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SPOTLIGHT
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Social media's potentially chilling effects

Published on -10/23/2012, 10:03 AM

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If you've ever said something on a first date that you knew, a fraction of a second after you said it, that there wouldn't be a second date, you have an idea of what candidates for the Kansas House and Senate are worried about now.

It's that comment that gets the front door slammed in the candidate's face or has members of the audience at a public forum whispering to each other "he/she said what?" or starts a Twitter firestorm before the candidate even gets back to the car.

That's why several candidates are skipping public forums and hoping their mailers will win voters' hearts without risking a misstatement or comment that will cause problems in the waning days of the campaign.

It puts a strange cast on campaigns, this fear that one misstatement or ill-thought-out response to a question can virtually shut down a campaign.

But, it's probably true that the instant media that most people carry in their pockets -- with social media access to spread text, with little cameras to broadcast out videos/words -- have changed campaigning, in fact changed nearly anything that happens on public property and in good light.

Is that a good thing? Hard to tell.

There's this new concept of "transparency" that everyone should be able to know everything that happens in campaigns and in government. Probably not a bad idea, but it turns politics and government into a series of snapshots that rarely provide the background and context that make it possible to fully understand what you're seeing or hearing.

Sorta like those family group photos; you know, the one where everyone looks nice -- except for the brother-in-law who is scratching when the shutter clicked. That's the only piece of the picture that anyone remembers.

Yes, we all have a photo like that somewhere in a desk drawer.

This all-the-time-on business probably has some candidates scared, or at least a little slow to respond to questions for fear that just one slip will be the one that everyone sees and hears about and reads about and doesn't fully understand because of lack of context.

Does this mean that you aren't really going to get to know the candidate who is after your vote?

That everything is either scripted or printed out so that you never really get the feeling of what the candidate is all about, or what he/she wants to do? Maybe, for candidates who aren't strong on social skills or who are running to accomplish one thing and don't want to talk about it ... and there are candidates like that out there on the ballot.

But that doesn't mean that you can't try to get them to respond to questions, if you're casual and non-confrontational about how you ask them. Or if you take a little time to ask a candidate to elaborate, or say you aren't sure if you are picking up on the specifics of what's being said.

It's actually going to take a little work to figure out some candidates, and that's a change from how campaigns used to be.

Makes it a new ballgame for folks lucky enough to have a minute or two with the candidates to figure them out.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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