Lift10 Politics: The Technological and Social Trends Impacting Politics (Rahaf Harfoush)

Here are my running notes of the Lift conference in Geneva. This is The Technological and Social Trends Impacting Politics (Rahaf Harfoush), part of the Politics session. May contain errors, omissions, things that aren’t quite right, etc. I do my best but I’m just a human live-blogging machine.

Found other good posts about this session? Link to them in the comments.

Lift10 Rahaf Harfoush

Rahaf is a social media strategist. How are social networks changing the way we are implementing governments and political campaigns.

The past: 2008. Feels like decades in internet time. The Obama campaign was the first example of how much impact technology could have on a campaign. What did they do that was so different?

MyBO changed the way people organized. The candidates ability to outreach is not limited to the physical resources he has. Scaling. Millions of volunteers who are empowered to self-organize. Ability to reach every corner of America without the real financial ressources to do so.

2 Mio profiles, 35K volunteer groups (Dungeons&Dragons supporters for Obama!), 400K blog posts, 200K offline events.

Redefined the relationship between political candidates and supporters. Not only TV, news, but also Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, Twitter (steph-note: imho that makes the candidate a more real and approachable human being). The man behind the image. Once you feel you know him, you feel personally invested and motivated. Turn supporters into friends.

Change of fundraising strategy. Raised more than double of McCain.

Somebody made a comment about how she thought that community organisation couldn’t be that powerful. (steph-note: missed who that was)

September 2008 had raised $150 mio (two-thirds from online!) Total $750 mio.

Changed people’s perceptions of their possible political involvement. Not just for the people, but with the people.

The present (2010). What’s going on now? Breaking down walls (open data and transparency). The supportive community wasn’t just going to go away after the election!

The Sunlight Foundation. Data.gov. Recovery.gov. Government showing what they’re doing with the money.

Google Government Requests. 42 data requests for Switzerland, less than 10 removal requests.

Ushahidi.org (Swahili for testimony/witness). Report instances of fraud, abuse, harrassment, etc. Made open to the world something that was not normally spoken about.

Iran protests. Government tried to shut down communication and contain it. Shut down SMS, banned international websites, blocked international calls, confined journalists, raided broadcasters… The people used social media to get the word out. (steph-note: I know I’ve read criticism about this interpretation of what happened, need to dig a bit more) Green avatar campaign on Twitter. Killing of Neda Agha and subsequent viral YouTube video.

Future? Visions of utopian and dystopian worlds, of course.

Evolving digital activism. We the people. As people become more familiar with technology, for example the UnCaucus. Citizens looking for a new mayor. Rethinking the political process, job description. From voter to hiring manager. Need to find the right person for the job.

Onion rings and prime ministers in Canada. Outrage, Vote campaign. So unhappy that they said “onion ring can get more fans than him”. Group on Facebook! 176K fans, 31K for the actual Stephen Harper. Not huge numbers, but with more sophisticated tools, this kind of protest operation could reach much more people.

Canadians against proroguing Parliament. 200K members. Protests, etc. Self-organizing through FB.

As we’re interacting more and getting more involved, governments are starting to take notice and respond. Policies and regulations. Good way to understand the future: look at legislations being proposed.

The #FreeVenezuela hashtag got so much media attention that Chavez responded saying Twitter was a tool of terror, and considered banning it from the country. We’ll see more and more of this.

Mexico, Los Twitteros, social networks used by drug addicts etc, to pass information around. Used to break the law.

Cybernetic police force. Their job will be monitoring what is said and shared on social networks. Also consider banning Twitter.

Great firewall of China.

How are governments going to use the tools to further their geopolitical agenda?

Russia. All your tweets are belong to Putin.

New role of corporations: now the product of a company (Facebook, Gmail) has a huge impact on people’s lives, so you see corporations starting discussions with governments. Google victim of cyber-attack. Sino-Google relations. Company taking a bit of a political stand.

Final thoughts: we’re in a time of ongoing battles and creating precedents. We need to pay attention to what laws are being passed, where the opportunities and threats are. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with legislation that severely limits people’s access/use of the internet around the world. What happens in one country impacts people in others. Risks of slacktivism. Don’t get used to just clicking a button to show your support or outrage. There is more to protesting and getting involved. We need to take care of both online and offline worlds.

Q: what happens when everybody starts using social media campaign techniques? did Obama benefit from being the first to do it? — Wouldn’t recommend replicating what the Obama campaign did because the internet moves so fast that these techniques become antiquated really fast. It’s about listening.

Q: lot of data online, government in Iran using Twitter to locate protesters… — Continuous battle between good and evil. Government bans one hashtag, another one appears, China blocks one site, another one pops up… There’s no turning back. Funny story: campus police trolling facebook and busting parties. They set up a fake party, the police came down, and everybody was quietly playing games.

We’re going to see more and more sites with political agendas.

Q: hijacking

Howard Dean tried, was the first, and failed. But if he hadn’t failed, Obama wouldn’t have been able to come along after and learn from his mistakes. steph-note: would be nice to hear which ones

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2 Responses to Lift10 Politics: The Technological and Social Trends Impacting Politics (Rahaf Harfoush)

  1. To start the story about the internet and politics in 2008 misses out a lot of developments not just in the US but elsewhere. It also slightly over-states the impact of social networking as a campaign tool.

    Let’s look back a little further into history. Who was the first US presidential candidate to raise $1m online? John McCain. Not in 2008, but in 2000.

    In terms of the killer app for the Barack Obama campaign, Blue State Digital which helped run Obama’s online efforts will tell you that email was even more important than MyBarackObama.com. Email was the tool that Jesse Ventura used to win a governor’s race. When? 1998. Returning to the Obama campaign, as many have pointed out, his online millions mostly went to pay for television advertising, and his campaign has repeatedly said that it was the integration of novel digital and traditional campaign techniques that made the difference.

    That’s just the US. There are plenty of examples elsewhere. French blogger Etienne Chouard, dubbed “Don Quichotte du non”, helped rally opposition to the EU Constitution in 2005. There are many other examples. I know that this talk was probably intended to be a forward looking, trends talk, but by missing out the history of digital campaigning, I think it actually misses out important context.

  2. Rahaf says:

    Hi Steph! Great wrap up. I have a few comments :)

    • First, the person whose comments about community organizing I mentioned was former Gov. Sarah Palin at the RNC.

    • About Iran: I wanted to make the point that transparency was going to be forced on the country whether the government wanted to or not. The use of social media helped make that happen. While I know that many people say it was not a digital revolution (in fact, as some pointed out the number of twitter users from Iran were quite low) Twitter served as a powerful network to spread information to the rest of the world, even if that information didn’t originate on Twitter itself. I think this is an important point which I used to describe the fact that the protests became a movement that included more people then simply Iranians.

    And to Kevin’s point: I absolutely agree, I would have loved to dig into more of a history but was limited by how much I could speak about the past when I was supposed to be addressing future trends. As for email, I have an entire chapter of my book devoted on the topic, but for the presentation I didn’t want to focus on one particular tool as much as the changes in social behaviour that were occurring because of their use. In my opinion, it was more important to note that the Obama team changed the way people interacted with politicians on a whole using a wide array of tools instead of simply focusing on email.

    Thanks for the great feedback and points! Next time I should ask for a three hour slot! :)

    Let me know if you have any questions!

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