Barack Obama had 2,361,303 supporters this week on his personal fan site on the social network Facebook, four times as many as his rival John McCain. Another indicator that Obama is the technological winner of 2008 is the 1,500,000 Americans who are registered on the site that bears his name: my.BarackObama.com.
Obama became an Internet brand name two years ago already; at the time, workers at the Democratic Party headquarters began collecting the e-mail addresses of his supporters. After building a huge database, Chris Hughes, a 24-year-old computer freak and one of the founders of Facebook, joined the staff. Hughes gave Obama's supporters the possibility of finding each other on the net, to correspond and to join chat rooms, to announce election meetings and to organize volunteers to distribute campaign leaflets and bring in voters.
This technological progress is easy to translate into money. First of all, Obama saved millions of dollars on organizing rallies and distributing his campaign message, thanks to these Internet volunteers. "We've really poured a lot of energy and thought into making this focused on real-world organizing activity," Hughes explained to Wired magazine. Some 100,000 notices about election meetings were posted on Obama's Web site and millions of surfers watched video clips on YouTube, calling to vote for him. In addition, his supporters were able to donate any sum from $15 to $2,300 via the Web, and in this way a record sum of donations was raised.
If the U.S. elections were characterized by the democratization of political discourse, Israeli politics are lagging far behind. Although several of mayoral candidates opened fan sites on social networks ahead of the municipal elections, these sites are operated mainly by advertising agencies and do not enable genuine communication between the candidates and the voters.
In the national arena, the Web sites of the parties are weak - they are not interactive, MKs are hardly found on the social networks and barely write blogs.
It is strange that Israeli politicians have a hard time discovering the Internet. They, of all people, who often complain about media cynicism and voter indifference, should be able to identify the democratic discourse that develops on the Web. The Israeli Internet has matured. It has quickly turned into the modern village square, where one can conduct a productive discussion about complex issues; that is also the technological message from the U.S. elections.
Of course not everything is rosy. According to a report in The New Yorker magazine, Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president, owes her job to an anonymous blogger. In February 2007, Adam Brickley, then a junior at the University of Colorado, was looking for a Republican woman worthy of being appointed vice president. A search on the Web brought up the governor of Alaska. The gamble caught on quickly and Brickley's blog was cited extensively on the Web and in important newspapers. It took John McCain three hours to be impressed by the candidate. That's when the problems began: Palin's embarrassing mistakes and Tina Fey's perfect imitation of her registered millions of hits on YouTube and badly hurt McCain. Perhaps this extreme use of the Web is something we should not learn from America.
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