- The Washington Times
Friday, September 19, 2008

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got hacked. So did PayPal, Victoria’s Secret, the Department of Defense and some 21 million other people in recent days. For the most part, “hack” alarms a public fearful that their privacy could be compromised by canny online invaders.

But not Al Gore‘s cable network Current TV, which is making art out of hack.

The San Francisco-based broadcast group announced Thursday that it will air hybrid programming called “Hack the Debate” during all four upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates, offering a cheeky combination of gossip, graffiti and public affairs.

For better or worse, viewers can “tweet” all over the formal proceedings, which begin Sept. 26. For the uninitiated, tweet is the active verb associated with “Twitter,” a free online social networking service that allows more than 2.2 million subscribers to instantly tell one another what they’re doing in 140 words or less. These micro-blogs are sent to mobile phones or computer screens.

Current TV and Twitter have formed a strategic alliance. Producers will gather real-time tweets and “layer” them over the live network feed of the debates.

“Why stop at the Web and mobile when we can create new features for democracy? This election will be one of the most massively shared events in history,” said Biz Stone, who co-founded Twitter in 2006.

The company is worth $80 million, according to TechCrunch, an industry blog. Users include Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and other members of Congress, along with scores of news organizations, including The Washington Times.

“The debate stage is only set for two candidates, but Current was founded to make room for millions of participants,” said Joel Hyatt, who founded the network with Mr. Gore in 2005.

It’s available in 58 million homes in the U.S. and abroad, featuring hyper-style programming in three- to five-minute “pods” from an ever-changing array of citizen videographers.

“Don’t just yell at the candidates,” admonishes an online promotional spot for “Hack the Debates,” which showcases a 40-second video remix of old black-and-white footage from the 1960 debates between candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Yes, but is it art? Is it hacking? To the creators, the tweeting debates of 2008 represent new populism.

“We chose the name ‘Hack the Debate’ for this interactive TV experiment because our young adult audience often uses ‘hack’ to mean cleverly modifying something by adding access or features that otherwise aren’t available,” said Chloe Sladden, vice president of special programming at Current TV.

“It’s about empowering the user with technology - in this case, Current and Twitter - and in the context, our national election dialogue, moving traditional broadcast television away from the voices of the few to a conversation of the many,” she added.

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