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Testing the Web’s Political Power

David Colarusso (LAW’11) creates online forum to press political candidates on issues that matter

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David Colarusso (LAW’11) is helping Americans get more answers from politicians — from the comfort of their living rooms.

The former high school physics teacher founded Community Counts, an online forum that gives political bloggers and activists the opportunity to post questions for politicians, in video and text format.

Colarusso says he wanted to create a forum that would “test whether the Internet could change the way we do politics, rather than just amplify what’s going on.”

Community Counts uses the same model as Colarusso’s 10 Questions, an online political forum he and his friends launched last fall. Its user-posted questions were geared toward the candidates for president. The forum garnered some press and received sponsorships from several corporations, among them BET, AOL, MSNBC.com, and the New York Times.

Both forums work on a simple premise: users vote on which posted questions they would most like politicians to answer. “If enough people get behind a question,” Colarusso says, “then a politician will be forced to answer the question.” Users then decide whether the candidate’s response adequately addresses the question. “This is structural incentive for candidates to not only answer the questions, but to answer them thoroughly,” he says.

Last fall, the candidates answered the 10 most popular questions with videos of their own. Several, including Mike Huckabee and John Edwards, sent videos filmed at various rallies and debates where those questions had been asked. The forum also partnered with MySpace and MTV to have Barack Obama answer the most popular question on MTV’s presidential dialogue series in 2007.

Community Counts differs from 10 Questions in that users can ask questions of politicians at the regional, state, and national levels. Questions on Community Counts cover a spectrum of issues, from the war in Iraq to the regulation of hemp farmers.

Colarusso hopes his forum will play a big part in the upcoming election. “Can a small group of people with a good idea effect a change? That’s the question,” he says. “It’s an experiment.”

Brendan Gauthier can be reached at btgauth@bu.edu.

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