As the video clip of Mitt Romney's "47%" remark does increasing damage to his campaign - latest polls show him trailing by 10% in Ohio, and by almost as big margins in other swing states - we have another example of the power of social media media in politics.
The video was not taken by a professional news crew or camera. Rather, as Ben Smith points out in BuzzFeed, "Its emergence offers a glimpse at the workings of the contemporary media: Chaotically driven by an anonymous leaker; empowered by ubiquitous recording devices."
Like the George Allen "macaca" video of 2006, the Romney video may well be his undoing in 2012. In both cases, traditional media played a crucial role in fanning the flames of the story. But the story itself was captured by a recording device which epitomizes a world in which every consumer has become a potential producer - every attendee at a rally, everyone in every audience, can be a reporter through which audio and video clips of the event can be seen by everyone else in the world, first via posting to YouTube, then via ripple dissemination through mass media. Multiple copies of the Romney video have been viewed more than four million times on YouTube, and millions more times on cable and network television.
It's hard to say who was more clueless - Allen or Romney - in the ways of new new media. Allen's error was made in 2006, when YouTube was just a year old and the iPhone still a year away. But he should have known that, even with the media of his time, anything said at a public, outdoor rally could be captured for later national listening and viewing. Romney must have been aware of what happened to Allen - though, with Romney, you never really know - and was likely lulled into thinking he could say whatever he needed to please his rich Republican funders, without fear of it being made public, because the venue itself was so private. But not private enough. Nothing is reliably private in our age of smart phones and YouTube. Romney should have known that even the ritziest private venue was vulnerable to social media.
Politics continue to be shaped and driven by social media - not just by their savvy use by campaigns, but, even more profoundly, by the ignorance of campaigns of what social media can do.