Prompted by a discussion of privacy on social networking sites, I recently reviewed my Facebook page to see what could be used against me if I ran for political office.

I stopped counting after I (quickly) found 10 things – pictures, wall posts, etc. – that could be used in a negative political ad.

With respect to my bid, it’d behoove me to remove self-posted pictures depicting tomfoolery because of how bloggers, and in turn the mainstream media, could use them against me.

As Dr. David Perlmutter talked about in a recent radio interview , politics is becoming an increasingly unattractive profession due to attacks via new media.

I agree – though I’d slightly modify that idea: Politics is an unattractive profession because it has, what seems, forever been an ugly business; as a politician, one’s chances of being mocked, hated and vilified are absolute

New media just provide new ways to open yourself to more salacious (i.e., untrue or trivial) attacks.

So, as evidenced in my Facebook example, it’s in my best interest to keep my Facebook page clean.

Why?

Because, in this time as a politician running for office, I’d more likely be attacked on whatever derivative a blogger could cook up based on “Bull Durham” being listed in my favorite movies rather than my foreign policy views.

My example is overly simplistic, but we saw how bloggers used personal matters to attack Gov. Sarah Palin: As she hit the national scene, gossip surrounding her daughter’s pregnancy changed the focus of discussion from political issues to personal issues .

Three weeks later, Palin still dominates news on many fronts – and after a week rife with historically-bad economic news, mainstream media are still focused mind-numbingly inconsequential matters (e.g., Palin’s take on Tina Fey’s impersonation of her on the Sept. 13 premiere of “Saturday Night Live” in both online and television news coverage).

I think the focus on Palin’s personal life happened, as Perlmutter and the other guests also discussed, because we’re living in an age where politicians are open to severe scrutiny – an idea made more dangerous because we no longer live in a world where news is delivered on a daily cycle.

So when people like Palin, who was virtually unknown to most Americans a month ago, becomes the center of news coverage, the media scramble to publish the latest information about her – in this case, reacting to a Daily Kos blog post that said Palin was faking a pregnancy to cover for her pregnant 17-year-old daughter .

The story was false, but media focus was driven by confirming or denying the sensational “who’s pregnant?” story.

The Palin case will teach lessons about how new and social media are used to shape election issues, because “issues” are increasingly matters of personality: What it shows is not just a change in the way candidates are covered, but the way new media have affected mass coverage.

What the Palin case may ultimately show is that although one can’t do much to prevent those outside the mainstream media – i.e., bloggers – from invading personal lives (this much is certainly not new), one must now recognize what ramifications a Facebook post might mean 20 years down the line in the political arena.

The Palin case may signify that a person needs to start running for national office at 19 years of age.

Accepting the burden of scrutiny during a political campaign needs to be realized long before running for office: Whether or not this deters a 19-year-old from entering politics 20 years down the road hinges on it.

posted by Ryan Curell / Sept. 19, 2008

Originally posted September 21, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

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