Social Media Changes Politics in the U.S., Sparks Revolutions Around the World

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube give citizens' voices real power.

July 22, 2010, 5:02 PM

July 22,2010—, 2010 -- During the 2000 presidential campaign, it was John McCain who first tried a radical experiment -- launching a website to accept political donations.

Ten years later, Internet social media completely has changed the political game. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter now can help win a national campaign or end one in an instant.

Watch "World News" this week for reporting on the social media revolution.

Take the case of George Allen, the former Republican senator from Virginia and one-time presidential hopeful. While campaigning for re-election in 2006, Allen noticed an Indian-American staffer for a political opponent taping him from the audience.

Allen told the crowd, "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt. Macaca or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent, he's following us around everywhere."

The video showing Allen's use of the racial slur "macaca" quickly went viral, derailing his re-election campaign and quashing his ambitions for higher office.

Now, 76 percent of Congress uses social media, and well more than half of all members have Facebook pages. Twitter and YouTube gurus are now must-haves on campaign staffs.

But while politicians try to harness the power of a few million "friends," it is the citizen who has the most to gain in this brave new world.

"Nine out of 10 videos watched during the 2008 presidential campaign that mentioned Obama and McCain were produced by citizens trying to influence each other, said Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum. "So there is an explosion of conversation in politics happening on these networks, and the last people to arrive at the party are the politicians themselves.

Sparked by a single, angry voice, Facebook, Twitter and other services can be a lever of revolution. We've seen it in Iran and Myanmar, where dissidents used social media as a way to share their message with the globe, circumventing authoritarian regimes.

When leftist guerrillas in Colombia let a little boy die in captivity, Oscar Morales poured his outrage into a Facebook page.

"All I was trying to do was invoke the solidarity of the people, to join me in the message -- no more kidnappings, no more lies," said Morales. "It was simple, it was strong, it was short. So in just two days, we gathered the support of more than 10,000 followers."

Just a month later, millions of people took to the streets in solidarity in cities around the world.

Craig Newmark believes this is just the beginning. Best known as the founder of, Newmark also uses social media to seek justice for veterans.

"I think this decade is pivotal in human history. Power is flowing from people with money and nominal power to people in large numbers unified by a common vision," said Newmark.

It used to be that all politics is local. Now, all politics is viral.

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