The Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, was recently featured on WNBC.com following an address at Pace University, where he discussed the potential for the Internet and sites like Google, in particular––and its recent acquisition YouTube.com––to affect political campaigns. He mentioned the long tail-end effect of viral marketing, which emphasizes the persistence of certain political memes and their effects on voters, saying, "I expect technology will have a significant effect on the '08 election. The Internet is the best way of delivering sound bites ever invented. Schmidt's address at Pace was a keynote speech at the Google sponsored Personal Democracy Forum.
While the Schmidt's address was certainly interesting (does anyone have a full transcript?), some people are questioning, as ZDNet's Donna Bogatin puts it, "the CEO of the world’s most powerful Internet company corporate [can] underwrite an 'open' conference touting 'Personal Democracy,' acquire keynote rights to address attendees on the importance of “communication” and 'transparency,' AND then take questions from the audience, EXCEPT for questions from those in attendance who also happen to be members of the press, AND keep a straight face all the while?" (Bogatin says "NO.")
Google has been severely criticized for its willingness to cooperate with governmental authorities in more authoritarian countries who want to crack down on political dissidents. This makes Schmidt's rather buttoned-down discussion of his company's ability to serve as a tool of political discourse slightly absurd. Any agnosticism on the topic set aside, we can't help but note a certain level of irony at Google.com lauding itself for its political influence while acting as a state tool of censorship abroad. Though Schmidt claimed that Google tells Chinese citizens what's being blocked.