Google’s chief executive offered some advice on Wednesday to Republicans looking ahead to the 2008 presidential contest: make better use of the Internet’s electioneering power if you want to win next time.
"The ones that take advantage of this most effectively will be the ones that will be the winners of the next election," Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told Republican governors gathered in Miami.
He offered a few examples of how the Internet, especially video file-sharing sites like Google’s newly acquired YouTube, had changed the political landscape by enabling anyone to disseminate information widely and instantly.
Schmidt said the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain got a taste in the run-up to its elections last weekend, when someone used the Google Earth satellite mapping feature to photograph the ruling family’s lavish houses, and posted them on line, juxtaposed next to the homes of ordinary citizens.
The government tried to censor the photos, which instantly boosted their popularity, he said.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania felt the sting when somebody resurrected secretly recorded footage taken during the FBI’s Abscam bribery sting in the late 1970s.
Murtha rejected a bribe offer from undercover agents dressed as Arab sheiks and was never charged during the investigation, but the video showed him telling the purported sheiks that "I want to deal with you guys a while before I make any transactions."
The footage was posted on YouTube and other Web sites just as Murtha was trying to persuade fellow Democratic representatives to elect him as their majority leader. He lost.
"This is going to happen over and over again as people use these new media to communicate," Schmidt told the Republicans, whose party failed to pick up any House, Senate or gubernatorial seats held by Democrats in the U.S. midterm elections. The Republicans also lost control of Congress to the Democrats.
In another well-publicized campaign incident, a videotape of Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen calling an opposition campaign worker of Indian descent "macaca" also spread quickly over the Internet. Allen went on to lose to Democrat Jim Webb.
Left-leaning bloggers were credited with giving Democrats a boost during the November elections by "Google bombing" — setting up Web pages with links to a site containing negative comments about Republican candidates.
Such a high volume of postings to the same link can make it appear higher on the Google search page, increasing the odds of its being read.
Schmidt said without elaborating that Google was taking steps to halt such gaming of its search system as well as steps to halt the spread of false information.
"The truth emerges much faster on the Internet but falsehoods also propagate more quickly," he warned the governors.