Gingrich may be doing well in Iowa and only one degree of separation away from anyone in Washington, but a lot has changed since 1994. We live in an era where each of us is only 4.74 degrees of separation away from everyone else. Everyone is an influencer now, and that has raised the bar for any Presidential frontrunner who wants to lead the most innovative, technologically sophisticated nation on the planet.
And, when it comes to the Web, Newt has already been caught not playing fair. So, can the Internet trust him?
If the old adage goes, “never trust anyone over the age of 30,” the new adage might be “never trust anyone you wouldn’t friend on Facebook.” Newt may have over 200,000 friends on Facebook and nearly 1.4 million Twitter followers, but he also got caught up in a Web debate about whether his followers were “real.” Gawker ended up compromising on this issue, writing that, based on analysis by the social networking search firm PeekYou, only 92 percent of Gingrich's Twitter followers were fake.
Gingrich may have no shortage of innovative technology ideas, from space-based lasers to digital tracking of international terrorist cells, but he has yet to make a major splash on the Web. In fact, quite the opposite. When it came to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Gingrich was the candidate who famously said, “Go get a job, right after you take a bath.” When he's picked up by meme-tracking sites like BuzzFeed.com, Gingrich ends up being portrayed as the candidate who would use poor kids as school janitors.
There’s no doubt that Gingrich has the political chops to understand the types of sophisticated legislation, such as SOPA or patent reform, that have been the hot-button issues of the tech digerati over the past 12 months. His campaign Web site, which details his 21st Century Contract for America, is particularly strong when it comes to healthcare, national security and job growth. Yet, he is strangely silent when it comes to Internet innovation.
This raises the interesting question: Does Gingrich understand the mentality of the Net — the same mentality that has given us WikiLeaks, Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street?
Even Herman Cain, who has since suspended his campaign, managed to capture the attention and interest of the Internet. Singing "Imagine There's No Pizza" on YouTube can do that for you.
After all, that’s what the Internet craves.
For better or worse, we live in an era when sitting presidents visit Jay Leno, organize national Twitter Town Halls with young start-up founders and make it a point to swing by Silicon Valley to hear the ideas and insights of tech employees at places like Facebook and LinkedIn. In large part, that’s why Obama was able to make such inroads with young voters back in 2008. He was the candidate who promised change and embraced the online tools to make it happen. Obama convinced us that he might be checking his Facebook account late at night or sending out 140-character tweets about what he and Michelle had for dinner last night. (Full disclosure: Washington Post Co. Chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook's board of directors.)
Understanding the Internet means more than just knowing how to use social media — it’s about understanding how the digital world works today. This means having a visceral understanding of why issues like openness, participation, sharing and the right to be heard are driving many — if not all — of the major trends online. This is not a question of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative. It’s a question of analog vs. digital. It remains to be seen whether the former House Speaker has fully left behind the former and embraced the latter.
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