Throughout the Personal Democracy Forum a lot of smart people were making impassioned pleas for candidates to use technology to have an open dialogue with the American people. Be real. Be authentic. Tear down the walls that have been erected between the candidates and voters.

It all sounds great. But it seems to me there is a tension between this idealized goal of how things should be and how the social web is actually being used.

In many ways, the story of the web (particularly video) in politics the last few years has been the story of “gotcha” moments. Bad jokes. Pretty hair. Southern accents. Screaming. Terror taxis. Macaca. No strings. The humiliating videos get a lot more play than the substitutive ones (admittedly nobody has done anything that interesting with video this cycle).

Some of the moments linked to above are unforgivable. But in some cases these “gotcha” moments are examples of candidates being real.

So we’re in a situation where we want candidates to be authentic but are quick to punish them when they are. And the constant presence of voters with cameras ensures that there will be plenty of these gotcha moments.

It seems to me that instead of creating a more open election, we may be creating one where the candidate that is the most on message and the most robotic is rewarded. It can be argued that it wasn’t YouTube that defeated George Allen, but his own lack of discipline on the stump. The candidate that makes the least mistakes wins.

What do you think? Do you think candidates will use the web to raise the dialogue or are we just going to see an endless series of “gotcha” moments? Is the social web going to be used this cycle to build candidates up or simply to tear them down?

Update: John Stodder offers his take on Kos’ “gotcha” strategy for 2008.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.