Archive for October 9th, 2007

Making Facebook a Better Political Tool

Michael Bassik reports today in techPrez about some changes to Facebook that should make it a much better platform for political organizing. Specifically, by January, the “success penalty” for building a large Facebook Group should disappear, since group administrators will no longer be blocked from messaging the group once it exceeds 1000 people. Also, changes to a group such as new videos or photos or a new event will automatically show up in members’ newsfeeds.

Michael is very bullish on the improvements, saying that “by changing the messaging policy, Facebook will soon find itself the center of online activism.” Hmmmm, let me quibble with “the” center — how about “a” center instead? I know that social networking enthusiasts often believe that we’ll all soon be running our online lives through some site or another, but I’m more skeptical (as usual). Absolutely, plenty of people will spend hours and hours a week on Facebook — and plenty won’t. Question for the soc net enthusiasts: how much will an average Facebook supporter donate per ask, compared with an average email list member? I don’t know the answer, but I bet we’ll be looking for it soon.

Another Bassik prediction: “companies like Convio and Democracy in Action will find new sources of revenue in building ‘message your member of Congress’ applications and licensing them to groups for use within Facebook.” That’s a good trend to watch — and the more vendors who get in on the deal, the better off the users will be.

cpd

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Expanding on Obama Social Networking Outreach Comments

Washington Post online politics reporter Jose Antonio Vargas wrote over the weekend on the Obama campaign’s use of niche social networking sites for voter outreach:

And as of Friday, he’s the first candidate to have profiles on BlackPlanet.com and MiGente.com, popular soc-nets in the black and Latino communities, and also on newer soc-nets such as AsianAve.com (for Asian Americans) and GLEE.com (“GLEE” stands for “Gay, Lesbian and Everyone Else”).

Jose quoted me at the end of the article and I’d like to expand a little on what I said there. Specifically, I talked about going where your audience is, not exactly a new topic on this site. For most campaigns, deciding on which social networking sites to hit, if any, is a resource-allocation question: we have X amount to spend on voter outreach, and we’d like to get the most votes possible for it. In a congressional, state legislative or local race, niche social networking sites aren’t likely to yield enough supporters in the right places to be worth the time, but a MySpace profile may be a good investment. Though of course, even for some local races, ethnic niche sites (for instance) might well be perfect targets — it all depends on which voters those campaigns need to reach and the relative costs of reaching them through different means.

For presidential campaigns that are already maintaining social networking profiles on several sites, adding a few extras probably isn’t going to stretch resources much — national campaigns can pick up extra supporters a few thousand here or a few thousand there, and they’re going to be looking at plenty of different niches, online and off. As with most communications decisions, we don’t have hard-and-fast rules to go by, only tendencies, trade-offs and opportunity costs.

cpd

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Hacking the 2008 Elections: Anonymous Voter Suppression and Other Dirty Tricks

I’m just back from traveling through Texas and Louisiana, and it’s always great to come home to an article as full of fun as this one: New Scientist reports from an e-crime summit in Pittsburg that in the coming years, “voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns, and that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks.”

Politics of the nasty, low-down and dirty variety, just the way we like it. How about anonymous voice-over-IP phone banks to spread “information” about a rival candidate — like a push-poll but without the poll. Hire the right hacker, and you can have zillions of pre-recorded messages go out over a captive bot-net, with the owners of the sending machines completely unaware that they’re participating in the campaign. Besides VOIP, good ol’ spam will also work nicely — let’s us go tell some voters that their polling places have changed or that they need to renew their registration before they can vote. That’ll confuse some folks, maybe enough to swing a precinct or two here and there.

Online campaigning is also vulnerable to straight-up criminals, with fake donations sites a perfect way to phish for credit cards and bank accounts. The “nice” thing is, this stuff is already relatively easy:

The low probability of getting caught online, combined with the fact that anti-spam laws and “no-call” lists exempt political messages, makes the threat real. “The fact is that all of the technology for all of these things to happen is already in place,” Soghoian says. “I’m not sure this will happen in 2008, but it will happen.”

Of course, if a candidate gets caught doing something nasty online, they’re sure to take a lot of heat. Dirty tricks are more likely to be employed by outside groups who’ll be structured in such a way that you’ll likely have a hard time proving that anyone on the benefiting campaign is connected.

cpd

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