Why must social networking destroy politicians?

This appeared as a headline in my iGoogle world news tab today.

A series of disclosures about Gov. Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain’s choice as running mate, called into question on Monday how thoroughly Mr. McCain had examined her background before putting her on the Republican presidential ticket.

Now I care little about American politics and even less for the Republicans, but it strikes me that vetting politicians for anything and everything they have ever done (or indeed anyone close to them has done) is a path to ensuring politicians of the future will have to be closeted and avoid living “real” lives.

To be young in e-enabled socieites means to be connected. Myspace, Facebook, Bebo… If you do not have a page yourself, chances are one of your friends will. And if they have a Facebook page they’ll probably upload photographs to it. And if you happen to be in a photograph…

Pictured: The mayor who got drunk and climbed up a pole to celebrate friend’s birthday

In the photo published on the social networking website he stands on two metal bollards for support while clutching the lamp-post as his two friends pose underneath him (Deputy leader of the council and a Tory county councillor.)

In a connected world the “vetting” process becomes scary. The message it sends out is that if you want to be a politician of the future, stay away from social networking sites, stay away from anyone who inhabits them… in other words stay away from “normal people” (who as a politician you will one day stand up and claim to represent).

We crave politicians who are human yet in a world where any indiscretion becomes instant public knowledge, and becomes acceptable to everyone but politicians, what of our people of power in the future?

Can you imagine the following dialoge on a social networking site and the impact it would have on the politicians career:

B: Sir, you are drunk.
C: And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober.

How times change.


  1. Alexis Kennedy · Tuesday, 2 September, 2008

    I suspect that after an adjustment period the effect may be positive: that we learn that our politicians are human, and that we no longer require them to be saints or hypocrites to hold public office.

  2. Robert · Tuesday, 2 September, 2008

    Hmmm… I’m more of the opinion that it means that politicians can’t be hypocrites. For example: the politician who denounces alcohol abuse in teenagers who then gets “outed” by Facebook as a former under-age drinker is a hypocrite. However, the politician who says “Hey, I used to binge drink at 17 – I _know_ about how fun it can be. I also know how bad it is for you” is no hypocrite and the vetting process won’t become a problem.

    The “problem” with the vetting process is that it looks for politicians who are good at hiding, not those that open up willingly.

    The Sarah Palin issue, and her daughter in particular, will give an interesting example of this in snapshot. As an example: Did Bristol Palin consider an abortion, only to be forced out of it by her parents? Are her parents forcing her to marry the father of the child? Was Sarah Palin aware that her daughter was sexually active, and if so, what sexual education options did she pursue with her daughter (abstinence only doesn’t work if you are sexually active)? These are all valid questions, given Sarah Palin’s prominent family-value campaign – and the answers will leak to the blogosphere over time. Those answers will only destroy Sarah Palin if she has been hypothetical – e.g. if she is forcing her child to marry.

    If anything, this process will give us more human leaders – leaders who admit to human flaws and foibles in advance, and don’t lead campaigns of intolerance against others only to be busted, oh, soliciting for gay sex in airport toilets.

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