Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hold on to your hats...I'm about to praise the Democrats

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.


  1. I thought the same thing when I read Castells article and he says that in the US these kinds of mobile phone mobilizations hadn't occured. I figured it was written before the Obama campaign. The campaign did rely heavily on social networks and wireless technology. I think Castells also does a good job to note in the cases he writes about because he points out that although cell phones played an important part, it wasn't just the cell phone (or ICTs) that helped. He notes that it is a combination of things that help a campaign be successful, but that we can't give all the credit to the technology. I'm pretty sure he says it's not a magic tool or something that like. You're right to point out that given the social environment at the time of the Obama campaign, post-Bush, many people became more active or interested in politics. So, this definitely played a role. Would Obama be in office today if his campaign didn't have such an innovative communications strategy? I don't know.

  2. Leanne, I agree that the Obama campaign was a great use of new media. Even my not-so-tech-savvy mama, became a political activist and frequented the Obama website to get information on local events in her neighborhood. He definitely revolutionized the way technology is used to mobilize a campaign. I think the bigger question is: did you sing up for the text message that announced Obama’s VP running mate? *smile