Emerging tech and politics — More than just yakking
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Show of hands: Last week, how many of you knew what Yik Yak was?

Unless you're involved in the app world, work with students or are a student yourself, chances are you didn't know about the app that allows users in the same geographic area to post anonymous notes. And, without a doubt, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE's (R-Texas) campaign team didn't know about it until students at Liberty University, forced to attend his campaign launch, started mercilessly bashing him using the app while he was speaking. It's the 21st-century version of passing rude notes during an assembly — but on a larger scale, and with a public audience.

As Cruz was laying out his vision for America, the students in his audience were "yakking" statements like, "Why are people standing up and cheering?" and "His tie does not match his speech."

Politicians are notoriously behind when it comes to new technology — especially tools that amplify voices and decentralize control. Sometimes, like in the case of Cruz, they have to learn to catch up the hard way.


But, in other cases, campaigns embrace emerging technology early, and with it, the respect of those users who might otherwise ditch a campaign.

In the 2004 race for president, former Gov. Howard Dean's (D-Vt.) campaign was one step ahead of the entire political universe. Led by veteran campaign manager Joe Trippi — a man who was keenly aware of, and deeply involved with, new technologies — Dean ushered in the era of the online campaign.

"We started a blog, when literally no one in politics knew what a blog was," Trippi says. "We connected with other blogs. We started cross-posting their stuff, amplifying their voice. And they started to do the same back. We didn't come in and try to take over the technology. We respected it. We respected how people were using it. To a large degree, we had to give up control. We had to let go of the wheel."

Despite getting over $60 million in investments, Yik Yak only became known to most political offices and campaigns this week, because of Cruz. And, without a doubt, consultants and advisers, today, are all talking about how they can leverage Yik Yak and avoid a fate similar to the Cruz campaign.

As with other apps and tools, like Facebook, Twitter, Vine and others, some candidates and public officials will get it right, and some will get it very, very wrong. Not just with Yik Yak, but with a large number of other apps that you might not have heard of yet — but will.

And that's what makes technology so thrilling in politics. It's clear these are all tools that campaigns and politicians can plug into — but there's no user guide, yet, that lays out the best way for those in politics to use emerging tech.

My suggestion for them: When confronted with the challenge of how to handle new social media tools, follow Trippi's advice — let go of the wheel. Embrace the new technology that is connecting us to each other and amplifying voices. Respect how people are using those tools. Become a part of their conversation, but don't try to dominate it.

That's not just good for politicians and campaigns. Ultimately, that's good for our government.

Myers is the CEO of Countable.us, a legislative advocacy and congressional engagement app.