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

The Game: How Campaigns' New Obsession With Social Media is Hurting America

BY Nick Judd | Monday, January 9 2012

Watch every 2012 campaign work online and you'll see this in action. Newt Gingrich's Newt Hampshire uses NationBuilder's leaderboard function, giving activists "points" each time they take a vaguely useful action on Gingrich's behalf. MyMitt, Mitt Romney's national action platform, tracks points in much the same way. Barack Obama's re-election effort is surely tracking every phone call made, tweet sent, Facebook post created and door knocked upon, and will use those numbers to set supporters in competition with one another. It's already happening; earlier this year, the campaign held a "competition" to see which of its state-level Twitter accounts could accumulate the most followers in a set amount of time.

As Patrick Ruffini of the D.C. firm Engage reminded me a few months ago, this has become a science. It's not just about what kind of competition the campaign sets before its supporters; polish matters, too.

"If you're smart, you pay attention to the color of the button, you pay attention to the coloring of the text, you pay attention to how your splash page is laid out," Ruffini told me. "And I think this can be powerful as well in delivering the same, if not more, increases in the level of action that people may take."

In September I began talking with Bogost about how games were or weren't being used in politics. He's uniquely qualified to have that conversation: He created the "Dean for Iowa" game for Howard Dean's 2004 run at the Democratic presidential nomination, has consulted for other political campaigns through his company, Persuasive Games, and is the author of a book on games in politics. Dean for Iowa is still online, although some features have been removed.

"So many of the efforts that we see, whether it's games or social networks or whatever, they're really about campaigning," Bogost told me then. "Facilitating support, or gaining new support, and that's what's really come to replace political discourse in politics. We talk about campaigning and the game of political support and attention. And we don't talk about platforms or policy during elections, right, we only do so when forced to."

Bogost was talking about the games that supporters are currently playing — namely, the ones that reward them for retweeting or giving money. But the same is becoming true for politicians themselves — it seems that they, too, or the hard-up insurgents among them anyhow, are starting to click on cows. Instead of getting the politicians to earn our support by demonstrating their value as problem-solvers, or their ability to build coalitions, or their capacity to generate valuable new ideas, the builders of leaderboards and definers of the political conversation are using this fabulous network we've got to reward candidates for ... getting more likes, retweets, or followers.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More