Politics and the Facebook Effect

An empty TiVo and moderate fever kept me on the couch through most of ABC’s “One Night, Two Parties” debate, sponsored by Facebook. It wasn’t as gimmicky as the YouTube debates, but both attempts to span old and new media fail to add anything significant to our democratic process.

Does Facebook think plastering its name on the small screen is going to bolster membership? Is ABC trying to gain relevance with a younger, more tech-savvy crowd by paying lip service to the current fad? I don’t see tonight as a win for either of them. The Facebook segments felt stapled onto the back of a traditional media format.

My feelings about Facebook have been steadily going downhill. The novelty of things like viral software deployment has worn off, leaving the annoying cuteness and intrusive advertising schemes. I’m close to closing my account for lack of interest and fear of getting dinged by their next Beacon-like fiasco. The only reason my page sees any updates at all is I configured Twitter to cross-post to Facebook.

I’m looking at the politics page where Facebook users “weigh in”, trying to see the value of it. A bunch of people answering some simple polls and blurting out a sentence or two amid the din of the crowd doesn’t improve my understanding of the candidates or issues. Is there something here I’m just not getting?

Not that the debate format itself was much help. Maybe I take the word “debate” too literally, but I expect to see people argue issues and present evidence. The only fact I heard was an interesting comment by Ron Paul on how currency inflation is really behind the price of oil. (No luck finding the NYT article yet.) Tonight further supports the notion of there being little to distinguish the candidates within their parties. The most interesting thing about the debate had more to do with who wasn’t there:

  • Dennis Kucinich comes in ahead of Bill Richardson in both the Facebook and ABC polls but was excluded from the debate instead of Richardson.
  • Although Ron Paul was present, Gibson mostly ignored him. ABC didn’t assign a correspondent to Paul for the spin room/post debate coverage like they did for the other four.

The one thing the internet really has brought to this process, especially for Ron Paul, is giving voice to candidates who can’t mount the traditional dollar-intensive media blitz that’s status quo. It’s ironic that Facebook participated in a forum that proceeded to muffle those very voices that have carried so clearly over the internet. Shame on you.

UPDATE: My mistake about the article Paul mentioned, it was in the WSJ and probably not linkable. I did however find the transcript on the NYT site. Here was the comment:

REP. PAUL: I’ll be glad to answer that question because it’s something I talk about all the time and it’s a very important question. The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a very good chart that explains this. If you look at the price of oil in the last 10 years, if you look at it in terms of dollars, it went up 350 percent. If you look at it in Euros, it went up about 200 percent. If you look at it in the price of gold, it stayed flat. It’s the inflation, it’s the printing of money, it’s the destruction of the value of the dollar.

UPDATE 2: YouTube has that snippet of the debate as well:

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