Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spin Spin Spin

Ad ran in a Sarasota, Florida newspaper.
In politics, the ability to spin a certain event or action is a sought after talent. During my years working in politics I have seen some who were born to be spin doctors and those who tried and just came off too negative. Spin comes in many forms, from creatively burying the announcement of the truth in the news with a campaign announcement of something exciting to carefully choosing the campaigns description of a candidate’s religion to avoid negative connotations. Cherry picking is a particular spin favorite among my former colleagues. To selectively take bits of a quote, headline, video and spin them to mean something entirely different is to cherry pick the campaign’s message.

Although perceived as deceptive and ingenuous, spin can be just another tool in advertising the candidate’s brand. I have not campaigned for candidate in a few years, but today’s class readings made me think of who is orchestrating the presidential campaign spin, and specifically the 140 character spin that I have been seeing on Twitter each night, and what Americans can do.

Other tweets and links that I have received since the conventions also exemplify the high level of spin and cherry picking of information coming out of the campaigns:

·         Tweet from the GOP, “Household income down 8.2% since Obama took office, study shows” with a link to a Fox New Story which characterized a Sentier Research study on household income trends. The study actually reports on household income from June 2009, five months after President Obama took office, and acknowledges that the United States did not start to come out of the economic recession until June.

·         YouTube video, uploaded by GOP Political Action Committee Republican Study Committee, which intermixes a speech by Ronald Reagan on small government and American success with clips by Democratic liberals, taken out of context, to make the Democrats (e.g. Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama) sound like they are for big government and against free enterprise.

·       Tweet from Barack Obama’s campaign, “President Obama: "We’ve doubled the amount of renewable, clean energy we generate from sources like wind and solar"” with no source or link.

·      And finally, the Huffington Post recently tweeted about a Sarasota, Florida, newspaper ad paid for by the Newt Gingrich Political Action Committee. The ad uses President Obama’s current policies to extrapolate some outrageous claims of what policies to expect America to move towards.
The Sarasota ad is the ultimate in spin and the saddest part of political campaigns. Degraded to the point of silliness I just hope that voters can exercise caution when reading the tweets and messages of both campaigns because they are, in essence, carefully crafted propaganda. I encourage everyone to find the source of the campaign’s information before accepting it as fact. You may be surprised by what you find.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Social Media Will Increase Military Voting

            In 2009 Congress responded to the minimal voter turnout in the 2008 elections with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE).  The act ensures that absent military service voters are informed of their voting rights, afforded the opportunity to register to vote, to include having their absentee ballots cast and counted.  However, the program comes with a substantial price tag, since a voter assistance office must be established at every post overseas and stateside.  The Department of Defense’s Inspector General Office (IG) estimates the investment to be around $15 to $20 million, but the return is a mere 53% of military individuals vote. 
           The dilemma is whether to revise the MOVE Act and create a more effective system or continue pouring millions of dollars into a program that is not producing results.  The decision is straightforward and a revision to the MOVE Act must occur in order to reach voters that cannot physically go to a voting assistance office.  The ability for deployed service members to ensure they are informed of their voting rights and allowed the opportunity to cast their vote should not cost millions of dollars.  
Fox News "Group warns of 'bleak'
 military voter participation despite Pentagon efforts"

           The acting director of the Federal Voter Assistance Program Pam Mitchell stated, "We use Twitter, we use Facebook, especially so that we can reach out to the largest military population … those 18-to24-or-25-year-olds." In the fiscally constrained environment that the military is currently operating under, it is indisputable that the MOVE Act must rely more heavily on social media in order to cut costs.  Therefore, the $15 to$20 million that is spent on voter assistance offices can be reallocated to other programs. 
            It is encouraging to learn that a government agency understands social media as the most effective method of reaching voters, especially those 18 to 24 years old, which comprises the largest section of the military population.  Too often, the uniformed services continue with programs that have a low success rate simply because change causes difficulties.  The IG office understands that deployed service members cannot simply go to a voter assistance office if it is located at a base that is not physically accessible.  The Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act will be more efficient due to a staff that recognizes social media as the compelling entity to increased voter turnout.

Are "Undecided Voters" at Risk of 'Information Fatigue'?

A few weeks ago, I came across an old article published by Newsweek in February of 2011 which discusses scientific research on the effects of information overload on people as they come to make decisions. The article entitled "The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we have to make decisions" sheds light on the possible consequences of today's overwhelming flow of information on citizens' ability to make smart, well-thought out decisions. 

I found this rather interesting as we are approaching Election day. I do not attempt to undermine the valuable importance of social media and its revolutionary role in promoting access to information. However, I am only pondering on how, and whether excess information circulated on the web would, hinder the ability of 'undecided voters' to make rational decisions come Election day. Over the past few months we have seen a considerable increase of information-sharing on social networks on issues directly related to the presidential campaigns. For decided voters, it may be rather easier to navigate through the tweets, texts, posts, articles and opinions shared on the internet. Where as for undecided voters, or even less tech-savvy voters, it might cause what Sharon Begley describes in her article as 'info-paralysis'. She explains, "[T]he booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information." 

This is quite important considering the numbers recently posted by the ABC/Washington Post poll (published on September 17). According to the polls, the percentage of these 'undecided voters' is 6% - with 50% Obama supporters and 44% Romney supporters. Previous elections indicate that decided voters, or those who have already chosen their affiliation, will less likely change their minds on polling day. It is those who remain undecided in the weeks prior to November 6 who will have the biggest influence on the final results. While these polls are subject to change, a week old, and might not be as representative, however, they still show the magnitude of influence the undecided voters will have on determining which of the two main candidates will eventually win. Will they make informed decisions? Have they absorbed 'too much' information? Will the 'info-paralysis' lead them to making poor decision when casting their votes?
As discussed in class, obtaining information via social networks requires an advanced level of media literacy in order to filter factual and reliable information from all other sorts of data. The massive scale of data being uploaded and shared on media websites has grown tremendously in the past few years. This explosion of information has resulted in the creation of new sites or applications which aim to organize data and help users determine the 'quality' of information they are pursuing in any specific field - commonly referred to as content curation tools such as Pinterest, Flipboard, TweetDeck, and RebelMouse. These tools are used to categorize data and present it to users in an easy-to-navigate style. I am mentioning this as I am increasingly becoming convinced that next presidential elections will be shaped by content curation tools. This could be the next logical move that helps voters and campaigners in managing the flow of information. Here is an interesting blog post I found posted earlier in June which takes this idea further and shows the benefits behind content curation tools for political campaigning: "4 Ways Content Curation Could Influence the Presidential Election". 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The genial idea of Barack Obama

       It was very interesting to read the article "Barack Obama: organizing for America 2.0", written by Laura Winig. Deep analysis of 2008 presidential campaign was done impartial, unbiased and with well-selected data.
       The U.S. President Richard Nixon, speaking at the National Security Council  on budget spending, said: "one dollar invested in information and propaganda, is more valuable than ten dollars invested in the creation of weapons systems, because the latter is unlikely to ever be used in an affair, while the information works hourly and everywhere". Probably, by taking into consideration the words of R.Nixon and adapting it to modern conditions, the Obama team brought the idea to a new level. They invested $425 million, almost three times more than McCain did. Social media became a main target of presidential campaign with which they intended to reach out every potential voter through Internet. Two websites launched in one day: and, became a catalyst for organizing and mobilizing volunteers around the country. Visiting website you have opportunities to join 20 different public groups. As a result, more than 2 million people registered on these sites, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blog posts.
     I think that creation of a new social network for candidate promotion was a genial idea. Another look at the power of the Internet allowed to organize work with volunteers in new two-way communication. Modern people don't want just to receive information, they want to communicate with candidates, to share their ideas and participate in political life. Interaction through social media created trust relationship between Obama and the voters that had never existed before in other election campaigns. The people started to believe that government could be more transparent, more accessible. As a conclusion, I can argue that social media became a new power which can not be ignored by politicians anymore.        

Who are the 47%?

47%, this number has been floating around for the past few weeks since the controversial footage of Mitt Romney at a fundraiser surfaced.  The social media explosion surrounding this number has been extensive, my facebook and twitter pages have been filled with responses ranging from eloquent thought out reactions and articles from reputable sources to Mitt Romney memes.  Simultaneously, the video is getting national media attention beyond the social media sphere.

The point, as far as I can understand it, of Romney’s speech was that his campaign is focused on the independent voters still trying to make up their minds.  However, the focus on “the 47%” who are dependent on the government, don't pay income tax and believe they are entitled to services overpowers this message. 

As a voter and working American his characterization of “the 47%” bothers me.  Currently I am a full time student who works two jobs.  When I graduate from Maxwell in June I will have a pile of student loans and I will not have made enough this year to pay the federal income tax, but this does not mean that I automatically side with Obama, nor does it mean that I am dependent on government programs.  The characterization of “the 47%” as victims also struck me, despite my inability to pay income tax I do not consider myself a victim, rather a rational individual who has made choices that I believe will pay off in the long run while costing me right now.  He makes assumptions in his video, and in my opinion unfairly characterizes “the 47%” without looking at the different groups of individuals who make up this large category.  Maxwell Professor Len Burman published an interesting article that speaks to this point called "In Mitt's World My Limo Driver is Not Trying Hard Enough"

My questions for all of you: What message do you think Romney was trying to get across?  How did you react to the video?  What reactions did you observe on social media?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Class 4: Guest speaker Bonner Gaylord

Our next guest speaker is Bonner Gaylord, Raleigh City Council. In preparation for Mr. Gaylord's class "visit", please review his campaign website and start to follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

What are some of the remarkable interactive elements on his page?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reflections on Americans Elect

I was intrigued by Nick Troiano's presentation today in our #ElectionClass. Especially during a class day reserved for discussing online/social identities, I was perplexed by a speaker and an organization that have yet to fully reconcile/define their own online/social identity. Americans Elect seeks to be a platform for a third party candidate in a political system without a third party. Despite its attempts to remain politically neutral and take no policy positions, the lack of a third party forces Americans Elect to become a (make shift) third party.

Today Mr. Troiano repeatedly said that Americans Elect was not a third party, nor did it intend to be. Perhaps this is the social identity that Americans Elect would like to broadcast; however, this is not an identity outsiders understand. Americans Elect is often referred to as a "third party group" in the US media and in popular culture. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Troiano, Americans Elect's ideal online identity, that of a mere platform for a third party candidate, has been eclipsed/colluded with a new third party itself.

The rationale for this collusion of social identity and public understanding (or misunderstanding) is simple--Americans Elect is a horse without a jockey. Americans Elect attempts to be a neutral platform for a third party candidate that does not exist; thus, the online identity of both platform and party will understandably collide until the public can distinguish between the two.

Here's why that framework won't work, the party must come before the nominating platform. Historically, both the democratic and republican parties predated the first democratic or republican presidential nominating convention for a reason. There is no rationale for anyone to get excited about a new election/nomination platform without a candidate or set of issues to excite them. Likewise, there's no reason for anyone to pour their own social capital and energy into an incomplete package.

Americans Elect's online identity has failed because there is no one to use the platform in a unique way that differentiates itself from other party nominating platforms--the two serious contenders in this year's Americans Elect primary (Paul and Roemer) were both also running (at some point) in the republican party primary. Like other advances in social media, online platforms become dynamic because their users find a unique outlet/need fulfilled by the space--Americans Elect serves no such purpose.

Without dynamic candidates outside of the existing political parties there is no rationale for users to embrace a new system--especially one that comes with such skepticism within the normative US political environment. Americans Elect needs an independent, active third party to co-opt or it must become one on its own. Without a meaningful third party, America needs a third party nominating platform about as much as my grandmother needs TweetDeck (she doesn't have a twitter account).

Sometimes online identities fail for a reason.

Is What is Good for a Campgain Really Good for the Bureaucracy?

Ok, I have opened my old mind enough to consider that new technologies can win elections. That seems clear in the Harvard Business School reading Barack Obama: Organizing for America 2.0. However, I’m still not sold that Organizing for America (OFA 2.0) is appropriate. Sure, was a tremendously effective Internet-based tool to mobilize and motivate campaign but once you take the oath and become President things change. Chris Hughes, who the article paints as the vision behind OFA 1.0, said so much when he said, “Join the ranks of people in suits and bad laptops? Not for me.”
It seems that Chris Hughes left because he had a negative perception of bureaucracy, but he was completely right. When Barack Obama became president the game changed. It was no longer a competition to first between Barack Obama and other Democratic Party rivals or against Republican nominee John McCain. Instead, the game changed from politicking to leadership and agenda setting. And it is a very different game; one I’m not so sure where the same strategy used for grassroots, Internet-based advocacy and mobilization leads to a win.

Once President, the game is no longer a competition but should be collaboration. As the top executive of the United States’ government, President Obama is looked upon as the person setting the agenda, as the leader of the hundreds of agencies and as a stakeholder in the legislative process. As the most powerful member of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, the candidate, is expected to be a team player helping the reelection campaigns of Democratic Party members in Congress. How can you have collaboration when your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is to use your highly crafted network of supporters to steamroll over those who disagree with your agenda?
I am not saying that is what President Obama did when he entered office, just that maybe he would have been more successful if he had not launched OFA 2.0. Having that kind of power in your back pocket can be just as intimidating as threatening to use it.


An article in the Washington Post this year echos my questioning of the transition of the into a quasi-bureaucratic website at

Class 3 - Nick Troiano - Americans Elect

Todays' guest speaker is Nick Troiano, former National Campus Director for Americans Elect. He will talk about his experiences creating an online presidential ticket and organizing an online convention. Information about his background can be found on his website:

Nick Troiano is the former National Campus Director for Americans Elect, a non-profit organization that will hold the first-ever online convention to nominate a third, non-partisan presidential ticket in 2012.
Nick recently graduated with honors from Georgetown University, where he studied political science and was active in student government. At Georgetown, he spearheaded the establishment of the first student-funded Social Innovation and Public Service Fund (SIPS Fund) – a $1.5 million endowment that supports young social entrepreneurs and volunteers.
Nick is a co-founder of, a Twitter-based Web platform that allows volunteers to record, share and track their impact. He is a former United States Senate intern and Public Policy Fellow with Civic Enterprises in Washington, DC.
Nick is from Milford, PA where he graduated from Delaware Valley High School as student body president in 2007. For three years, he led the non-profit Pike County Youth Coalition (PCYC), which developed "School Board 2.0" – an iniative to live-stream local school board meetings online. He also worked as a writer and photographer for his local newspaper, the Pike County Courier.
Nick has organized campaigns on a local and national level, including Do We Have a Deal Yet?, a coalition of 150+ student body presidents that advocated for a bipartisan deal on deficit reduction. He has also co-produced three award-winning short films: Controversy on the Delaware: A Look Upstream at the Tocks Island Dam Project (2006), Buried in History (2009) and We the People (2010). Along with a business partner, Nick started a time lapse photographyproject of Washington in 2009 and has since published a coffee table book of some of the photos.
Nick is a member of the Concord Coalition Youth Advisory Board. In addition, he is a senior counselor at the Pennsylvania American Legion's Boys State program, which he attended in 2006. Nick is featured in the forthcoming international documentary, "Follow the Leader."
In free time, Nick enjoys photography and traveling (or some combination of the two).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012 Election Night Watch Party

Professor Ines Mergel, with the help of MAXPAC (@SUMAXPAC) and the Maxwell graduate student community, is planning to host an unprecedented evening of political and policy discussion, along with constant updates on the status of the 2012 American Presidential Election as voting results are reported. The event will feature experts on presidential campaigning, especially related to social media, political rhetoric, and budgetary and economic policy. In addition to current Maxwell students, Syracuse's local media and many Maxwell alumni in the CNY region are expected to be in attendance. Light refreshments will be served.

WHEN/WHERE: The event will take place on the evening of Tuesday, November 6th in Maxwell School's Strasser Commons, Second Floor, Eggers Hall. 


The organizing committee needs help in two areas (the duties listed below are not exhaustive--there's always room for more ideas!):
  1. The Publicity Subcommittee
    • Develop and implement a media campaign (i.e. flyer/button/sign design, social media, press releases) in partnership with the Programming Subcommittee for the Election Night Watch Party.
  2. The Programming Subcommittee
    • Plan and coordinate logistics for the event (i.e. chairs, tables, stages, audio/visual equipment, room layout, food/drink)
    • Plan and coordinate specific programming for the event (guest speakers, determine how many election viewing areas and the content presented in those viewing areas)
If you are interested in serving on one or both of the subcommittees, please let Ms. Krisztina Tury ( know byNEXT WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12TH. Subsequent planning meetings will be established soon after that deadline.

Let's make 2012 memorable by volunteering for the 2012 Election Night Watch Party Committee! #ElectionClass #WeAreInThisTogether


#ElectionClass review

The first joint #electionclass brought us lots of new insights on puppies, owls, roaring lions and a whirlwind of tweets.

I would like to encourage you to use the insights you have gained - either from our first guest speaker or from your experience participating in creating a nationally trending topic on Twitter - and write up short blog posts.

Twitter's SF office also mentioned the class in one of their updates:

Twitter in the City tweeting about #electionclass