Social Media and Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

Social Media and Politics Make Strange Bedfellows
Artwork: Chip Taylor
It's become like shaking hands, kissing babies, and promising to cut taxes while creating jobs: Every candidate running for elected office apparently feels compelled to embrace social media. Now we've got two Facebook pages in every pot and a tweet every 15 minutes.

It's bad enough trusting these folks with our tax dollars. Trusting them to use Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace without injuring themselves is apparently too much. The results have hovered somewhere between ridiculous and hilarious.

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Few gaffes can top the heights achieved by Sarah Pompei, a volunteer working for Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign in California. In a tweet designed to highlight Whitman's tough stand on crime, Pompei meant to link to a story about San Diego County Sheriff's Department endorsing the former eBay CEO. But she made a politically fatal typo in pasting that bit.ly link to her tweet, leaving off the final letter. Instead, Whitman supporters enjoyed a video of South Korean bass player Hyunmo Kim wearing a pink tutu and rocking out to a Japanese pop tune. That video has now been viewed more than a million times, presumably not only by people curious about Whitman's stand on crime. (Or perhaps Whitman was trying to say cross-dressing bassists should be doing hard time. I could get behind that one.)

According to his MySpace page, Hyunmo Kim "hopes to be the world's greatest stupid idiot bass player." It's unclear whether Pompei or Whitman have similar ambitions in the political sphere.

But Whitman is hardly the only big name pol caught in a Twitter trap. Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin got snared when she used Twitter to urge Pennsylvanians to vote for Republican senatorial candidate John Raese. The problem? Raese is running for Senate in West Virginia, where Democrats have been dogging him with questions about his residency. Palin -- or whoever was driving her Twitter account at the time -- caught the error and quickly corrected it, but not before sharp-eyed reporters at CNN took notice.

At least Palin is still alive and kicking -- apparently to the deep disappointment of former New Hampshire state representative Timothy Horrigan. Last August, the N.H. Democrat twice tweeted how a dead Sarah Palin would be even more dangerous than a live one, because then it wouldn't be possible for her to make any more gaffes. Horrigan resigned shortly after issuing the tweets, then tried to unresign. That didn't work so well. Now we'll find out whether an unemployed Horrigan is more dangerous than an employed one.

Social Media and Politics Make Strange Bedfellows
What is there to say about former-witch-turned-senatorial-candidate Christine O'Donnell? Apparently quite a lot. But her biggest purely tech gaffe was the fundraising website ElectChristineODonnell.org, which was created by supporters who apparently did not know the correct spelling of her name. (It's correct in the URL but was missing a final 'l' on the site until a Buzzfeed blogger pointed it out.)

Are political candidates (or the staffers who are handling the tech side for them) growing more dense over time? That's entirely possible. But I think a better explanation is that in the past, a candidate's mistakes had a much smaller audience with a much shorter memory. Now with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube capturing every flub and making it available 24/7 and endlessly sharable, the margin for error has essentially disappeared.

Though these examples mostly involve members on one side of the aisle, I firmly believe stupidity is spread fairly evenly throughout the political spectrum. I gotta say, though, it sure seems like some people (and I'm not naming names here) perceive stupidity as a good reason to vote for someone. They've certainly got a lot to choose from this November.

Seen any other high-tech political gaffes this year? Post them below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Social media and politics make strange bedfellows," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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