Give react?

“8 Democratic candidates face a new kind of questioning”

Tonight at 7:00pm Democratic candidates engaged in a “new” form of interaction with voters. Users were invited to submit questions via home-made YouTube videos for the candidates, and both the chosen questions and responses were shown on CNN for two hours.

Is it truly a “new form of questioning”?

While watching this debate, I had the thought that’s it’s almost a reverse kind of fireside chat. The phrase “from your living rooms” was used multiple times, obviously to emphasize the idea that these questions were coming straight from real Americans in their homes. It’s interesting that Roosevelt used radio to reach out to Americans between 1933 and 1944, and now that kind of connection between politicians and voters is being reversed, with YouTube users interacting with candidates on national television. But that still doesn’t answer the main question– is this a new type of questioning? What makes this different from town hall debates and answer sessions? Not much.

Now that we’ve introduced people asking questions directly to candidates in this way, is anything still missing? How about the ability to interact and confirm? One of the advantages of live debates with audience questions is that candidates can clarify questions and interact with people. This current interaction, like fireside chats, is still really only one-way. It’s more multi-step than previous forms of questioning, but still only in a single direction. (Person –> candidate= step one; candidate –> televised audience= step two) And one direction simple isn’t good enough for me. I want my politics web 2.0-style!

I know it’d be nice to think that this single event has revolutionized the way we interact with our politicians, but there’s a lot of tweaking to be done before this type of interaction can really be described as “new” or “revolutionary.” For one thing, despite the fact that all questions were user-submitted, CNN had selection power. A system based on user feedback (i.e. popularity, ratings, view count) would have been a much better method of selection. The questions asked were just the ones that CNN decided to choose. None of them were especially provocative or daring, and certain political issues were given a much greater amount of time than others. Until the selection system becomes more user dominated and methods of further user response are developed, this form of political debate will never be truly new.

So what is it? Well, it’s a stepping stone. The fact that this even took place is a great sign that news and political organizations are beginning to understand the importance–no, necessity–of online communication. Not just communication; interaction. It’s not enough anymore to travel around the states shaking hands and making speeches. By exploring this idea further, politicians will be able to reach a whole new group of voters. It has enormous potential, and I hope that this exploration continues. There is a huge online community just waiting to become involved in ways that have never been possible before. Watch out, FDR.

You can view the debate on the CNN website, or read the transcripts: PART I; PART II

The questions, along with others that weren’t selected and video responses to the debate are here.

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