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The Internet Politics Technology

Does Even Amazing Partisan Tech Deserve Applause? 209

theodp writes "The press has been filled with wide-eyed articles about how Obama's tech team pulled out the stops in their race against the Republicans. But as exciting as some of the new techniques dreamed up may be, Tom Steinberg points out it's important to reflect on the difference between choosing to use tech skills to win a particular fight, versus trying to improve the workings of the democratic system, or helping people to self-organize and take some control of their own lives. 'I am still filled with an excitement about the prospects for non-partisan technologies that I can't muster for even the coolest uses of randomized control trial-driven political messaging,' writes Steinberg. 'The reason why all comes down to the fact that major partisan digital campaigns change the world, but they don't do it in the way that services like eBay, TripAdvisor and do. What all these sites have in common – helping people sell stuff they own, find a hotel, or a life partner – is that they represent a positive change in the lives of millions of people that is not directly opposed by a counter-shift.'"
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Does Even Amazing Partisan Tech Deserve Applause?

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  • by PocketPick ( 798123 ) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @11:50AM (#42087117)

    I'm confused - What "exciting new techniques" did the candidates came up with? Using Twitter? Writing a blog? Campaigns and PACs soliciting donations or informing people of important dates through text messages, phone calls, emails or applications on phones?

    Wow - What an age we live in...if you ignore that the underpinnings of these technologies have been around for years if not decades.

    All they did was leverage what was there to spam everyone and rake in money for advertisements, travel, staff expenses and otherwise. The tools may be relatively new, but the "technique" is a century old.

    • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @12:00PM (#42087195) Homepage

      I'm confused - What "exciting new techniques" did the candidates came up with?

      Massive data analysis and machine learning (I pressume some form of data clustering/unsupervised learning system) combined with the use of behavioral scientists. It's never been done before in this manner AAAAAND in this context. If that doesn't qualify as exciting new techniques, then ${DEITY:-FSM} help you.

      I know that in slashdot trying to sound l33t hax0r is the avant garde thing to do, but c'mon.

      In other news, hybrid and electric cars are not exciting new technologies because the gear was known to the Greeks around the 3rd century BC, and the wheel was invented around 5,000 BC.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In short, they used data mining to tailor messages to the specific recipients. For example, if you're a thirty five year old white woman who attends church (but only a few times a year) then it might be that even though you're nominally pro choice that's not an effective campaign strategy with you. Instead, appeals to a sense of economic justice or fair play might work better. So what the Obama campaign in particular would do is call and talk to you about tax policy and not mention abortion at all, knowing

      • This is not what the campaign did. This is simple micro targeting. The campaign A/B tested appeals to voters, focused on GOTV, bought their ads intelligently (targeting tv shows their demographic watched, etc. They made sophisticated use of the Web and built many of their tools in-house.
    • using the massive amount of personal information they can dig up on people through google, and other online tracking schemes to personally pitch their political advertisement, bordlining on custom misinformation to get people even slightly receptive to their causes to come out for the dems at all costs, by figuring out how to pitch information better. Thus taking away their ability to respond in a non-partisan fasion.

      Tell me, is any of this campaign software Free/Open Source?, available to the public, for p
    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Regardless of how "new" or "advanced" the tech was, what each candidate did was a good example of how they lead and how they manage people. If you can't manage your campaign effectively then how can you be trusted with the country? The successes or failures of either side exposed elements of their management style and core philosophies in ways that some sales pitch never can.

      The tech of the campaigns are a reflection of what they really believe and how they put that into action. It is deeds as opposed to wh

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      As Randall remarked when criticizing the comments of the form "you can't win the whitehouse if...", we live in a world where a white man can not access to the whitehouse after he has been mentioned on twitter.
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      The only reason this is getting traction is because Romney and his supporters spent $2 billion, mostly from large donors who were promised tax cuts and other favors, and Romney lost. It's like when you owe money to a loan shark. You try to make it somebody else's fault. We have seen this. Obama bribed the populous, which he did with a promis of employment and health care not controlled by corporate death panels. Then he blames voter turn out. Somehow the populous were not as afraid to vote as he hoped,
  • Hyping marketing campaigns (of which political campaigns are a subset) has become more and more common. It's like the actual product doesn't matter anymore.

    • It's like the actual product doesn't matter anymore.

      Our city council had a very bitter election this year, but I could determine nothing about the candidates' positions from their campaign literature. But then I noticed the flyers from the public employee unions were only attacking one of them, so I voted for her. So we cannot judge candidates by what they say, but we can judge them by their enemies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )

        So you blindly voted for whatever crook was opposed by the people who actually work in your local government. You've proved Republicans don't need their disintegrating party: you only care about what you imagine are liberals.

  • But all of the sites he mentioned are not in the business to "help" anyone. They're all in it to make money. The difference is that the Democratic party used the internet in a way that didn't involve Money. Now that's a neat trick!! I wonder if by next election someone will have thought of a way to make a business out of "getting out the vote" over the net.
    • by JWW ( 79176 )

      You really think the campaign didn't involve money??

      It's all about money.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by microbox ( 704317 )

        It's all about money

        The GOP and super-pacs spent about 3x as much per vote as the democrats. I am sure the analysis of how the money was spent would be fascinating. I would love to know why the GOP effort was so inefficient. My guess is that there is a crisis of leadership. After-all Reince Priebus is still the RNC chairman, and he clearly had no idea what was about to happen before the election.

        • by JWW ( 79176 )

          If you were to hand craft a candidate that would be impotent in arguing against Obama, you couldn't do much better than Romney.

          That was the problem.

          • The interesting thing about post-election recrimination, is that everyone always points at the other guy.

            That was the problem.

            The GOP has far more then one problem. They should have cleaned up this election, but even back in the primaries it was evident that there were serious problems: only Huntsman and Romney stood a chance of winning. How did the GOP get itself into a situation where all the candidates traded popularity with electability?

            And then the GOP lost all of those senate races that it should have won. Was that Rom

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )

          It's a crisis of governance. Republicans are committed to terrible ideas about how to govern the country. The ideas that they executed for years with trifecta control of the US government, and perpetuated in years after by minority interference with goverment action to reform what they installed.

          I hope that Priebus and the Republican Party stays committed to them. They belong on the dustheap of history, along with so much American greatness they destroyed.

          • by JWW ( 79176 )

            My goodness you must have drunk all the koolaid.

            Obama is continuing at least half the stuff Bush was doing. Hell he liked attacking countries in the middle east so much he added another one. Sure, he doesn't do torture, but you can't torture someone you blew up with a drone. Oh and ain't it neat that the banks, and hell even the insurance companies seem to get the treatment they want no matter who's in power.

    • But all of the sites he mentioned are not in the business to "help" anyone.
      They're all in it to make money.

      The problem is not so much that they are in it to make money(indeed, it is rather convenient if somebody can do well by doing good, since they might actually continue to do so). The problem is that, particularly in Ebay's case, 'doing well' and 'doing good' are somewhat divergent objectives and the former has been steadily gaining ground on the latter for years now.

    • Tom Steinberg's sites are in the UK, so probably not well known in the USA, but they *are* about grass-roots democracy, and *are* about helping people -- using the internet for democracy in a different way than party politics.

      So for example:

      • TheyWorkForYou [] -- a site which took the official record of the UK Parliament, and transformed it, making it searchable and commentable, and easy to track MPs by what they'd said. MPs were so impressed, they changed crown copyright law to make it legal.
      • The Public []
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @11:54AM (#42087143)

    Its a matter of who manages to leverage it to their advantage that makes a difference. At one point, the GOP and Karl Rove were ahead of the Democrats at using databases and software to rally support and gerrymander voting districts. But it appears that they have run out of steam.

    One wonders why the Republicans haven't been the ones pushing publicly funded broadband. They are missing quite a bit of their base out in the trailer parks.

    • Republicans oppose publicly funded broadband because Republicans are funded by a few very rich people whose corporations would lose some of their monopoly money to the public competition.

      Capitalists will sell the rope used to hang them.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      One wonders why the Republicans haven't been the ones pushing publicly funded broadband. They are missing quite a bit of their base out in the trailer parks.

      There's the obvious disconnect between alleged cause and alleged effort. Why should publicly funded broadband be politically useful to the Republicans, even if it did help people who were more Republican than Democrat (which I might add is a dubious proposition on its own)? Why should someone who is bitterly complaining about taxes and such, be happy because someone throws them modestly cheaper broadband as a sop?

      Instead this sounds like more of the idiocy from people who can't be bothered to understand

    • by Bananenrepublik ( 49759 ) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @02:25PM (#42088169)

      At one point, the GOP and Karl Rove were ahead of the Democrats at using databases and software to rally support and gerrymander voting districts. But it appears that they have run out of steam.

      You do realize that the Republican majority in the House is due to gerrymandering? The machine still did them some good. It shouldn't be a surprise that Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders WRT this, after all that's the same state where a new voter ID law was enacted which the republican majority leader famously described with the words "[enact a law that] will allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done!"

  • The idea that technology can be partisan is evidence that your side is relying on something besides science. Get with the program, or don't. Either way, we all win.
  • is complete rubbish. The corresponding negative counter-shift is the huge loss of individuals' privacy and the centralising of even more power in even fewer corporations.
  • Anything that moves the tech forward is worthwhile.

    NASA developed a lot of tech specifically to get us to the moon, and along the way everyone else (who isn't going to the moon) gets to benefit from the advances. []

    This is like that. The goal was to get Obama elected. But the breakthroughs are something that everyone else can benefit from now that they're here.

  • Ruling the world with an iron fist is certainly a good application for technology, so I'm gonna go with "yes."

    Speaking of which, XKCD pointed out a while back that no white candidate who's been mentioned on twitter has ever gone on to win a presidential election. Something to think about...

  • I joined earlier this year and I'm currently going month to month. I sure wouldn't call it a positive use of technology as the main article states. It's not been a complete waste of my time and money but it has mostly been a waste of them both. My experiences might be interesting to other geeks so I'll describe how it really works.

    Match requires both you and the person you contact to be paying members to be able to read and send email. Yes, you cannot even read email unless you are a payi

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