web politics | March 08, 2012

Virginia Heffernan: Ron Paul, "President of the Internet"?

In a recent article for Yahoo! News, Virginia Heffernan profiled Ron Paul's unlikely online presence, and asked whether online support translates into real votes. Heffernan cites a study that found that during 2008's Super Tuesday week, the most popular online candidate wasn't Obama, Clinton, McCain, or Romney, but Ron Paul. Four years later, and Paul still seems to hold a cultural relevance that far outweighs his performance at the polls.

He has over 900,000 Facebook fans, which Heffernan points out is "almost precisely the number of votes for Paul in this election." What is it about Paul that has transformed him into the "President of the Internet"? Heffernan suggests that his online popularity has less to do with Paul himself, and more to do with the nature of the internet's most influential users:

Getting around limitations imposed by government or big business is second nature to digital natives...who are the right age to have grown up getting music and movies from Napster and BitTorrent. Ron Paul's politics are a natural fit with the frontiersman ideology that drives longtime users of the Internet—especially the pure-hearted ones, trained in the 1990s, who can code, develop online projects, create and curate user-generated content and start digital initiatives. They also happen to be the ones who don't expect money for their labors.

Both in her writing and in her keynotes, Heffernan's unique understanding of web culture has made her one of the most fascinating voices on the internet today. Her forthcoming book, Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet, argues that the internet is not merely an extension of traditional media—it's a ubiquitous yet seldom examined world that is profoundly changing the way we live.

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