In reading Castells Mobile Civil Society this week, I was struck most by the phrase "So far, the use of wireless communication has not had any significant effect on political events in the United States". Immediately, my thoughts flew to the Obama campaign's success due in large part to their use of wireless technology (and then I checked the date the article was written - 2007). While I of course was an ardent supporter of the McCain/Palin ticket and am a fierce critic of the Obama administration, I can recognize a well run campaign when I see one, hence my about to be overflowing praise of the Obama campaign.
When a communication strategy is effectively employed, it can lead to very drastic change. As Castells asserted, "We have observed a growing tendency for people, in different contexts, to use wireless communication to voice their discontent with the powers that be". In essence, the Obama campaign was exactly that - people, many of whom had never been involved in politics, expressing their discontent with the Bush administration. These people took to the internet to express their support for Obama, and the Obama campaign successfully developed a campaign strategy the likes of which had never been seen in the United States.
An article on epolitics.com lays out the tools in Obama's communication toolkit. These tools consisted of: website, email, MyBarackObama.com, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, online databases, and cell phones. BarackObama.com led the charge. This site encouraged visitors to set up their own social networks in support of the candidate; the site also distributed videos, talking points, and connected to online bloggers in support of Obama. Email was the main tool used to connect the campaign and enabled supporters to further connect to friends and family, some of which may not have been on popular social networking sites. MyBarackObama.com, an arm of BarackObama.com, was an organizing genius. It allowed volunteers to organize their own events, and the campaign would often supply staff to come in. I witnessed this myself as an undergrad who was finding it difficult to get in touch with the McCain/Palin campaign. While I was trying to communicate with the campaign to get resources and offer our support and volunteer efforts, the local Democrats organized their own events and it seemed that campaign staff just magically appeared when needed.
The tools that led to the large surge in youth voter turnout were the social media tools: Facebook, Myspace, Youtube, and cell phones. Epolitics.com says, "the campaign eventually maintained official profiles on some 15 different online social networks (accumulating five million “friends” in total)". Over 1800 clips were posted to Youtube. It was easy for college students to become a fan of the candidate and invite their friends to become fans, further mobilizing the youth vote. It made it easy for students to get involved, since they already were on these sites. The website further analyzes the use of cell phones, summarizing "Campaign staff also relied on cell phones to reach segments of the population less likely to be on a computer regularly, such as young people, minorities and the poor". Text messaging was used to get voters to the polls, as well as release important campaign information. I am sure we all remember the buildup to the Vice Presidential nomination that was to be announced via cell phone. This announcement was to assure that supporters would find out directly from the campaign and not from some other media source. Further, applications were released on the Iphone just for the Obama campaign supporters.
The Obama administration continues to use wireless communication technology to stay in touch with supporters - maintaining their Youtube Channel, Facebook page, and encouraging people to sign up to receive email and text messaging alerts directly from Obama himself. The Obama campaign was in many forms a revolution, and it will be very interesting to see how further campaigns for both the sides of aisle use these technologies...and it will also be interesting to see how Castells updates his article to include an in depth analysis of the Obama campaign.