Permanent memory: The impact of the Internet on elections

By Harold Jansen on Sep 20, 2008

Over the last decade or so, there's been a lot of speculation (and even some solid empirical research) about the impact of the Internet on the political process. Much of it has been about grandiose claims over whether the Internet is going to usher in a new golden era of citizen participation and engagement. Short answer: probably not. Jared Wesley's post on Facebook is right on the money.

But the Internet is having an impact, but in smaller ways than we might have anticipated. One of these is that the Internet is a form of permanent memory. Things you say and do can stick with you for years, showing upin Google searches or on YouTube. We've seen it happen to two NDP candidates in BC this week, both of whom had to resign because of video of them using marijuana.

There's two lessons in this. The first is for people who think about having a career in politics someday. Be careful of what you say and do on-line. It lives forever. I'm constantly amazed at the personal things people will air on the Internet. Ithink there should be a bit of leeway for youthful indiscretions, but not everyone is so forgiving.

The second is for political parties: it's called Google. Use it. I am amazed that the NDP did not catch these things about these candidates. Nowadays, parties are (or should be) careful about who they sign off on as candidates. Most parties have significant vetting processes before the leader will endorse a candidate. Employers use Google to learn about potential job candidates; political parties should do the same. It's astonishing to me that the NDP did such a poor job of investigating potential candidates in the battleground province of British Columbia.

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