Political blogging

The German Left Party and its Understanding of Wikipedia

Considering that German conservatives have several issues with new technology – as for example evidenced in the discussion about the banning of so-called "Killer Games" – one might think that the other end of the political spectrum would be able to offer an alternative to this ungrounded, uninformed fear. But not only do the German Greens seem to be unable to utilise the web for their means, the post-communists of the Left Party have now proven themselves to be clueless in relation to the intertubes – at least their deputy leader Katina Schuber is (pictured). She filed charges against Wikipedia on the on the grounds that its German language site contained too much Nazi symbolism, particularly an article on the Hitler Youth movement. Says Schubert:

"The extent and frequency of the symbols on it goes beyond what is needed for documentation and political education, in my view. This isn't about restricting freedom of opinion, it's about examining what the limits are."

While she later withdrew her absurd charges this leaves a strange aftertaste. The combination of a well known website and a controversial topic makes for an obvious PR-stunt which emanates in Schubert's wish to heighten her profile but eventually just documents her ignorance. It also demonstrates the traditional fear the far left has with independent structures, even when they, like Wikipedia, rest on the principle that everybody can contribute to it. As pretty much every socialist regime demonstrated: The nationalisation of the economy is always followed by the "nationalisation" of thinking.

Add to this a suspicion of technology that curiously not only affects German conservatives. Also, the Left Party seems to be the collecting basin of frustrated pensioners with the average age of its members currently being 65.

Maybe this explains why the Left Party, like the Greens, does not particularly stand out as being innovative in its use of technology to spread its ideas. Point in case: Schubert's website seems to be a leftover from the last century and, similar to the Greens, the absence of blogs on the official website and on the websites of the chairmen – just contrast this with innovative grassroots, left-wing and anarchist networks that operate outside the party arena like indymedia (whose contributors are probably half the age).


Moustatus = Moustache Status

To try out my moustache ability for Movember, I did a test run on Friday night for a Halloween party.

If you want to sponsor me by donating money to the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada, click here. My ID number is 88340 or click on this:

Movember - Sponsor Me

To find out more, go to Movember.com or read an interview with Movember founder Adam Garone at Buzz Canuck.

I'll keep the Movember updates to ocasional Moustache Status Updates, which I'll be calling Mouchstatus Updates.


Online Campaigning 2008: Blogs and Information mobility

Last spring, two hours after he used his Des Moines Register blog to ridicule a suggestion by a Hillary Clinton aide that she skip the Iowa caucuses, David Yepsen's phone rang."Senator, why are you calling me?" the veteran political reporter asked. It was the former first lady.

"I read your blog," said Clinton, who quoted from his posting while insisting that of course she wasn't going to skip Iowa.

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, Friday October 26, 2007

Howard Kurtz looked at how the “mushrooming number of political blogs on newspaper and magazine Web sites has altered the terrain of the 2008 election” in his excellent article Mainstream Blogs Open Floodgates for Political Coverage in Washington Post, this Friday.

In the article, Kurtz reviews how the creation and blooming of the political blogs on newspaper and magazine websites has changed the news cycle, and how this affects both political reporters and campaign strategists. Today, compared to Election 2004, “…journalists and political strategists find themselves sparring more and more over smaller and smaller items on shorter and shorter deadlines”, says Kurtz.

Whilst campaign officials have learned to take advantage of the speed and the information mobility that blogs present, “leaking favorable tidbits—a new poll result or television ad—and quickly disputing negative items”, journalists find themselves struggling with “the constant pressure to update blogs, thereby drawing more Web traffic, leaves less time for reporting and reflection”, argues Kurtz. “In the pre-Internet age, campaign officials routinely slipped reporters negative information about opponents, sometimes over drinks at the local watering hole. But they had to wait at least until the next morning for it to be published. That process now unfolds around the clock”. Many of the political advisors that Kurtz talk to in his article argue that they take even the briefest blog items serious because the information mobility blogs present is so great the within an hour a story could be everywhere.

The political communication is becoming a whole new ball game both for political officials and journalists. Kurtz article demonstrates just that, and I recommend you take time to read his piece.


Do Norwegian Politicians Understand The Internet?

At the very moment I'm writing this, the election results from the local elections in Norway are about to be finalized. The election results do not interest me too much right now. What I am disappointed about is the fact that although most of the parties have tripled the daily hit-rate on their official websites throughout the election, it seems none of the parties care too much about reaching out to the growing part of the electorate that is taking to the Internet to retrieve information about the election.

The Norwegian webzine NA24 wrote this week that the number of voters taking to the web to seek out information about the local election is at a record high.

"Compared the Norwegian national election two years ago we have ten times as many people visiting our website," Steinar Haugsvær, communication director for The Liberal party, said to NA24 earlier this week.

"There is no doubt the Internet is one of the most important communication channels in this election to reach voters," he added.*

We here at BlogCampaigning could not agree more - the Internet is becoming an important communication channel in Norwegian elections. Our question, however, is: How are The Liberal Party and the rest of the political parties in Norway using the Internet different from the national election two years ago?

To us it looks like nothing has changed! When are Norwegian political parties going to open up their websites to two-way communication?


*Translated by Espen from Norwegian

Espen's Thesis

As many of you may or may not know, BlogCampaigning was originally created almost a year ago as part of Espen Skoland's thesis on politics and blogging for his Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications (Honours) at Griffith University, Australia. This site has served as a way for Espen to interact with the online community as he developed his thoughts on the topic of blogs and political campaigning. While it has since grown to include my view points on the PR industry, Web 2.0, and other miscellany as well as the video game theory of Jens, and the work of a few other contributors, the essential goal of the site has remained the same.

Espen is currently putting the finishing touches on the thesis, and he will be making it available online both as a pdf and as a series of posts her on BlogCampaigning.

We are planning on posting the thesis in reverse order (with the last part of the paper posted chronologically first, the first section of the paper published chronologically last). This will, it will show up in the right order when read online and via a feed reader. If anyone has a better suggestion, we are very open to hearing it (please leave a comment, or e-mail me).

As the BlogCampaigning site manager, I'm very excited about this, because I think that this is the first time that a major academic paper has been published in this manner. If anyone wants to prove me wrong on this point, I'll buy them a drink if they come to the Toronto area.

This won't be the end of BlogCampaigning, either. Jens, Espen, and I have discussed how much we enjoy working on the site that we want it go on.

So thank you for checking us out now and then, and we hope you continue to do so even after this online publication of Espen's thesis.

-Parker, BlogCampaigning Site Manager

Widgets: A natural tool for political outreach?

Colin Delany of e.politics asks a very interesting question: Why Aren't the Presidential Campaigns Using Widgets?

The major presidential campaigns have put tons of effort into creating websites, building their own social networks, creating online videos and reaching out to voters through Facebook and MySpace, but they're so far mostly ignoring a simple and effective tool to help their supporters find volunteers, raise money and spread messages: web widgets.

Widgets are little snippets of HTML code that you can drop into a page, a blog post or a blog template to add a rich feature. For instance, the ChipIn widget lets you embed a donations collection tool into your site to support your own custom fundraising campaign, and many online publishers offer widgets that display headlines of recent stories. Widgets have a social media component as well, in that they can often spread from one site to another via a "get this widget for your site" link.

Widgets would seem like a natural tool for political outreach, but so far the presidential campaigns aren't using them at all, with a couple of exceptions, writes Delany.

Rudy Giuliani is the only candidate going out of his way to offer widgets for supporters to download: the campaign site's "Rudy On Your Blog" page offers a couple of useful widgets, one for fundraising and one to display headlines, alongside the usual static image downloads.

So, what, according to Delany, would a political widget strategy look like?

Delany argues that widgets could serve two functions for a campaign:

  1. Spread a message
  2. Actively solicit support.

Message-spreading widgets could display just about any content that you can either fit into or reference in an RSS feed, including:

  • News headlines
  • Recent blog posts
  • Campaign photos, via a photo-sharing site or from a dedicated photo gallery
  • Campaign video clips (either embedded or as a link to a clip displayed on the main campaign site)
  • Upcoming events, geo-targeted by the blog/site owner during the widget setup or generic across all supporter sites
  • The supporter/volunteer of the day, with photo

Widgets that actively solicit support or user input could:

  • Raise money
  • Gather email addresses
  • Highlight volunteer opportunities
  • Gather opinions, polling-style

What a great lesson for us all. I am truly interested in finding out more about this, and will definitely look into this stuff when I go back to Norway in July to help run the web part of a local political campaign.

- Espen

Young Bloggers on the Front Line of Presidential Campaigns

MTV.com, yes, you got that right, MTV, as in the useless music channel, features an interesting interview with, Stephen Smith, Director of online communications for the Romney campaign, and Sam Graham-Felsen, Blogger for the Obama campaign, this week. In the interview Smith and Graham-Felsen are sharing some of their experiences with the campaigns so far and they both have a lot  of interesting stuff to tell. It is definitely worth a read if you want to learn more about what is going on inside a campaign.


Electioneering via Internet = increase in votes

Politicians who miss net boat could miss vote reads the headline of Silicon Republican, Ireland’s Technology News Service today.

“Irish politicians who fail to embrace new media such as the internet, email, blogging and even social networking sites like YouTube are in danger of losing out on a vast number of younger people in their twenties and thirties who feel passionate about core issues but are stuck in traffic or too hard at work to be listened to.” Reports Silicon Republic.

“The election year 2007 will be remembered as the year that electioneers took to the internet as a serious platform to reach Ireland’s missing electorate. Some have taken to blogging while others have taken awkwardly to putting videos up on YouTube, creating much mirth in the Irish media.”

Though we can not yet put our finger on how, and to what degree, online campaigning affects voting behavior, I believe there has to be some merit in the constant buzz about the influence of blogs on campaigns and voting behavior. And I think we can all agree with Alan Rosenblatt's statement on Personal Democracy Forum in a comment about technology’s role in the U.S Senate election 2006:

“…David Winston, Republican pollster once said… there will come a time when we no longer talk about online strategies and offline strategies, but rather strategies with online and offline components. I suggest that that day has arrived, maybe not universally, but certainly noticeably”.

Netroots and the establishment

"As the smoke began to clear after Election Day, two things seemed clear. Though the netroots have forever changed how campaigns raise money and find votes, the results demonstrated that they cannot yet win elections on their own. But the Democratic Party cannot win major national elections without the netroots", wrote Nicholas Confessore in a New York Times article November 12. I must have missed it, because I just spotted it on the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet website. Confessores article is good. It looks at the relationship between the netroots and the Democratic Party during the election campaign, and offers a honest and balanced take on the question we all want to know: What impact did the netroots have on the election outcome.

Why acknowledge the power of blogs?

Why does politicians and political commentators need to start taking the 'blogosphere' seriously? Well, according to Donald Alexander of Charles Sturt University a reading of academic articles published between 2004 and now, plus commentary in the political media, shows that blogs are beginning to exert some influence on political agenda. Additionally, the increasing use of blogs means that political commentators no longer have to rely on the media to reach the public.

In an article (not yet published) in The Bulletin, a Charles Sturt University magazine, Alexander writes a short introduction to the 'why', where he presents a briefly preview of some of the academic literature discussing the topic. Personally I find the article is worth a read. Some might find the piece a little in-comprehensive and out of date. Other might ask 'why' the piece wasn't published two years ago.

2008: Crowdsourcing the Election

Bloggers have already started planning the Election 2008 by setting up a new fundraising strategy.

According to Personal Democracy Forum, the Netroots’ support organisation ActBlue are setting up fundraising accounts for declared and prospective presidential candidates, asking supporters to donate to their chosen candidate.

The strategy suggests that if a candidate decides to run, he or she will get the money. If not, the money will go to the Democratic National Committee.

“This doesn't only give candidates a chance to raise more money, but citizens will also have a chance to make their voices heard and to draft candidates from the ground-up, writes Personal Democracy Forum about the strategy.

According to Jonathan Singer of MyDD the fundraising campaign might push certain candidates to run “if they raise a big enough stink”.

The new form of fundraising and grass root campaigning is referred to as crowdsourcing; rather than waiting for potential candidates to come to a decision, the public itself works toward drafting them.

It will be interesting to follow ActBlue and its supporters in the lead up to 2008.

Personal Democracy Forum: Technology's impact on the Election 2006

Personal Democracy Forum is running a series where they ask a distinguished group of technologists, politicos, bloggers, and journalists to respond to the following questions:

Was the role of technology in politics different in 2006 than in 2004? How did new technology most affect Election 2006, and do you see any lessons for 2008?

The answers can be found on the following links:

Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (I) Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (II) Technology's Role in 2006 and Beyond (III)

Did blogs have an impact on the midterm election?

It turns out that of the 26 Senate candidates operating a campaign blog during the midterm election the number of candidates achieving electoral success (13) and the number ending up as losing candidates (13) was even. What does this tell us?

Erin Telling of the Bivings Report has followed the Senate race closely and is surprised by the results.

‘Blogs did not play the effectual role in this cycle’s election that I expected it would.’

‘The results indicate that there are many factors that contribute to a campaign victory. The presence of a campaign blog or aggressive campaign Web strategy may contribute to the outcome of the election, but will not be the deciding factor.’ Telling says.

The results from The Bivings Report comparison of winning bloggers v. loosing bloggers shows further that the Democratic candidate blogs fared slightly better than the Republican candidate blogs.

What we need to do now is to compare the differences between the blogs of the winning candidates and the losers to see if we can find common factors in the blogs that had an impact on the election result.

While it is obvious that blogs will never be the sole factor of electoral success, we still need to find a way to understand how to achieve maximum impact through this communication tool.