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Social Media Government

Crossmedia Campaigning

Only three days left for 62.2 million eligible Germans to vote to elect a new parliament which, many fear, is likely to result in more of the same, a CDU-led grand coalition government together with the SPD. Out of those 62.2 million, about 3.5 million voters will cast their ballot for the very first time, with around 2.8 million of them members of one of Germany’s leading social networking forums: StudiVZ, SchülerVZ and meinVZ.

Given the dramatic twist of 2002’s German general election when the SPD won with a mere advance of 6.027 votes compared to the CDU/CSU, the attitudes of some millions of voters illustrate that in a democracy every vote counts.

So how to best trace the hard-to-predict political attitudes of young voters? Right, start a massive crossmedia offensive with social networks, public television stations, newspapers, Twitter and YouTube working hand-in-hand to provide a platform with the hardly web 2.0-compatible name of “Erst fragen, dann wählen” (= ask first, then vote).

Fine, let us “ask first” then…

Screenshot of the "Erst fragen, dann wählen" website
Screenshot of the "Erst fragen, dann wählen" website

Admittedly, I came across this site not before those who contributed already presented their questions to the front-runners of the parties on TV, which probably is due to the fact that I am neither a member of those networks nor do I watch TV regularly. Okay, so what did I miss there?

You can become a fan of a party or a politician (the fan sites being maintained and updated by the respective party), you can join groups which promote certain policies, you can find out your political affiliation with a “Wahl-O-Mat” sponsored by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (in my case, it suggested a party that I’d never ever vote for, so maybe I should study the program of my pick more carefully);  you can find links to related resources and news and, of course, you can virtually cast your ballot.

Should their opinion poll be correct though, Germany is awaiting a landslide victory of the notorious “Pirate Party” (35 percent) while CDU, SPD and the Green Party pull in a paltry 14 percent each. In stark contrast, ‘serious’ current opinion polls indicate that the CDU will gain 36 percent, the SPD 25 percent and the Green Party 10 percent of the votes. This leads me to the conclusion that we better ignore this feature along with the usual political propaganda scribbled all over the site and briefly turn toward the interactive heart of the project.

Users were urged to send in questions, by text and/or video, to the top politicians who were invited to a several hour-long TV show. Those questions, again, were ranked by the other users and the best were finally picked by the hosts of the show. As mentioned before, I watched that show to figure out why Chancellor Merkel was the only guest invited who didn’t attend. Wisdom or cowardice?

Imagine being put in an overheated studio with dozens of computers and cables, people rushing from one corner of the studio to another (including the politicians: Stand here. Sit there. Meet this guy. Look at that monitor. Twitter this. Facebook that.), and then addressing young voters’ concerns without suffering an epileptic seizure. The whole program to me seemed extremely improvisational which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, in this case, I was both exhausted and annoyed by the silly show-off of multimedia channels instead of listening to what people really had to say. This was not a political exhibition, it was a technical one.

Some numbers: 190,292 members are fans of one of the major parties (not quite 2.8 million), of which 16,730 virtually cast their ballot (not quite 190,292) for major parties as well as the Pirate Party. So how in the world does that make any sense? You join a party’s fan group but less than one fan in ten actually votes? Disenchantment with politics can hardly be the answer.

After all, do I regret not having found the site earlier? Not at all! Why? Because it is such a terrible mess. Do I care about the the nonstop-tweeting swing voter flat-share or the paltry homemade election soap opera? No! How many more channels does it take for people to plunder what was once serious business? Much more than of fantasy, we have run out of guts.

So don’t blame the hysterical messenger for the bromidic message. If politics itself is no longer content enough, ‘infotainment’ will do the rest and the variety of opinions will be replaced by the variety of voices.

But maybe I’m all wrong and in four days, Germany will be ruled by a Pirate. Better hoist your sails. And “then vote”.

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