Wondering Out Loud

Is Twitter a danger to democracy

An interesting sidebar story is brewing in Germany following last week’s regional elections. Apparently exit poll data from three states was leaked via Twitter – 90 minutes early – causing some officials to question how such technology might impact future elections. BreitBart reports on the story here

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s team took it on the chin in the elections and the one of the people quoted in the story has the bruises to prove it:

  • The deputy parliamentary head of Merkel’s Christian Union party, Wolfgang Bosbach, said the leaking of the results “damaged        democracy.”
  • “There is a danger that an election could be falsified,” Bosbach told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger local daily.

The other quote comes from Roderich Egeler, the federal election commissioner:

  • “It would be a worst-case scenario if the exit poll results were to become known before polling stations closed,”

BreitBart’s story also points out:

  • A similar leak also occurred during the parliamentary vote to re-elect Germany’s President Horst Koehler on May 23. On that occasion, a handful of lawmakers announced Koehler’s re-election before the results were officially published.

That’s the set up. Now I’m going to weigh in.

A leak…in politics…whoda thunk it?

I realize people involved in politics, are genetically coded to speak in hyperbole, but claiming the leaks  – and by association Twitter- are capable of damaging democracy is ridiculous on its face.

Information, as they say, is power. But information has only the power that we assign to it. Those who shrugged off the early exit poll data and continued to the polls gave the reports no power at all. Others heard the same information and gave it the power to inform their decisions. My bottom line, anyone who did not vote Germany based on exit polls reported too early have only themselves to blame.

We went through a similar incident in 2000 when the networks called Florida for Gore, then took it back, then gave it to Bush, and took it back again. Republicans cried “foul” because the original call was made before the polls in the Florida Panhandle closed. They claimed Bush lost thousands of votes because disheartened supporters didn’t bother casting their vote on the belief it was irrelevant.

At home the networks were rightly embarrassed and changed their processes. In Germany the leakers could face criminal prosecution.

With all the information swirling around the web, and the ability for anybody with a computer and internet connection to add to the chaos, we need to be more vigilant than ever when assessing what we hear, see and read. We need to be mindful of the source and what, if any, agenda they have.

Information is power, but if we are educated and responsible consumers of information, we decide what power has.

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September 1, 2009 - Posted by | Journalism, Social Media | , , , ,

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