'The YouTube War'

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John Kerry also learned this lesson in 2006. When the former presidential hopeful tried to tell a joke about the president and Iraq, he blew the punch line. The video went viral in a matter of hours. Soon after, there was criticism, even from Democrats who worried that Kerry might hurt their chances in the close election.

At first, Kerry stood his ground. But within a few days, the Massachusetts senator apologized. The tape had rocketed around the world.

"Life is on the record," said Jeff Jarvis. "It's true for everyone, but it's especially true for a politician. The Internet speeds up the speed of the mistake."

'Welcome to the NFL'

The Internet changed the political dynamic in other ways this year. For the first time, campaign ads debuted on YouTube. And the Internet became a virtual catalogue of potentially embarrassing political moments, like when Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, in a campaign appearance this past August, described terrorists as a "faceless enemy" who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night."

Or when New York Rep. Sue Kelly ran from a local television crew that wanted to ask her about her connection to Rep. Mark Foley. Burns and Kelly were both defeated in November. But were these online instant replays really relevant to the campaign?

"It wasn't particularly relevant," said Ana Marie Cox about the Sue Kelly video, "just kind of embarrassing. But someone caught it, and it's so easy to do, why not put it up there?"

But in this era of instantaneous online errors, spin and counter-spin, where events move at warp speed, does this mean politicians have to be perfect? Not exactly, say the experts, just a bit quicker and more flexible than they might have been before the online onslaught.

"Welcome to the NFL," said Torie Clarke. "If you don't like that environment, if you don't want to accept it, if you don't want to use it to your advantage when you can and deal with it when things go wrong, then don't get into the business. Don't do anything that puts you in the public eye. But these days the public eye includes being in this incredibly charged information environment. That's reality."

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