Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

"Gotcha" Culture, Authenticity, and the Danger for Campaigns

BY Colin Delany | Thursday, June 14 2007

Cross-posted on e.politics

As Joe Trippi has been making the rounds lately, one thing he's been talking about is the rise of a culture of authenticity in politics as we move from a broadcast television era to an Internet-dominated era. I heard him make the point at last week's Connecting with Young Voters event (ably summarized by Kate Phillips in The Caucus), and he said something similar this week to The Guardian (thanks, Josh).

"Before TV, what mattered was how your voice sounded. Then with TV it matters what your candidate looks like ... Anybody can fake it on TV: all the Joe Trippis and Alastair Campbells get really good at making sure our guy looks great for the eight seconds that are actually going on the news.

"We are now moving to a medium where authenticity is king, from what things look like to what's real ... You have to be 'on' 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

He went into some detail about what a culture of authenticity means for campaigns — the proliferation of "behind-the-scenes" campaign videos is one example, as is the recent trend of having campaigns interact with supporters via video "conversation" (more like a conversation via radio with someone on Pluto, though, with question and answer separated by hours or days).

The part of his discussion that really jumped out at me was his mention of the danger for campaigns of the transition period from an era of "gotcha" culture to one of authenticity. He pointed to the video of Conrad Burns falling asleep in a Senate hearing as an example — let's face it, we've ALL started to fall asleep in a meeting before, and it's not really an indicator of how on-the-ball Burns was as a legislator. Eventually, Trippi believes that we'll laugh off minor gaffes like this, but at the moment, the Internet is encouraging a culture of authenticity at the same time that rival campaigns, the media, blogs, etc., will gang-tackle a candidate (or celebrity) for the slightest public or private mistake.

MoveOn's Eli Pariser made a related point at the Personal Democracy Forum conference last month when talking about social media: he argued that they won't reach their full potential until we can move past the "gotcha" mentality. He has reason to know, since MoveOn was burned in 2004 by the legendary "Hitler ad" — it'll be hard for campaigns to take risks with citizen-generated content if they're afraid of being held responsible for something created by a a supporter with bad taste. Another example: think of all the times that the most extreme position taken by a random commentor on a lefty blog is held out by some TV blathering head or talk radio host as somehow being representative of ALL liberal thought.

How can campaigns handle this problem? First of all, by having a sense of humor. Your candidate makes an honest mistake, or a supporter does something that looks bad? Act like it's no big deal and apologize if necessary. Then, move on. Take a lesson from the Bush campaign for Texas Governor in 1994 — he accidentally shot a protected bird, and I can remember how much the Ann Richards campaign tried to jump all over him about it. But, he paid his fine and laughed it off as a simple stupid mistake. Good damage control, and it worked.

The public will ultimately be able to tell the difference between something minor and a true Macaca moment — they'll be able to spot the unguarded moment that really DOES tell you something significant about a public figure. The worst thing a campaign can do is get defensive or evasive — nothing fires the press and the bloggers up like a candidate who seems to be hiding something.

cpd

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

GO

The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

GO

More