camera – reduced, finally, to postage stamps on our screens. It seemed the network was ashamed to show the videos full-screen because they would not look like real TV. But, of course, that’s just the point. They weren’t real TV. They were bits of conversation.

TV doesn’t know how to have a conversation. TV knows how to perform. The event’s moderator, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, behaved almost apologetically about the intrusion of these real people, who speak without benefit of make-up. He interrupted the candidates constantly, allowing them shallow soundbites a fraction the length and depth of even a YouTube video.

So I wish we’d have the YouTube debate on YouTube and leave TV behind. A few of the candidates are beginning to answer voters’ questions and challenges directly, small-camera-to-small-camera. Thus they are opening up a dialogue between candidate and constituent that was not possible before the internet: a conversation in our new public square. That is how elections should be held, amid the citizens.

PDF: The first tech president

Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, founders of the Personal Democracy Forum, call for the first tech president. They list six requirements:
1. Declare the Internet a public good.
2. Commit to providing affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide, along with protecting and expanding unlicensed spectrum for public use, and make the Internet a reliable part of our infrastructure….
3. Declare a “Net Neutrality” standard forbidding Internet service providers from discriminating among content based on origin, application or type.
4. Instead of “No Child Left Behind,” our goal should be “Every Child Connected.”
5. Commit to building a Connected Democracy where it becomes commonplace for local as well as national government proceedings to be heard by anyone any time and over time.
6. Create a National Tech Corps….

(Crossposted from Prezvid)

PDF: Eric Schmidt

Google’s head, Eric Schmidt, is talking with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman at PDF.

Schmidt says the most obvious use of the internet in politics is as a truth detector: We can look up what politicians have said and we can refute fact.

He also says that voters will become much less likely to believe the first thing that comes at them because there is so much more coming. This is the model of news going forward as it becomes more universal and instantaneous.

Friedman quotes a friend who says that a young George Bush would never get elected today — no, not for the obvious reason — because if there would have been cell phone cameras and pictures of his wild days at Yale. Friedman says that when people our age go for jobs, we present our resume: our proxy of ourselves. Now that identity is online and out of our control. Schmidt says that he thinks there should be a law allowing us all to change our names at 21: everything before is erased.

I think there is also an issue of mutual assured destruction: Let he who has nothing embarrassing searchable on Google cast the first stone.

Friedman also tells a story that in essence makes us all politicians, all public figures: He was at an airport newsstand and a woman thought he cut in front of her and she snarled, “I know who you are.” He says today he’d buy the woman’s magazine hoping she wouldn’t go blog the episode, creating a reputation for that rude guy from the New York Times.

Friedman tells the story of how in a recent Bahraini election voters used Google Earth to take pictures of what was behind the walls of the palaces and estates of the ruling family. Schmidt says the government tried to shut down Google Earth but there was a backlash and they had to turn it back on again, all of which only drew more attention to it. Online, as in the White House, the coverup is worse than the crime.

(Crossposted from PrezVid)

Advice for MSNBC

If MSNBC had any sense, which it doesn’t, it would have taken every one-minute answer from last night’s ping-pong debate and put them up on YouTube themselves. Then, today, we’d be able to watch each one without feeling as if we were trying to count cars on a speeding train. And, more important, we’d be able to comment on them and embed them in our blogs. We’d see which clips are the most popular, the most talked about. We’d get a new sense of what the electorate thinks, which itself would be news. If NBC also made the video files available, we’d see the post-debate commentary not from the same old made-up faces on the networks but from the people who matter, the voters: us. MSNBC would be part of the conversation, in the thick of it, which is exactly where it should want to be. Instead, the network is acting like the bratty and unpopular rich kid who takes him marbles and harumphs home, ruining the game for everyone.

But it’s happening without MSNBC, of course. There are already loads of clips up on YouTube, put there by dastardly copyright thieves, in NBC News’ view, or by engaged voters and viewers, in my view. And as much as I’m busting them for not doing the internet right, I have to believe that even MSNBC won’t have the bad sense to try to pull those clips and send cease-and-desists to the citizens who are sharing moments from our own democratic debate. (Quick, somebody put a leash on that lawyer!)

The net result, though, is that the discussion is happening on YouTube and on blogs but not around MSNBC, thanks to the network’s rules and to the fact that its clips are not linkable or embeddable and are chosen by producers instead of voters. A true case of cutting off the nose.

The side effect is that the clips are on YouTube but they are not on other networksnews sites. So you could have them promoting MSNBC today along with the viewers but because MSNBC insisted on NO internet usage whatsoever, they’ve given up millions of dollars worth of free promotion and branding. Foolish.

It’s not too late to fix this, though. NBC could put the clips up on YouTube right now (later, they could do this on their new embeddable service). And they could announce right now that they will follow Larry Lessig’s advice and release the next, Republican debate under an open Creative Commons license requiring attribution and links back to the networks’ site. They could say they’re doing this in the interests of stimulating the democratic discussion. But the truth is, it’d just be smart business. If they did that, I have no doubt that they’d get more traffic and more attention and out of that, more money. Instead, they’re only engendering the animus of the voters and viewers online.

Just to show solidarity with the YouTube gang of thieves, I’ve embedded clips of the two funniest moments from the debate over at Prezvid.

NBC’s shame, continued

The Democratic debate on MSNBC is like a game of Pong: 60 seconds “answers,” bang, bang, bang. I’m a fast talker and this is exhausting me. I tried to watch the thing on but instead got stories about Hugh Grant throwing baked beans and an two Indian chickens with seven feet plus about six commercials. They have links to the debate online, but no debate. Apparently, NBC doesn’t think the internet and its millions matter.

: I got email from an NBCU vice-president, who refused to go on the record, I don’t know why. So I can’t tell you what he said. But I’ll tell you what I said back:

Well, why don’t you break that chain?
I am trying very hard to watch it online now and I’ll be damned if I can find the way. You want to send me the link?
And this is not just about watching. It is about remixing, commenting. What makes NBC think it can own this debate? That is offensive hubris. It is downright undemocratic, unAmerican. You want to mean what you say? Then open up the debates for us all to use. Now.
If it’s so “regrettable,” then change it. You can. Do it. Get on the phone with Capus and I’ll announce it and praise you for the move.
My comments are on the record.

It’s painfully clear that NBC doesn’t understand the internet and its role in in.

: I see in the comments that some can watch the debate on the internet. I have reinstalled every bit of software and can’t. They are making it damned difficult.

: The Washington Post has been liveblogging the debate at The Fix.

: AFTERWARDS: It all went by so fast, what I most want is the opportunity to watch the bits that went by in 60-second flashes with commentary from the people. That is why I want this on the internet with many perspectives.

: HERE’S what I wish NBC would have done with the debate online:

* Make every 60-second answer a separate video so we can watch and actually absorb them.

* Put everything up on YouTube so we can embed them in our blogs with our commentary.

* Enable us to download and remix the questions and answers so we can compare and contrast them.

* Create a page that has all the questions and answers organized so we can see what every candidate, Democratic and Republican, has to say.