In reading the literature for this week’s discussion for Tech 621 on online identity, I am reminded of one of my favorite TV Shows: The West Wing. In season 2 and 3, President Josiah Bartlett has a big PR problem: he has never disclosed to the country that he suffers from Multiple sclerosis (MS). Much of this comes to light when his personal aide finds that he was lying on his daughter’s college applications about his condition. The revelation that the President had MS was revealed to the other staffers shortly after, as he kept it secret from them as well. To make matters worse, it was later found the First Lady was giving President Bartlett drugs to keep his MS under wraps.
Once President Bartlett started telling his staffers, Toby Ziegler (Communications Director) was not thrilled:
It is an interesting problem that may not ever happen in the modern era where the 24-hour news cycle and social media sites exist. At the time of this show in the early 2000s, MySpace, Facebook, and others were still not widely known by the American voting public . A medical secret may not be able to be kept under wraps like it was depicted in this show. It almost makes you wonder if political secrets can really remain secret anymore. People are revealing their personal lives on social media and we seem to know just about everything about our politicians as a result.
If this is true, then the basis in which the public evaluates their politicians could change over time with SNS and other communication technologies. If you look through the American Political Science literature, you will see that the American public judges their politicians by the standards of who they see as a model leader. Generally this person is a leader in their profession, someone who is approachable, and in many cases a religious affiliation (such as a religious, or church preference). So I guess the bigger question is: will our perceptions of what makes a good elected official change with increased SNS use by all citizens online?