How the Web Changed Politics This Week

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Two events this week highlighted technology's increasing effect on the political process and proved that this impact is not all for the better. In the first, the creator of a widely viewed attack ad portraying Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as a Big Brother (er, Sister?) figure stepped forward to claim credit for the ad.

The ad, which parodies a 1984 Apple computer commercial, was seen by millions online and threw the Clinton campaign into a momentary quandary on how, if at all, to respond. The ad ends with a reference to Sen. Barack Obama's website although the senator's campaign had nothing to do with the ad.

The blogosphere went bonkers over the dawn of the "citizen ad" era. Now anyone with a laptop and an inexpensive video-editing program can "run" an ad on the Internet. While citizen access is great in principle, this first round at least indicates that "citizen" involvement offers little by way of public enlightenment. Read some of the online "debates" this "ad" has sparked, and it's clear that the uninspired, uneducated responses of online denizens do little to boost public knowledge about the candidates or to spur serious discussion on the issues.

The second event was technopolitics website politico.com's posting of erroneous information about the John Edwards campaign. In the "rush to be first" mentality, the website posted a blog entry quoting a source close to the Edwards campaign as saying former Sen. Edwards was pulling out of the presidential race or putting his campaign on hold because of his wife's battle with cancer. In a mea culpa, the blogger wrote, "And with less than an hour before Edwards was to announce, I unwisely wrote the item without getting a second source."

Ah, the old "second source" rule, widely abandoned since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle and the heat of Internet "rush to be first" competition set in. Mea culpa accepted. Single-source publication, NOT!