Google Gets Political

WASHINGTON — The impact of the Internet on political campaigns has increased with each election cycle. Google plans to be a part of that leap and face all issues, good and bad, that might arise when you mix politics and Internet technologies.

Elliot Schrage, Google vice president of global communications, told an audience during his keynote address at George Washington University’s annual Politics Online Conference that new technologies redefine what political participation means.

“The apparent benefit is transparency. You see the candidates as they are and candidates can be held to their words and actions.”

Schrage said the candidates have been invited to talk “tech and policy” with the Google team, which hopes to film the interviews and make them available on YouTube’s “You Choose 08” channel, which already includes 10 presidential candidates’ videos.

He said Google also plans to expand its product customization for political activists, including creating a new sales team specializing in campaigns.

The challenge, Schrage said, is to avoid overwhelming people with information. On the official Hillary Clinton YouTube channel, for instance, there are 15 videos available. A Google search for “Hillary 2008” produces more than 3.5 million results.

“I defy anyone here to … read all the results without passing out,” he said.

Schrage told the audience of young, tech-savvy politicos that the downside of more transparency is the threat of “turning the Internet into a tabloid. We all have to be more vigilant about the truth.”

Visitors also face a wealth of misinformation about candidates, a problem Schrage said Google is already grappling with.

“How do we promote political participation without showing preference, and how do we provide a political platform without exposing the ugly?” He cited a “disturbing” video circulating on the Internet that involved John Edwards’ late son. Google let the video run on YouTube.

“We are not in the business of assessing truth,” he said. “There’s a huge question of limits, but the cycle of correcting misinformation is becoming smaller. It can get highlighted and corrected more quickly.”

Schrage also laid out a list of how technology might change the landscape of political campaigning. He cited data-mining techniques, the possible tracking of political candidates by GPS for “heckling purposes” and micro targeting of candidates.

“Is it legal to text message a voter within 25 feet of a polling place? I haven’t seen it, but I have no doubt there will be reports of political spyware in 2008.”

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