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First POST: Decrypting the Campaign

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, April 5 2012

President Barack Obama speaking at a March 15 event. Photo: Daniel Borman

Decrypting the 2012 campaign

  • Both the Obama and Romney campaigns appeared to switch into general election mode yesterday in their speeches and online. While the Romney campaign released a web video called "Slinging Mud" attacking Obama's energy record, the Obama campaign was marking the anniversary of the reelection campaign with web videos and other online content. One video, "The Story of "Fired up! Ready to go!" is about a woman who started a chant of "Fired up! Ready to go!" at a small 2008 campaign event in Greenwood, South Carolina. The campaign also released a video titled "Mitt Romney versus reality" contrasting opposing statements by Romney and Obama (the name in the url to the main campaign web page names it "distortionvid"). The campaign also shared the top five retweeted @Barackobma tweets with the top one being: "Hey, @MichelleObama: Happy Valentine's Day. -bo"

  • The Guardian analyzed the number of Obama campaign reelection activities listed at and concluded that the Obama campaign has more events planned, with more volunteers in more battleground states, than the Romney campaign:

    A Guardian survey of the activities of the Obama re-election campaign, based on data posted to, reveals 4,200 election events between now and June. Such an aggressive launch of a presidential election campaign so early in the cycle is unprecedented and threatens to leave the eventual Republican nominee far behind in terms of its grassroots organisation ... [In Florida] the Obama re-election campaign already has 22 offices firing on all cylinders. Some opened as long ago as early 2009, four as recently as last Saturday. Between them, they claim to have put together 6,500 training sessions, planning sessions, house parties and phone banks. Events are being staged across Florida at a rate of up to 30 a day....Calls to the main number of Romney's Florida headquarters are sent to voicemail; the mailbox is full and will not accept further messages.

  • The same Guardian article then went on to detail the impact of social media training on campaign volunteers:

    At a digital training event in St. Petersburg, Florida, about 30 people gathered to hear a key Obama staffer talk about the importance of Facebook and Twitter in this year's contest. One of the attendees was Merida Lloyd, aged 23, a graduate student at the University of South Florida. She was invited by the Obama campaign in January to become one of their "spring fellows" – a volunteer organiser – and now spends about 15 hours a week canvassing for the president on campus. Lloyd has set up a university Facebook page and has access to the central Obama database from which she draws the details of potential supporters in the 18 to 24 age range. "The most effective way to reach people is to go to them," she says. "So I go to the bars where they hang out and talk to people of my own age group."

  • A Nielsen study investigated the correlation between online buzz and off-line election results based on four races:

    In three out of four races, the most frequently mentioned candidate on social media won the seat. However, the share of online buzz for each winning candidate was often higher than their percent of votes, demonstrating a strong correlation but not necessarily a causal relationship between social media and election results. For example, in the race for California’s Senate seat Barbara Boxer had the most online buzz (55%) but won by a slight smaller margin of votes (52%).Overall voter turnout during the 2010 midterm election was higher on average compared to prior midterm elections, but buzz doesn’t appear to be a driver of voter turnout. In fact, the two states with higher levels of voter turnout also had the lower levels of online buzz about their candidates. In each contest, online buzz followed a specific pattern: high buzz immediately following their primaries, followed by a period of fewer social media mentions, and with buzz peaking during the week leading up to Election Day.

Networks and their discontents

  • Politico highlights the growing debate about upcoming negotiations over international regulation of the Internet, and notes concerns by officials that the U.S. has not yet selected a point person to head up the American delegation.

  • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein discussed how the Watergate investigation might have unfolded in the social media age at a conference, with Woodward recounting a recent conversation with students at Yale:

    [The professor] sent the one-page papers that these bright students had written and asked that I’d talk to the class on a speakerphone afterward. So I got them on a Sunday, and I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”...“That somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events,” Woodward said. “And they went on to say the political environment would be so different that Nixon wouldn’t be believed, and bloggers and tweeters would be in a lather and Nixon would resign in a week or two weeks after Watergate.”...“I have attempted to apply some corrective information to them,” Woodward continued, “but the basic point is: The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet. [The Internet] can supplement. It can help advance. But the truth resides with people. Human sources.”

  • Nieman Lab looked at how coverage of the Supreme Court has changed, even without cameras in the courtroom, such as with the rise of Scotus Blog and instantaneous spread of CNN legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin's determination that the hearing had been a "train wreck" for the Obama administration.

  • At a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about how 21st-century statecraft means that ambassadors are blogging and tweeting, and that embassies have Facebook pages.

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has started a petition against the "graduated response" plans against piracy announced as part of an agreement between Internet service providers and content owners.

  • Fight for the Future has started an online petition against remarks made in a recent White House report on copyright that appeared to show support for anti-piracy legislation that could be similar in some ways to SOPA.

  • In Foreign Affairs, Yochai Benkler argues that Anonymous is not a threat to national security.

    Seeing Anonymous primarily as a cybersecurity threat is like analyzing the breadth of the antiwar movement and 1960s counterculture by focusing only on the Weathermen. Anonymous is not an organization. It is an idea, a zeitgeist, coupled with a set of social and technical practices. Diffuse and leaderless, its driving force is “lulz” -- irreverence, playfulness, and spectacle. It is also a protest movement, inspiring action both on and off the Internet, that seeks to contest the abuse of power by governments and corporations and promote transparency in politics and business. Just as the antiwar movement had its bomb-throwing radicals, online hacktivists organizing under the banner of Anonymous sometimes cross the boundaries of legitimate protest. But a fearful overreaction to Anonymous poses a greater threat to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation than any threat posed by the disruptions themselves.

The tech sector's S.F. influence: Bad politics or good policy?

  • Pandodaily disagrees with the Bay Citizen's/New York Times' critical assessment of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's relationship with technology companies.

    "I’ve long thought it was bizarre that Silicon Valley holds up people who can create huge companies out of nothing as heroes, and San Francisco tears them down as juicy targets who owe the city their whole coffers in tax revenues for the pleasure of living here and driving on its pot-hole ridden streets," PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy wrote. "And I’m proud to say that our investigation at TechCrunch into the city’s right to tax stock options helped change city policy and helped loads of startups."

    Conway is also an investor in PandoDaily — which Lacy turns into part of her point. He's such a prolific connector in the Bay Area's tech sector that for her, what's good for Conway is good for more or less every tech company in the area.


  • A voting machine manufacturer told Palm Beach County officials that a software glitch that resulted in erroneous local election results could have been avoided if the officials had gone by the instruction manual. The supervisor of elections denied that suggestion, saying, of the error, "Nowhere does it tell you to check for this, ever."

Around the web

  • A start-up called the Minerva Project aims to offer an elite university education experience online. The Silicon Valley investment firm Benchmark Capital has helped fund the project with $25 million, and it has advisers such as former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Lawrence Summers and U.S. Senate Candidate Bob Kerrey, also former president of the New School.

  • DocumentCloud removed 14,400 e-mails related to a scandal involving a technology company partly owned by News Corp. after attorneys for the company asked that the e-mails, originally uploaded by the Australian Financial Review, be deleted.

  • Around the world

  • Egypt has jailed a Christian student for publishing cartoons on Facebook that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.

  • A Palestinian woman has been accused of defaming the Palestinian president on Facebook.

  • The Spanish government has issued 79 takedown requests under its SOPA-like law, Torrentfreak noted.

  • A hacker says he has breached and posted documents from a Chinese defense contractor.

  • Chinse dissident Ai Wei Wei says that authorities have closed down a website that had been streaming video from four webcams he had himself set up to protest government surveillance.