For quite some time, people have been predicting that the internet would have a profound effect on the American political system, but these statements have always sounded more like wishful thinking than anything else. This week, the internet inserted itself twice into the race for President. The first was when a commercial slamming Hillary Clinton, a takeoff on the famous Apple 1984 ad, was released on YouTube, garnering millions of views. Part of the intrigue was that nobody knew who had produced the very slick ad, although it later emerged that it was someone tangentially related to the Barack Obama campaign. This prompted a lot of discussion at places like the Columbia Journalism Review about the role of user-generated viral ads and whether or not they were good for the political process. The second incident was yesterday, when the political news site Politico mistakenly broke the story that John Edwards was dropping out of the race for President. Many sites, including MSNBC, ran with it as news, but it turned out to be a false story. The accident ignited the old (and very tired) debate among media pundits about the standards blogs use to break news. But again, for all the hype about these events and the role of the internet in precipitating them, neither will turn out to have been a very big deal. The Hillary Clinton "1984" ad was only interesting as a testament to the fact that an individual can make a really cool looking ad; as a political ad, it's hard to imagine it having any impact at all. The Edwards event briefly showed how quickly the internet can propagate a false story, but that's not really news at all, and again, the actual political impact of a brief period when people had the wrong idea about John Edwards' political future will be virtually nil. Of course, that won't stop the inevitable flood of articles proclaiming the enormous impact the internet is having on the campaign, citing these two incidents as examples.
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