Ron Paul. Pretty much every morning when you load up Digg.com, the name shows up. And you think, who the hell is Ron Paul, and why do I care?
Well as it turns out, he’s a candidate who is running for the Republican nomination for president. He has an extreme libertarian bent, which makes him very appealing to the ’social media nerd’ demographic, who like such ideas as limited government, adherence to the constitution, privacy rights, and a foreign policy that avoids wars. So that’s why he’s on Digg and Reddit all the time. But as fate would have it, the neocons (the current faction in control of the GOP) don’t like him, so he’s somewhat marginalized both within the party and also in mainstream media coverage.
Back to social media. You see, after you read the name Ron Paul a dozen times on Digg or Reddit, you can’t help but Google him to figure out why he’s so popular (after all, we nerds are curious). Out of the hundreds of thousands of Digg/Reddit visitors who do that, I am guessing a relatively high percentage end up looking favorably upon him, if not downright supporting him (after all, we nerds tend to swing a bit more libertarian than the average chap does). Not all of the users at the social media sites enjoy reading about Ron Paul all the time, but I think this comment on a Ron Paul story at Digg sums it up:
You know, you can argue about the spam all day… but in nearly every Ron Paul story on Digg, someone comments in brief “Wow, I’ve never even heard of Ron Paul until today and he’s got my vote! DUGG.”
At the very least, these social media users will remember him–and name recognition is the biggest hurdle in the early primary race.
I look at it as sort of a political Revenge of the Nerds. In an age where exposure leads to more exposure, the new generation of ‘gatekeepers’ (high audience bloggers, power users at social media sites) are wielding a disproportionate amount of power in spreading a candidate’s story. Normally, the mainstream media are the ‘gatekeepers’–early on, they tell us which candidate has a realistic chance of winning the nomination (McCain, Giuliani, Romney), and then they give most of the coverage to those candidates, and their prediction becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy (you only have enough time to cover the probable-winners, but then only the probable-winners get coverage). And for what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a conspiracy, it’s just how it works out–the average American isn’t going to remember more than 6-8 candidates’ names so the media has to find those 6 or 8 guys to cover.
And Ron Paul sure as sh*t isn’t in the top tier of these candidates, considering the party elite loathe him and his fundraising had a late start. He barely grabs 1% in most polls. These polls, however, only measure number of supporters–they don’t measure degree of support. Ron Paul supporters are somewhat fanatic. Any blog post critical of Ron Paul immediately gets hundreds of comments calling foul. Meanwhile, after Republican candidate debates, Ron Paul’s supporters swarm to the online polls, and he always comes out on top (this really seemed to piss off FOXNews last time it happened).
The ‘online nerd Libertarian community’ certainly existed before Digg and Reddit, but these social media communities have swelled and organized the more ‘casual’ ranks in a very short time period. And when you consider that Digg gets more traffic than The Drudge Report and most local newspapers, Ron Paul’s daily coverage there is certainly having a large effect on his name recognition. Social media users are filling the gap and giving this guy coverage when the mainstream media didn’t (and this, in turn, is now forcing the mainstream media to cover him, which, in turn, is helping fuel his rank as the #1 searched term on Technorati). Strange twist, eh?
Now, to be clear, I am not suggestion Ron Paul is going to win the presidency or even the Republican nomination. However, his (relatively) small base has gotten an amazing amount of momentum in a short amount of time, and a lot of this momentum is due to his presence on social media sites. It would not surprise me if this momentum continued and propelled him to the “1.5 tier” in the Republican race (say, ranking #6 among the candidates in phone polls). Even getting there assures more air time to his ideas, and oftentimes an upstart threat like this will cause one the leading candidates to ‘throw a bone’ and swing slightly towards the upstart, to disarm him (and then gain his followers when he withdraws).
Anyway, Tropical SEO is about as jaded and politically-apathetic as they come, but I have to admit it’s kind of cool to see social media users leverage their platform in an unpredictable way: to propel a maverick candidate past the traditional gatekeepers and into a more prominent place in the democratic process, based on the merit of his ideas. That isn’t really how politics is “supposed” to work anymore.
More on Ron Paul:
- RonPaul2008.com - official campaign site
- Ron Paul on Youtube
- Ron Paul on Digg
- Ron Paul on Reddit
BTW, political comments will be aggressively moderated–let’s keep the discussion on social media and its effects on politics, rather than on actual political issues please!
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