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The Web And Politics


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A presentation on the internet and US, UK politics by Anthony Painter at the LSE on February 16th 2010.

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The Web And Politics

  1. 1. Internet campaigning and politics- the state of play in the US and the UK<br />
  2. 2. What is the most formidable web campaign to date?<br />15 million members.<br />440,000 events.<br />Grassroots driven.<br />Complex social interactions, organised online.<br />Campaign provides the means, executed by activists interacting with trained organisers.<br />Funded by millions of small donations. <br />Embedded in neighourhoods and communities.<br />
  3. 3. Obama 08/ Organizing for America….?<br />
  4. 4. A pretty pale shadow of its former self…..<br />
  5. 5. That’s not the campaign that we’re talking about……….<br />
  6. 6. A new movement...(against change) <br />
  7. 7. The Tea Party Movement<br />
  8. 8. Tea Party Patriots<br /><br />
  9. 9. Other Party Animals<br />
  10. 10. And this guy….<br />
  11. 11. And it’s about to get even bigger…..<br />
  12. 12. Why is the Tea Party Movement important?<br />History of American anti-state populism. E.g. John Birch Society.<br />It is not just the left that can organise in this way.<br />Obama ‘08 was the prototype- others can now copy.<br />These ‘movements’ through the use of internet and social media can grow extremely quickly.<br />Very unstable political environment. <br />
  13. 13. But Obama ‘08 was great…<br />The most integrated and successful national campaign ever -&gt; though built on earlier innovations:, Howard Dean campaign, and Democrats 2006 congressional campaign.<br />New media team reported directly to campaign manager.<br />Use of social media, egFacebook, to tie together both local and dispersed shared interests.<br />Coordination with other campaign groups, e.g. trade unions, ACORN.<br />New media used to empower traditional campaigning.<br />
  14. 14. But it wasn’t (just) the web what won it…<br />It was traditional campaigning.<br />Strategy, strategy, strategy:<br />‘Change we can believe in.’<br />Expand the base.<br />Movement based politics.<br />50-state strategy (OK, targeting more than Ohio and Florida…!) <br />Caucuses and primaries, delegates.<br />The ‘new community organisers’ (see Zack Exley.)<br />AND….advertising. <br />
  15. 15. Plouffe on Obama ‘08<br />&quot;It was a historic marriage, in US politics at least, between digital technology and grassroots [campaigning].”<br />&quot;We did have a big Facebook presence and MySpace. When we started, Twitter wasn&apos;t really around, it was at the end. The real drivers were old school, email and web [traditional websites for the campaign]. We did build a social networking [presence] but it was web and email.&quot;<br />
  16. 16. The Obama ‘08 trick<br />The campaign was top-down AND bottom-up- the best of both worlds.<br />There was complete integration.<br />AN INSURGENT CAMPAIGN THAT WAS UTTERLY PROFESSIONAL.<br />=&gt; The professional movement…<br />
  17. 17. US blogs and web<br />Blogs came into their own during the campaign:,,<br />But others innovated too, e.g.<br />And news media- cable news- came into its own: astounding levels of detail. E.g. exit polls<br />
  18. 18. US conclusions<br />US politics has entered the digital age.<br />It is now fully integrated: on and off-line, political communication and organising, media and campaigns, parties and issues.<br />Political insiders and voters now experience and interact with politics in a different way.<br />Movements and personalities will come from nowhere…and hopefully some of them will disappear just as quickly.<br />
  19. 19. What about the UK?<br />
  20. 20. It looks like US politics, but it doesn’t taste or feel that way…<br />Labourmembersnet<br />
  21. 21. The Conservatives have been watching the US too…<br />
  22. 22. But it’s all a bit free-standing<br />There are web tools<br />There are local campaigns<br />The local campaigns use the web tools…to a certain extent.<br />But there is no integration.<br />New media campaigning is not just one arm of a properly integrated camapign strategy….remember the Obama campaign- top down and bottom up.<br />
  23. 23. So the parties haven’t cracked it but some activists have<br />The UK web space has been colonised by hard-core activists…with an axe to grind.<br />This takes place in the blogosphere, social media, and bleeds into the media.<br />Many of the participants are journalists and commentators.<br />UK web politics is…in some respects…more anarchic that the US…up to a point.<br />
  24. 24. Some pioneers….<br />
  25. 25. But social media has taken off….<br />Twitter is now the distraction of choice for the political and media classes.<br />It is tribal…once a Chief goes onto Twitter the tribe follows…<br />It is raw and it is cacophonous.<br />Sometimes it creates meaningful dialogue between politicians and opinion formers but more often it’s about the mob and gang warfare<br />Warning…if you detest political point-scoring and cheer-leading then avoid Twitter when it is PMQs, Question Time, Gordon Brown or David Cameron are on TV, or….during the first Leaders’ debates!<br />
  26. 26. It’s like the motorway…..<br />
  27. 27. From time to time someone combines web, social media, and traditional media and it works….<br />
  28. 28. And some issue campaigns ‘get it’<br />
  29. 29. Hope not Hate<br />Grassroots<br />Organising model<br />Movement principles<br />80,000 email list from scratch last year, donations over £100,000<br />Integration- campaign, volunteers, unions, churches, student organisations.<br />It helped that they hired Obama’s new media campaigning people…..but it was much deeper than that.<br />
  30. 30. It’s not easy to get right….<br /><br />
  31. 31. But……….<br />
  32. 32. Everything has to be right<br />Compare ‘Robin Hood Tax’ with…..<br />Make poverty history<br />How many politicians want to be seen to be supporting a ‘Robin hood Tax.’ And how many want to be seen campaigning to ‘Make poverty history’?<br />
  33. 33. So what can we conclude about politics and the internet in the UK?<br />It is more free-wheeling<br />Very creative<br />Very grassroots<br />The parties haven’t yet worked out how to blend on and off-line.<br />Issue campaigns are slightly ahead of the curve (but don’t always get it right…)<br />BUT there is one key difference in the UK compared to the US……<br />
  34. 34. And that is…..<br />In the UK politics has changed the way that people who do politics do politics….<br />In US, it has had a deeper impact on the way politics is organised.<br />
  35. 35. Some final questions….(never finish on a question so I’ll finish on 5!)<br />Does the way that politics has become a battle of tribes on-line have a negative impact?<br />Could turnout suffer in GE 2010?<br />Does online mirror the US’ cable shows and talk radio?<br />Reflective of the decline of civility in politics (and society?) more widely?<br />Are we importing too many of the negatives and not enough of the positives?<br />
  36. 36. Finally, some relevant self-promotion…sorry….<br />Authored:<br />Viral politics: communication in the new media era (outdated but some bits of interest)<br />Barack Obama: the movement for change.<br />LabourList article on politics and the internet in the UK.<br />LabourList column<br />Blog<br />Twitter<br />