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August 25, 2008
Text Twist: Campaigns, Movements Still Struggle to Master Modern
Across the eastern and central United States, there were cries Saturday
morning of, “We’ve been robbed.”
scam was signing up for a text message from the Barack Obama campaign
announcing who his pick for vice president would be. The scam was that
the message came at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, when most everyone
east of the Rocky Mountains was occupied by things not political.
common refrain was this: “They did this to get our cell phone numbers.”
The fear is that when the fall rolls around and cash starts flowing in
rivers, that the heavy lifting of getting critical potential donor
contact information will already be accomplished. That’s not the fear by
the Obama campaign, mind you, but by the people who’d be on the
receiving end of the call.
it a scam? Perhaps it was part-scam. A more likely explanation is that
it was an advanced exercise in message control.
Obama’s announcement was one of the most talked about developments of
the campaign, and much of that conversation focused on the “straight to
the people” method of getting the word out. It short-circuited not only
traditional media outlets, but also anything that might tip off
traditional media outlets before word got to thousands of Obama
the next step in the evolving use of advanced technology to control how
information is shaped and how it flows.
Slowly, surely, political campaigns have learned technology and how to
use it. Four years ago, Howard Dean provided insights into how you could
raise enough cash to compete by targeting small, individual donors over
the Web. Last year, Hillary Clinton told the world she planned to run
for the presidency on a video clip released on her web site. Last week,
Obama refined that tactic with his text message announcement timed to
spread the word of his choice while the nation’s media class were either
sleeping or drunk at cocktail parties.
promise of the Web is that it was supposed to remove the gatekeepers of
information, to foster an unfiltered marketplace of ideas. That, of
course, is downright scary to people who might otherwise depend on a
controlled message, so interests – especially political interests who
stand the most to lose – have been trying to co-opt it since it got big
enough to matter.
years ago, the Internet was an unrealized opportunity for basically
everyone. Ideologically oriented bloggers were waging their own kind of
war. Aside from Internet geeks, no one knew who they were.
the left, they attained something of a rock-star status. They were
irreverent, independent and unafraid to harshly criticize the policies
of the then-still popular George W. Bush. By the time the 2004
convention rolled around, they were openly courted by the Democratic
Party. On the right, after Dan Rather was brought down and his career
broken, they fell into their place as cogs in the GOP machine. Their
purpose was to smear opponents without tainting their candidates or the
battle to control ownership of the message has continued since. While
conservative blogs continue their rich tradition of service to party
above all else, on the left there is an ongoing attempt to bring the
message under greater control. Criticism of Democrats is attacked as
providing ammunition for Republicans, and there are also voices calling
for message discipline, the cleaving to one line of argument to advance
it succeed? Well, Hillary Clinton owned the announcement of her
candidacy by releasing a video on her web site during a slow time of the
news cycle. The Obama campaign sent a text message to individual phones
during an even slower time.
you don’t think that controlling the message is possible, that should
provide a clue that someone disagrees. I mean, come on, you didn’t think
having a free and unrestrained exchange of ideas was going to be as easy
as declaring that one existed, did you?
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