Saturday, March 22, 2008

Potential session: online campaigning in the 2008 US elections

Looking through the submissions to date, there's nothing about online campaigning. I believe somebody's working on a panel from the international perspective; it could be useful to complement this with something US-focused, paying particular attention to social networks -- a significant difference from the 2006 election cycle.

An ideal moderator would be one of the few journalists who have covered this aspect of this campaign: Amy Schatz of WSJ, Linnie Rawlinson of CNN London, Ari Melber of The Nation, Nikki Schwab of US News and World Report, Farhad Manjoo of Salon, Sarah Lai Stirland on Wired's THREAT LEVEL, Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone, Tim Lebrecht on iPlot. [The articles I link to give a good overview of this with a focus on the presidential campaign.]

Any of the following could be good topics:
  • the different online approaches of the Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Ron Paul campaigns. It would be great to find a way to invite activists from each.
  • the role of the big commercial social networks: Facebook*, MySpace, YouTube.
  • issue-based advocacy, for example StepItUp and Courage Campaign's use of social networks for a variety of purposes
  • the progressive blogosphere's successes -- and internal stresses, highlighted by alegre's criticism of the attacks on dissenting views
  • the rise of the black blogosphere (see Reggie Royston's interview with Howard Witt for more)
  • the impact of social networks on delegate selection (see the comments for discussion)
[There are clearly a lot more possibilities as well; please put your suggestions, preferably with links, in comments.]

One of the reasons I think it's so important to cover this at CFP is so that we as a community can become more effective advocates for freedom and privacy. The huge amount of money and energy being poured into the current U.S. election cycle makes it a unique "lab" for examining the cutting edge campaigning techniques. Better understanding of this is vital for helping us influence technology policy.


* while not related to the US elections, Jennifer Woodard Maderezo's Facebook Becomes Catalyst for Causes, Colombian FARC Protest illustrates what can be done with today's Facebook


Jon Garfunkel said...


This is good-- though my first worry was that this campaign techology now regularly gets discussed at various Internet & society conferences, but rarely produces original insight. Many truths about online campaigning, to quote Dr. Franklin's edit of Mr. Jefferson, are self-evident (e.g., social media tools are helpful but not sufficient for campaign success).

I took a scan through the websites you linked to above. Melber's piece in the Nation may point the way to some new thinking. Obviously what's different about 2008 is that not only do the primaries matter, but the delegate selection does as well. In recent memory, the delegate selection has largely been ceremonial.

Basic mathematics suggests that an average person can't very well have a full "conversation" with a national candidate. But they can, and should, with whichever delegate is chosen to elect them. One can imagine an "open convention" where all elected delegates have an online presence, and the district voters are encouraged to communicate directly with them. (I can check in with some of my poli/tech sources on whether the DNC will have such an open convention.)

Separately, I'll add the observation from reporter Jon Gertner in the NYT four years ago considering the DNC DataMart and the RNC Voter Vault. It should relate to CFP's privacy component: "The candidate knows everything about the voter, but the media and the public know nothing about what the candidate really believes. It is, in effect, a nearly perfect perversion of the political process."

(here are my thoughts on it at the time.)

jon said...


Thanks for the comments -- and good link; it certainly fits in well with CFP.

It'd be interesting to get some links to the "regular discussions" of this so that we could see what ground has already been well-trod, and where there's room for exploration. One thing that I wonder is whether coming at it from an "internet and society" perspective implies a particular view. Also, has anybody been discussing this in terms of recent work on "cognitive diversity and problem solving", or earlier work based on intersectionality? So there may well be a chance for insights...

Also, even if this has been discussed elsewhere, it still seems to me that the CFP community has a lot to learn here.


Jon Garfunkel said...

Ok, Jon-- I'll take your challenge!

There's a certain sloppiness in e-activism punditry. In the Salon interview, Shirky slams MoveOn, but praises the Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights group. MoveOn takes offense at Shirky's characterization. Meanwhile, it's not so clear that the APBOR group was able to accomplish more than MoveOn. It's as if there's no metrics for online activism.

The ABPOR bill failed. But, the FAA authorization bill included a provision for establishing an "Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection." But there's no mention of it anywhere else on the web, and not on the Coalition's website or blog. I assume that that committee's work is worth tracking.

One thing that might interest the CFP group-- as it interests me-- is the split between the activism front and the committee work.

Jon Garfunkel said...

Just wanted to clarify the above. The FAA authorization bill is H.R. 2881; it has been passed by the House, but the companion Senate bill has not passed yet.

jon said...


Your point about metrics is an excellent one. Part of the reason I'm suggesting focusing on the election cycle is that goals, and hence metrics, are often clearer in this context. Getting candidates elected is a pretty clear goal; metrics include voter registration, press/blogosphere mentions, phonecalls to influence likely voters, fundraising, etc. In terms of issues, Step It Up is an excellent example: their goal is to get legislation adopted at the national level, and they've tracked the candidates and politicians who have endorsed their position -- as well as states who have enacted similar legislation.

Also, my impression is that there's a lack of metrics and sloppiness in punditry in every issue CFP covers, so I don't see that as a disqualifier :-)

jon said...

Cross-posted from my personal blog Liminal States, where I've been tracking a lot of coverage of the social network-related aspects of the US presidential campaign: a recent article illustates both the attention this is receiving, and how much of the story is getting overlooked.


Dillon Orbon posted a link to Brian Stelter's New York Times business section article Finding Political News Online, the Young Pass It On in the One Million Strong group on Facebook, which perfectly illustrates the author's point:

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.

Indeed. (Thanks, Dillon!)

Towards the end, the article notes

Young people also identify online discussions with friends and videos as important sources of election information. The habits suggest that younger readers find themselves going straight to the source, bypassing the context and analysis that seasoned journalists provide.

Good point, and it would have been nice to hear more about this. Given all the discussion of the gaps in coverage and biases and sexism of the mainstream media's "context and analysis", As Hali Cespedes-Chorin said on the Facebook thread, maybe it's because we've realized that many "seasoned journalists" have - at best - been lying down on the job for, say, the last decade or more. Seems to me like a good example of representation distance. Since it's in the business section, it might be interesting to explore what implications this has for the various media companies, Google, and Facebook.

The article also doesn't mention discussion groups' very important role of ultra-rapid sharing of information -- people in the One Million Strong group often post links to broadcasts-in-progress quickly enough that we can join in and watch things as they're happening. And since the crowd as a whole monitors sooo many diverse information sources (small subset here), far more than any one person could, it's tremendously efficient. I wonder if the NY Times doesn't understand this, or simply doesn't think it's important?

There's plenty of other room for improvement as well. Most of the discussion is at a fairly high-level and the statistics are fairly basic summaries. Does it really matter how many "friends" the candidates have on Facebook and MySpace? And the discussion of statistics about videos don't match Ari Melber's Obama's YouTube speech tops television ratings or Tony Thielen's look at iLike's role in spreading the video last month here on Liminal States.

Still, as the excerpts I highlighted show, Brian puts his finger on a couple of important points. It's nice to see America's newspaper of record recognize that's something happening here, even if what it is ain't exactly clear. Hopefully they'll build on this and look at it more deeply.

jon said...

And another cross-post, referring back to Jon Garfunkel's earlier point about delegate selection, and with a concrete example of how social networks change things:

Matt Adler, a 22-year-old student at Washington University in Missouri, posted there earlier this week asking for support in his bid to become a delegate to help give younger voters a voice. He set up a group, and made his case, starting with

I am running to become a pledged delegate for Barack Obama to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) because we deserve a voice at the table. The 75,000 votes of people aged 18-29 helped Senator Obama carry Missouri on Super Tuesday, where we won by a mere 10,000 votes. We've worked hard and we want to be heard.

Senator Obama inspires me to believe that we young people have the ability to shape our own future. This campaign has moved me to reach beyond myself and think that I too can make change happen. I've been an activist on issues of immigrants' rights, workers' rights, gay rights, Katrina relief, and Middle East peace. If we are to succeed on these and other issues, we must work together to build a youth movement.

I joined, and sent him some potentially-helpful suggestions (tapping the folks mentioned in the Obama's MySpace Delegates article, for example). 260 others joined, a lot of whom were local and were able to do a lot more.

Tonight we got this message from Matt:

I am so proud and friggin ecstatic to announce that...

I will be representing the 3rd Congressional District of Missouri for Barack Obama! I couldn't have done it without your support, whether it be leafleting the caucus tonight or just being there for me. You better believe I will represent your voices to the best of my capacity and work my heart out to continue to get young people elected wherever I can. Thank you so much for your support! Yes we DID!!!

-Matt :)

How cool is that?