Google will be pampering bloggers and tutoring US policy makers at Democratic and Republican national conventions as Internet culture flexes growing political muscle.
The Internet giant is joining news-ranking website Digg and blogger groups to set up a “Big Tent” for media and delegates at the Democratic convention next week in the US state of Colorado.
The 743-square-meter (8,000-square-foot) center will feature a public area with kiosks for uploading videos to Google-owned YouTube and demonstrations of services offered by the Mountain View, California, firm.
Google will also provide free massages and blended ice-and-fruit “smoothie” drinks. It plans to bring the same amenities to the Republican convention in Minnesota.
The increased importance of the Internet for political campaigning, fund raising and organizing has given heightened credibility and status to bloggers formerly shunned by convention organizers.
“We’ve definitely been excited about the growth and embrace of technology by both voters and candidates,” Google spokeswoman Ginny Hunt told AFP on Tuesday.
“It’s been explosive. It’s light years from 2004. YouTube didn’t exist four years ago and now it is being heavily used for politics.”
But critics, such as Center for Digital Democracy executive Director Jeff Chester, suspect that Google’s motives are calculated self-interest instead of altruistic support of Internet-age democracy.
Google is a technology organizer for the Republican National Convention and the company’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is listed as a technology advisor for presumptive Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
“Google is attempting to expand its influence over the political process to help it achieve its commercial goals,” Chester contends.
“Google likes to bask in self-congratulatory rhetoric, claiming it has the public’s interests at heart. It’s all about accessing people’s data for targeted marketing.”
Google last month introduced an Elections Video Search tool that scours online video for specific words by candidates and then jumps directory to those snippets.
“In this US election year, what information could be more important than the candidates’ own words to describe their views, actions and platforms?” Google product managers Arnaud Sahuguet and Ari Bezman wrote in a blog entry announcing the new tool.
Google will also demonstrate a “Power Reader In Politics” project that lets people check out what candidates are reading online.
At the Democratic convention Google executives will take part in policy symposia on climate change, energy, philanthropy and technology.
Celebrities, political elite, and geeks are expected to be on the invitation lists to Google bashes that are coveted tickets at both conventions.
“We deeply believe the technology is a democratizing force,” Hunt said. “As idealistic as that sounds is as idealistic as we are. It is exciting all around, not just for Google.”
As bloggers gain prominence, politicians are learning that nothing is off-the-record record and no moments deemed too private to be posted online.
Obama came under fire after a blogger reported his comment that “bitter” residents of small US towns “cling to guns or religion” and again after a video posted online showed his then-pastor condemning the country.
A US senator lost an election in 2006 after an online video showed him referring to a man of Eastern Indian descent as a “macaca” during a Virginia campaign stop.
“This new politics is disruptive, upsetting old arrangements and displacing people invested in the old ways,” Simon Rosenberg, president of progressive think tank NDN wrote in a forward to the book “Crashing The Gate.”
“It is literally crashing the gate of the old system … and to that I say, ‘Amen.’”