(Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

Winning the White House — not to mention any other political office — increasingly means winning the Internet.

That was the message during a Social Media Week gathering at The Post on Friday. The panel discussion, “Election 2012 and the fight for the Internet,” featured Post reporters Felicia Sonmez and Karen Tumulty alongside Democratic political strategist Joe Trippi and SocialFlow vice president of research and development Gilad Lotan.

Panel participants discuss the growing influence of social media on the 2012 election and the resulting battle, on the part of candidates and their supporters, to win the battle to make their message heard online.

“It’s the network, stupid,” said Joe Trippi, riffing off the popular quote from fellow Democratic political strategist James Carville in 1992. The Web, according to Trippi, is now top-of-mind for political campaigns when it comes to constructing a message and managing its delivery.

Gone are the days, Tumulty said, when a presidential candidate could revel in what was initially seen by those inside the campaign as a successful debate appearance — much like Al Gore did prior to his ultimately lampooned debate appearance against George W. Bush in 2000. It took a day, said Tumulty, for the candidate and his staff to realize just how poorly his performance had been judged to be by the media and the public. Today, candidates get instant feedback on their performance. The winner of a presidential debate, said Trippi, is decided as soon as it ends.

This also means the power and role of political communications operatives has changed. According to Trippi, a critical mass of tweets from casual observers can upend even the most well-crafted message. Trippi went on to say that of all the social media platforms, Twitter was likely to arise as the most powerful in terms of its ability to influence the 2012 election cycle.

“We have to be very careful,” cautioned Lotan, going on to cite the rise of social media users to fall into their own filter bubble, even as the more traditional bubbles that once surrounded reporters on the campaign trail were disappearing.

And then there’s the question of accuracy.

“Twitter’s killing people every day,” said Trippi, referring to the constant stream of Tweets that falsely report that famous individuals have died when they are still very much alive.

“You can’t let only search and social dictate to you,” said Sonmez as a recommendation to reporters covering the election. But, given the nature of the Web and the increasing power of individuals to determine the course of the election narrative, it could easily have served as advice for any and all social media users.

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