In case you hadn’t noticed, the Internet has changed the world quite a bit. One area of life that’s being altered the most is politics. Political ads, political scandals, rumors, elections, campaigns and just about every other area of a politician’s life are being radically changed by the presence of the Internet.
The Internet’s influence on political campaigns has made online reputation management all the more important, because at any moment a hundred different special interests could be working to destroy the reputation of a politician. Reputations can be made or destroyed online, and some major presidential candidates have made their mark by having a savvy eye for online reputation management. In 2004, Howard Dean’s candidacy took off due to his Internet campaigning, and was taken down when his antics at one fundraiser was plastered online. Even Barack Obama’s main weapon during the campaign was his super use of online reputation management tactics over his opponents in both the Democratic primaries and the general election.
There are many examples of politicians being taken down by Internet as well, often those who had no clue what was happening. For example, in the 2008 presidential campaign, Rudy Giuliani was mocked by a Website with a common misspelling of his name. The Website took you to a clip of him in drag at a 2000 press roast dinner. Obviously, that’s not the kind of thing you want being put online about you, especially if you’re a Republican. Then, during the same campaign, details of former Senator John Edwards’ affair was being broken online. Having a savvy reputation management technique is know how to deal with things before they happen, such as buying every website that has your name. You should even buy every variation of your name, every misspelling and so forth.
However, during the 2008 presidential election, the online reputation management of both parties wasn’t very good. Only 5 of the 17 candidates purchased keywords on search engine, and in fact the Republicans did a much better job than the Democrats.
One of the major players in politics from 1996 until now has been blogs. Blogs have crushed the reputations of some presidents, going all the way back to Matt Drudge breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal on his Website in the mid-90’s. Blogs attract attention to some candidate and distract from others. One great example of seemingly accidental online reputation management is the case made about George W. Bush during the 2004 election.
On CBS, Dan Rather broke a story about George W. Bush not actually attending his military time for the full term. However, the hand writing expert they found to analyze signed documents was barely qualified to be called a professional, let alone an “expert.” Within hours the bloggers interested in the story had discovered that the hand-writing expert’s qualifications were suspect (to say the least) and the story was immediately deemed false.
Reputation management can be an almost unstoppable force when coupled with the Internet. It can make a nobody with a cool Youtube video a god and can turn a senator with a great record into a pariah.