Big Tent Activate Interview: Stephanie Cutter on Obama and the role of the internet in India politics

Ahead of the Big Tent Activate Summit in Delhi, Robin Hough speaks with political consultant Stephanie Cutter about the Obama re-election campaign and the role of the social citizen in Indian politics
Barack Obama campaign
Stephanie Cutter was central to President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Political consultant Stephanie Cutter knows a thing or two about winning elections, having served as Obama's deputy campaign manager during his 2012 reelection campaign. She'll be speaking about the role of the internet in the political process, both within in India and beyond, at next week's Big Tent Activate Summit in Delhi. She found some time in her busy schedule to tell us why the internet offers a great opportunity for the political process in India.

It's predicted that by 2020 India will have more than 600 million people online. Where are the political opportunities and what are the challenges of such size and scale?

With dramatic online growth in India, more and more people are going to rely on online outlets and social media networks for their news and information and to connect with one another. In this presidential election in the United States, more Americans than ever before relied on online sources to get their information, including half of all young voters. With 45 million on Barack Obama's Facebook page, more than 13 million signed up at, and more than 100 million visiting our Youtube page, we had significant ability to go around the media filter to communicate, and that was priceless.

The open internet has tremendous potential to enhance the democratic process - increasing transparency and voter engagement, creating the ability to organise and be heard politically and enabling citizens to hold politicians to account. But we're also seeing closed systems in some countries being used to monitor, track and subjugate citizens and undermine the political process. How do you effectively fight that battle to keep the internet open and free from unpolitical influence?

The open Internet is simply about the freedom of speech, and the demand for that freedom has to come from a simple source -- citizens. Whether it's voting at the ballot box, or using their collective economic or grassroots power, I hope that it will be demanded.

What can Indian voters and indeed India politicians learn from the use of the internet American politics?

The Internet empowers both average voters as well as politicians in the political process. Voters can have a greater say in the political conversation, simply through participating in social media and having access to unlimited sources of information to help them form opinions about issues and candidates. Conversely, politicians can more directly reach voters, without the media filter, and create movements. From a tactical point of view, the Internet also allows campaigns to have better tools to organize and target voters.

You're speaking on a panel at the Big Tent Activate Summit focusing on the role the internet has to play in the political process within India. What can we expect from you?

I've done many campaigns, and have seen the evolution of the Internet as a critical tool in politics. I hope to provide some perspective about it's been used to create a more democratic process.

And finally, what are you most looking forward to at the Big Tent Activate Summit on the 21st?

I expect some diverse points of views to be shared, and I'm looking forward to it. From privacy to open access and freedom of speech, these are discussions that need to take place as the Internet becomes a factor in politics, economies and society.

Get more articles like this sent direct to your inbox by signing up for free membership to the Media Network – this content is brought to you by Professional.