Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The power of viral media

Buffalo-area Congressman Chris Lee isn't the first politician to resign in the wake of publicity over a personal scandal, and unquestionably won't be the last. But his case may have set some kind of record for speed with which the downfall took place, and shows the power of viral dissemination of information outside of the mainstream news media.

Not so long ago, when news cycles were measured in hours or even days, it would take quite a while for a scandal to play out far enough to result in a powerful person's downfall. Weeks or months could go by as news came out and slowly made its way into public consciousness, those affected by it could work to get favorable counter-information into public view, etc. Even the situation with Eric Massa, another upstate New York congressman who resigned over some unsavory personal behavior, took a few days to unwind.

But with Lee, news of a flirtatious e-mail conversation he apparently had with a woman he contacted via Craigslist was posted on Gawker in mid-afternoon, and led to his resignation by dinnertime. In a story posted at 2:30 p.m., his spokesman was saying that the congressman believed his e-mail account had been hacked; at 5:30 Lee was calling it quits. That was before it could even be reported on a traditional TV newscast.

Traditional media were still trying to figure out how much credence to give a report on Gawker when Lee made it easy for them by giving the story both a more powerful angle (his departure) and instant credibility (why would he have resigned if it wasn't true).

News truly does move in hyper-speed these days.

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