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December 08 2010


How Calgary's Mayor Used Social Media to Get Elected

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary at the end of October not by outspending his rivals or hailing from the incumbent political class in Canada. Nenshi didn't plaster his campaign message across the television, and he didn't even buy a single newspaper advertisement.

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Instead, Nenshi led a grassroots effort that mobilized soccer moms and utilized online activism on a Facebook page, on Twitter and on YouTube.

Other politicians have used Facebook and Twitter with success. So what was different about Nenshi's campaign?

Stephen Carter, who helped craft the online campaign strategy for Nenshi, credited "complete integration" for the success of the campaign's Internet efforts.


"It's one thing to have a social media policy, but frankly just having social media activity doesn't go far enough to actually making a campaign structure work," Carter said. "It's the integration of the online strategy, and we integrated our online strategy completely."

Calgary had just received a fresh batch of snow when I spoke to Carter, who runs the BBold PR new media public relations company in the city. During our phone conversation I asked him to elaborate on his integration strategy and identify what made the Nenshi campaign so special.

"If we were going to do something online, we would partner that online participation with everything else so that it was all supported," he said. "Our media relations strategy frankly became a social media strategy. If we wanted something to get really covered in the media, we launched it online. We wouldn't even send out a press release."

Carter said journalists now pay close attention to social media, which made a traditional press release a waste of time.

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"Actually, social media became the story more often than not," Carter said. "When we launched our iPhone app that became the story. It really wasn't that innovative. In every election there's this desire to look for the magic bullet. Was social media the magic bullet for us? Absolutely not."


So if the Nenshi campaign shouldn't be regarded as pioneers of social media, what was so special about what they did? Put it this way: They didn't just use social media -- they actually used social media correctly.

"When Nenshi and about six of us around the table were talking about social media, we talked about integrating the message into social media so that Nenshi would be always authentic," Carter said. "The only person who had the password to Nenshi's Twitter account was Nenshi. There was no second account set up for the campaign. Everybody was real. Every person that worked for the Nenshi campaign had their own Twitter account, which allowed us to have authentic communications across the medium."

Nenshi campaign staffers also worked hard at starting online conversations. Whenever anyone from the campaign posted a message on Facebook, they set goals to see multiple comments underneath it. And as often as possible, Nenshi himself would answer questions posted on Facebook or Twitter.

All About the Data

Being authentic is one thing, but how do you know if your authenticity is being well received? Another major component to Carter's strategy was to gather data and constantly measure and analyze the campaign's online efforts.

"We trended on TrendsMap [which we used to perform] local tracking of our Twitter trends from the first day Nenshi announced he was running and basically every day thereafter to make sure we were tweeting and retweeting and pushing out our message every single day," Carter said. "The beautiful thing about social media is that it is entirely measurable.

Being able to measure the impact of social media through retweets and shares on Facebook helped guide the campaign when things didn't go according to plan -- such as during a dust up with Rick Hanson, Calgary's chief of police, over a pre-approved police budget.

Advertising Using Social Media

The final piece of the puzzle for Carter was advertising on Facebook. The campaign put out several different Facebook ads and regularly tested which ones worked.

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"With our Facebook ads we decided we were going to try and appeal to middle aged women between 40 to 55, who live in the suburbs, have two kids and who have been or are soccer moms," Carter said. "Everyone has this impression that social media is a young person's medium. It's totally not. We knew that we could get social media activism from that particular group. We targeted them on Facebook and put out a number of messages that appealed to their demographic."

At the start of the Calgary election there was a total of 12 candidates. After raising about $60,000, Nenshi demonstrated he was a viable candidate. In August, Nenshi started at one percent support; he ended with 40 percent on election day.

Carter said the total amount raised during the campaign was about $300,000. Not bad considering how expensive large city elections have been for recent candidates.

"The biggest surprise was that the strategy was implemented exactly as planned," Carter said. "It is ridiculous. That never happens. We certainly didn't go into the campaign thinking that the strategy would work exactly as we wrote it, but it did."

Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC, WGBH, PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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November 04 2010


5 Moments When Digital Media Transformed Australian Politics

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Recent years have seen significant changes in the way Australian politicians, political journalists and the public interact and communicate with each other. As a result, MediaShift asked me to identify the top five events in Australia's recent history where politics and new media intersected.

My shortlist, compiled with crowdsourcing assistance from my politically engaged Twitter and Facebook communities, includes a quintessentially Australian slogan that went viral; the demise of an opposition leader that played out via Twitter and demonstrated the transformative effect of the medium on political reporting; the Twitter-cast of the extraordinary political coup that ousted Labor prime minister in his first term; a bold High Court challenge to the curtailment of voter registration by an activist online media outfit; and the unmasking of a popular blogger and media critic by a political journalist in the aftermath of the 2010 federal election.

Here's a list that describes each event, and the impact of new media on Australian politics.

1. Kevin07

The 2007 campaign to elect Kevin Rudd prime minister of Australia was the country's first social media election. After 12 years of conservative government led by John Howard, a man who epitomized 1950s values, Rudd's campaign appeared positively contemporary and technologically cutting edge.


The campaign incorporated a moderately interactive website, blogs, email, YouTube, MySpace (back when it was hip) and Facebook to generate political interest among young voters who slapped Kevin07 t-shirts on their backs and added slogan bumper stickers to their cars, while also posting badges on their Facebook walls.

The Kevin07 campaign couldn't hold a candle to Obama's groundbreaking social media strategy in the year that followed, but it highlighted the stark contrast between the tech-savvy Rudd and yesterday's leader. And it visibly contributed to the activation of the voters who ultimately delivered Rudd a landslide victory that even cost Howard his seat in parliament.

Ironically, though, it was Rudd's perceived disconnectedness from the electorate, perhaps fueled by his failure to live up to expectations of engagement generated by social media interaction during the campaign, that cost him the prime ministership in a bloodless coup, less than three years later (see #Spill2 below).

2. #Spill

The dramatic unseating of Australia's Opposition Leader, the Liberal Party's Malcolm Turnbull, in December 2009 was extraordinary for many reasons. One of them was the role of Twitter in the drama. (I reported in detail on this for MediaShift earlier this year)

The hashtag #spill was used to aggregate Twitter commentary on the Liberal leadership crisis by Australian Twitter users. At one point, it became the fifth most popular trending item worldwide.

The message was clear: There was a new electorate in Australia and it was on Twitter. It wasn't an actual electorate, of course, but it was an emerging homeland for politically engaged citizens and new territory to be invaded by political journalists. As members of Canberra's Press Gallery poured onto Twitter, the transformative impact of Twitter on journalism was demonstrated. It broke down the barriers that traditionally separated journalists from audiences, segregated competing reporters and filtered communications between politicians and their constituents. The potential for a new form of participatory democracy, one which provided opportunity for unmediated interaction between audiences, the Fourth Estate and politicians was on display -- in real time.

3. #Spill2

One Twitter-exposed leadership spill wasn't enough for Australia. When Julia Gillard usurped her leader, Kevin Rudd, as prime minister in June this year in a bloodless coup that unfolded at lightning speed, the story was broken on Twitter.

It was one of the most dramatic political stories in Australian history -- the first time a sitting prime minister had been ousted by his own party during his first term in office.
Here's how Chris Uhlmann, political editor of ABC's 24 hour TV news channel, alerted his followers on June 23 that a leadership spill was likely:

Kevin Rudd's leadership is under siege tonight from some of the Labor Party's most influential factional warlords. Watch ABC News. NOW!less than a minute ago via webChris Uhlmann

Chief political correspondent for multicultural and multilingual broadcaster SBS, Karen Middleton tweeted that Labor powerbrokers had entered Rudd's office, highlighting the stunning speed with which events were unfolding: "NO confirmation that Gillard is willing to move against Rudd. Some frontbenchers oblivious."

By the end of the night, prolific Canberra Press Gallery Twitter user Latika Bourke tweeted: "Text from Labor MP: 'it's done. There will be a new PM tomorrow."

Less than 12 hours later, behind closed doors in Canberra's Parliament House, Rudd's fate was sealed. And the news broke first on Twitter via News Limited journalist Samantha Maiden who tweeted this:

Labor Mp text: it's Julia no ballot #spillless than a minute ago via Echofonsamanthamaiden

That tweet was re-tweeted over 90 times and featured in her competitor's news copy as the real-time medium trumped the immediacy of traditional media outlets - even the original real-time medium, radio.

As Sky News Digital News Director John Bergin wrote in the Walkley Magazine in the aftermath of the coup, "The breakneck pace of the strike on Rudd's Prime Ministership was only intensified by the immediacy of the real-time web."

The second #spill, which was variously tagged #spill2 and #spillard (a reference to incoming Prime Minister Gillard, cemented the role of Twitter in political reporting and further demonstrated its impact on journalism. It also highlighted the potential power the platform as a facilitator of participatory democracy.

4. GetUp! Wins in High Court

The online activist media group GetUp! achieved a significant legal victory in the interests of Australian democracy in the midst of the August federal election, which was so tightly contested that it resulted in an historic hung parliament.

With a suite of pro-bono lawyers, GetUp! joined forces with the Human Rights Law Centre in a public democracy campaign that ended in a High Court (Australia's highest court of appeal) challenge to restrictive voter registration laws introduced by the long-lived conservative Howard government.

GetUp! successfully argued that the changes, which resulted in the early closure of voter enrollment on the day a poll was declared, effectively disenfranchised young people, the homelessness and Indigenous Australians.

The win legitimized the enrollment of over 100,000 Australians who registered to vote within seven days of the August election being called, meaning their votes counted on polling day and ultimately helped deliver a minority government to the Labor Party, who had welcomed the High Court ruling.

5. Groggate

There's now a fork in the Twitter road to journalistic transformation in Australia, and it was signposted by what Rupert Murdoch's newspaper The Australian described as "the great blog war of 2011" -- a war that the newspaper started.

Eighteen months ago, I wrote [PDF] that journalists needed to be space invaders in the Twittersphere. What I meant by that was that they needed to be present and engaged. But some have seen the platform's rise and the leveling effect it brings to information distribution as a call to combat. They've adopted principles of trench-warfare, lobbing grenades at citizens who are encroaching into their territory.

This collision of a select group of tweeting professional journalists and their online critics came to a head in midst of the 2010 Australian election campaign thanks to a seminal post by the popular blogger Grog's Gamut. The pseudonymous writer stridently criticized what he described as the shallow, trivial campaign trail coverage by Canberra Press Gallery journalists and called for a greater focus on policy analysis in the coverage.

Some defensive journalists, threatened by the disruption of control represented by the traction of the Grog's Gamut critique, denied there was a problem with their coverage, while others reflected thoughtfully on the issues raised by the blogger.

Remarkably, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's managing director, Mark Scott, ultimately re-directed news coverage to emphasize policy in response to the public debate triggered by the Grog's Gamut blog.

The defensive members within the political reporting pack started a flame war with critics that continued on Twitter throughout the campaign and exploded with the retaliatory unmasking of Grog's Gamut as Dr. Greg Jericho, a federal public servant, by The Australian's James Massola. The newspaper claimed the unmasking was a matter of public interest. I argued at the time that it wasn't. The Twitterstorm that erupted in response to the unmasking was volatile.

The #Groggate saga, as I facetiously labeled it on Twitter, demonstrated both the cause of public distrust in journalism and the potential cost of eroding trust built on audience engagement. These costs were evident in the angry public backlash against journalists at The Australian, Massola's loss of Twitter followers in the immediate aftermath, and a further erosion of The Australian's editorial credibility.

It also highlighted the risks of disrespecting online community values, mores and ethics... along with some spectacular examples of professional arrogance by journalists at the center of the storm.

#Groggate was a case study in how to alienate online audiences and lose influence in the emerging new media spaces that are playing host to a vibrant Australian public political debate.

Disclosures: I am the Australian editorial director of Media140 and I invited James Massola to speak at the Canberra conference on September 23. I also invited Grog's Gamut to blog the event for Media140 with the promise that I would do my utmost to help preserve his pseudonymity during the conference. And I began the Twitter hashtag #Groggate as a facetious reference to the prominence The Australian gave the original story.

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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October 30 2010


4 Minute Roundup: Sunlight Foundation Tracks Money in Politics

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast I talk with Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller about their efforts to track down the biggest donors in this year's election races. On Election Night, they will run their Sunlight Live platform that will give details on who has donated to whom as live video shows the winners and losers. Miller also talks about Sunlight's recent $1.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Ellen Miller:

miller sunlight final.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Live on Election Night

Sunlight Foundation to build 'National Data Apps' with Knight grant at Poynter

10 Projects That Help Citizens Become Government Watchdogs at PBS MediaShift (2009)

Sunlight Foundation Mixes Tech, Citizen Journalism to Open Congress at PBS MediaShift (2007)

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how social media is affecting politics:

How will social media affect the U.S. midterm elections?online surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 29 2010


5Across: Politics in the Age of Social Media

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

As more people use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, politicians and campaigns need to put more time, energy and money into reaching people there. According to the E-Voter Institute, 80% of people who are avid social network users consider themselves to be occasionally or very active in politics. And 34% of them rely on social networks for general information, up from 29% last year. (You can get more statistics and data on social networking use and politics in this great MediaShift report from Anthony Calabrese.)

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So for this month's episode of 5Across, I brought together people involved in politics and social media, looking at it from many angles. A local San Francisco politician, Phil Ting, discussed what he calls "user-generated government" and how online discussions can help shape policy. We also talked about the importance of being authentic on social media, and we questioned why campaigns continue to spend billions of dollars on TV ads while barely spending anything online. Finally, we discussed the exciting advent of open data from local and federal governments in the U.S., and the rise of mobile apps in campaigning -- and even fixing potholes. Check it out!

5Across: Politics + Social Media


>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

Ngaio Bealum describes himself on Twitter as "a comedian, magazine publisher, juggler, musician, parent, activist, Sacramentan, and a great cook. I also like hard beats and soft drugs." Bealum has been actively supporting the California initiative, Proposition 19, to legalize marijuana in the state.

Marisa Lagos covers state politics and government for the San Francisco Chronicle, including elections, the legislature and issues such as prisons and welfare. Over the past year her coverage has ranged from stories on the attorney general race and budget crisis to sex offender laws and legislation aimed at making sure consumers know whether they are wearing faux fur or raccoon dog (seriously). Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles Times and SF Examiner. She has written exclusively for the web, blogged and used social media to promote her work.

As communications and media director, Mary Rickles spends her days writing about Netroots Nation and getting others to do the same. She has a unique background in both traditional and new media, having worked as a reporter and with campaigns, agencies, non-profits and corporate companies on projects ranging from brand development to community outreach. She previously was communications director for the grassroots powerhouse Democracy for America and in 2009 was named one of New Leaders Council's Top 40 Under 40 Emerging Leaders. Mary grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where she got her first taste of politics by volunteering for Don Siegelman's gubernatorial campaign.

As Assessor-Recorder of San Francisco, Phil Ting is a reformer whose efforts have enabled him to generate over $245 million in new revenue for San Francisco.
Ting began his career as a real estate financial advisor, working at Arthur Andersen and CB Richard Ellis. Prior to serving as the Assessor-Recorder, Ting also had a long history of civil rights advocacy -- he was the executive director of the Asian Law Caucus. He is past president of the Bay Area Assessors Association and has served on the board of Equality California Institute.

Theo Yedinsky started Social Stream Consulting, a social media and political strategy firm and is a partner in the Oakland-based social media firm, North Social. In 2009, Theo Yedinsky served as the new media director for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign for Governor of California. At the time, Mayor Newsom's campaign boasted the largest Facebook and Twitter following for a non-presidential Democratic candidate in the country. Prior to joining the Newsom campaign, Theo served as the first executive director of the New Politics Institute, a think-tank designed to study the increasing impact of technology and new media in political campaigns. Prior to launching the New Politics Institute, he managed Simon Rosenberg's campaign to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and worked extensively on Senator Kerry's campaign for President.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

User-Generated Government

Authenticity Online

The Power of Facebook

Buying Ads Online

Open Data and Mobile Apps


Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Jason Blalock, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ


What do you think? Which politicians are doing the best job of utilizing social media? Which mobile apps are helping you get local information? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 28 2010


How the Tea Party Utilized Digital Media to Gain Power

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The biggest story of the U.S. midterm election has been the growing influence of the Tea Party movement. Since their first rallies in early 2009, these vocal, visible conservatives have succeeded in shifting the center of American political discourse to the right. This election cycle, Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against moderate Republicans like Delaware's Mike Castle. So how has this confederation of online, conservative activists used new media to build their growing political base?

Think Local; Organize Nationally

First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting to the national conversation.

"I didn't really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement," said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania's Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).

Puig said much of KTP's online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.


Using what she learned from these national organizations, Puig and co-founder Anastasia Przybylski set up the KTP's rudimentary website, which has proved effective in establishing the group's digital presence and in attracting new members. Puig said KTP has an email list of a couple thousand people and has attracted over 400 fans to its Facebook page since she created it a month ago.

These personalized digital resources have enabled KTP to stage dozens of rallies since it was founded in February 2009. They've also organized an online boycott of Dawn after it advertised during a MSNBC Tea Party documentary and are currently running get-out-the-vote operations for conservative candidates across the state.

Digital Tools

Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks' director for federal and state campaigns, hinted at another way the Tea Party has grown its online political clout: By sharing digital tools.

"We see our new model at FreedomWorks as a service center for the grassroots," he explains.

This approach is based in part on the success Steinhauser had using Yahoo Groups and viral videos to revive the University of Texas chapter of the state's Young Conservatives organization in the years before YouTube was launched or Facebook became an open network. After his graduation in 2005, Steinhauser used the same tools to help found the Young Conservatives of California. He also published a book about his campus organizing experiences, The Conservative Revolution, and launched a blog with the same name.

Steinhauser was one of a handful of FreedomWorks staffers who have shown Puig, and many others like her, the digital ropes.

"A lot of it is training," Steinhauser explained. "Most of these people are new to politics."

In addition to seminars on the background and basics of political campaigning -- from the tactics of the American civil rights movement to tips on how to stage an interesting meeting -- FreedomWorks has sessions on social media.

"It's very basic stuff, but it goes a long way toward making an impact" with the older members of the Tea Party movement, he said.

FreedomWorks also offers more sophisticated digital resources to its network of 650,000 online conservative activists. Puig initially contacted the organization to have one of the KTP's rallies listed on a national Google Map that FreedomWorks created to share information about local Tea Party events. Steinhauser's group also helped fire-charge the Congressional town halls in summer of 2009 by featuring on their website an "August Recess Action Kit" to aid supporters in exposing "the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the...health care reform legislation on the table," as Mother Jones reported at the time.

Annotated Map

For the 2010 midterms, FreedomWorks created an interactive, nationwide map highlighting candidates in races where the organization is offering its endorsement (and the generous financial support of an affiliated political action committee). Users can log into the map to learn more about FreedomWorks' official views on the candidates, or to add their own personal comments and ratings on the politicians.


Steinhauser said this user feedback is among the factors his group takes into account when deciding whether or not to support candidates that it considers to have questionable conservative credentials. One example of this process in action was in California, where FreedomWorks only recently endorsed the GOP's Senatorial nominee, Carly Fiorina.

The organization is also investing in creating new digital activism tools.

"We will have a FreedomWorks app after the election," Steinhauser said.

According to him, this organizing application will integrate with Facebook and other social networks to lower the barriers for communication and collaboration between individual Tea Parties.

"The hardest part about a new technology is trying to get someone to use it," he said.

Steinhauser expects the "Grassroots Action Center," as FreedomWorks is calling the new project, to go live in January or February. "GAC will allow us to be a bigger hub for these different groups," he predicted.

Divisive Tactics?

While the Tea Party has been criticized for being a very vocal minority and out of the mainstream, they have succeeded in getting previously apolitical Americans involved in politics. Many critics have said the Tea Party movement doesn't have a coherent message and sometimes appears to be unorganized and chaotic.

American Majority is one of a few national umbrella groups trying to change that. The conservative activism education and organizational training they provide have been also played an essential role in the Tea Party's digital success. This strategy includes everything from traditional guidance and financial support for get-out-the-vote operations -- like the one Ana Puig and the Kitchen Table Patriots are currently conducting with American Majority in Pennsylvania -- to more innovative (and arguably objectionable) online activism.

Below is footage from an American Majority seminar, featured in the newly released documentary Turf Wars. In the brief clip, the group's trainer encourages activists to game the ratings systems on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon.

"Literally 80 percent of the books I put a star on, I don't read," the American Majority employee brags. "That's how you control the online dialogue."

At one point in the video, the trainer connects the patriots of the American Revolution with Tea Partiers today.

"We become digital activists," he said. "We identify the medium, we learn the medium, we manipulate the medium. It was printing presses then, it's the Internet now."

These "guerrilla tactics," as the trainer described them, are reminiscent of the secret online campaign by the Digg Patriots to "bury" or censor progressive stories on the social news site, and to promote conservative content. Before the release of this new documentary about right-wing activism, Greenpeace online community organizer Chris Eaton pointed to the Digg group as part of what he referred to as the right-wing "echo chamber." On Digg -- and apparently Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, and other social sites -- Tea Partiers "hear what to say and repeat it often," he said.

Whether or not you agree with what they're saying, there's no denying that the Tea Party movement has effectively deployed digital technology to increase their size and political influence. But until Election Day comes to a close, we won't know for sure how receptive the wider voting public is to their strongly conservative messages.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based editorial assistant at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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October 27 2010


DocumentCloud Users Make Ballot Design An Election Issue

When we make lists of the kinds of source documents users can upload to DocumentCloud, they can get pretty long. DocumentCloud is court filings, hearing transcripts, testimony, legislation, lab reports, memos, meeting minutes, correspondence. I can say with absolute confidence that in all of our planning, "ballots" never once came up as the sort of document a news organization might want to annotate for readers. Our relentlessly creative users have shown us otherwise.

This summer, the Memphis Commercial Appeal rounded out its guide to August's primary elections with a sample ballot. Their digital content editor told us that many readers who'd missed the sample ballot in the print edition turned to the version online as primary day approached. Earlier this month, they added the general election ballot to that guide.

New York Ballots

WNYC, New York City's NPR affiliate, also published a few ballots this summer. In an effort to comply with a 2002 federal law that mandates significant updates to voting systems in each state, New York City introduced paper ballots for the 2010 primary election, replacing the city's famously arcane voting machines. One look at the new design and everyone was up in arms, proclaiming its absurdity, but WNYC actually invited a group of ballot design experts to review the city's new ballots. Their findings: the ballot was confusing

Design for Democracy works to increase civic participation, in part through a ballot design project that aims to make voting easier and more accurate. WNYC used Design for Democracy's feedback to annotate a sample ballot on their blog, offering readers vital voting advice.

When the city released sample ballots for November's general election, a local think tank pointed out that the instructions erroneously advise voters to mark the oval above their candidate's name. In fact, the relevant ovals appear below candidate's names. WNYC highlighted the issue by embedding a sample ballot on their blog. Apparently the "oval above" language was mandated by state law. Don't believe me? See for yourself -- WNYC posted the legislation, with the relevant passage highlighted.

From now on, my laundry list of things DocumentCloud catalogs will most definitely include ballots.


Quirky Conservative Canadian MP Gets Real on Twitter

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Tony Clement, the federal minister of industry in the current Conservative Canadian government, was home having dinner with his family one Saturday night in July when a woman began banging on their door. She frantically asked for help, saying her friend was drowning in the nearby river.

Clement, his wife and father-in-law ran down to the water. He and two neighbors jumped in, and the group eventually managed to pull the woman to safety. Paramedics arrived and in the end she survived.

Later that day, Clement did what now comes naturally to him: he tweeted the entire story, beginning with this message:

True story & happy ending: we were having dinner when a young woman knocked on our door, hysterical. Her friend was drowning in the river...less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

Clement's tweeting brought the media calling, and soon the entire country knew that he, his wife and others had helped save a drowning woman.

"The reason that I used Twitter to communicate the story is to remind people about basic summer water safety," Clement later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "because I think that there's something like 200 drowning deaths in our lakes and rivers across the country every year. Every single one of those is preventable."

Clement may not have the most followers of any Canadian politician but he is the most quirky, entertaining and interactive elected tweeter in the country. The fact that he's also a prominent minister in the federal government just makes tweets like these more notable:

Mmm. Waffles!less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

I enjoyed the choc chip cookies my daughter left for me tonight. At least...I thought they were meant for me.*licks lips*less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

The chap sitting beside me on my Bathurst flight has a lge tattoo on forearm of a smiling skull w a dagger thru it. Meaning??less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

Clement has also shown a willingness to poke fun at his well-publicized river rescue:

I regret to inform you that nowhere in my travels today will I be saving any Chilean miners.less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

Clement tweets frequently about music, sports, food and, of course, his official duties. It's an eclectic mix (see the collection of some of his recent tweets at the bottom of this article). For example, one day, apropos of nothing, he offered a lyric from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show":

In the velvet darkness, of the blackest night, burning bright, there's a guiding star. No matter what, or who, who you are.less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

No Interviews, Please

I wanted to interview Clement about his approach to Twitter, but only got as far as his press secretary. She said Clement doesn't do interviews about Twitter.

"He does believe that it's more a personal thing -- it's a 'Tony Clement the person' kind of thing,'" she told me. "His policy is not to do interviews on Twitter."

She then recommended I try tweeting him for an interview, which resulted in this exchange:

@tonyclement_mp I'm with PBS MediaShift & we're doing special on new media & politics. Have 15 min next wk for call to talk about Twitter?less than a minute ago via TweetDeckCraig Silverman

@CraigSilverman Thanks, but I'd rather be tautological & mysterious about it.less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

@TonyClement_MP I promise to ask suitably mysterious questions...less than a minute ago via TweetDeckCraig Silverman

Then nothing.

"He's never done an interview just about Twitter," his press rep told me. "The only place he's ever answered questions about it is at the press gallery in scrums because he will tweet something silly and [the press] will yell out, 'Hey what's your favorite Johnny Cash song?'"

Though Clement didn't answer my questions about his Twitter habit, he did recently tweet about why he tweets:

At dinner last night I was defending my use of Twitter as a way to engage.Then 2 people came by my table to say they follow me. Nuff said!less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

That inspired this reply from a follower and a reply to her from Clement:

Do u think staff comes up w this?? It's gold! RT @Kristaloohoo Do you actually twitter? Or do you have staff that twitter for you?less than a minute ago via TwitterrificTony Clement

In His Own Voice

The reality is that most politicians' Twitter accounts are still operated by staffers, or are strictly focused on distributing official information, such as press releases. Clement's quirky tweeting stands out, as does the fact that his voice on Twitter is so similar to how he communicates in real life.

"In person, Minister Clement can have an odd sense of humor and is reasonably popular among reporters because he can be self-deprecating at times," said David Akin, the national bureau chief of Canada's Sun Media, and a popular tweeter. "He's been able to let this aspect of his personality come through in Twitter's constrained format. So, in addition to Tweeting about the sorts of things you might expect politicians to tweets (policy announcements, digs at opponents, etc.), there are lots of tweets about his love of pop music, pop culture -- and about some of the more mundane activities of any politician when they go about their riding activities."

Clement also stands out partly because of his willingness to engage on Twitter about matters of policy. His government's announcement that it will scrap the country's long-form census resulted in significant debate and outcry. Clement has been front and center as the government's defender of the decision, and he's taken on that role on Twitter as well.

"Two other ministers make good use of Twitter -- Jason Kenney (@MinJK)
and James Moore (@mpjamesmoore) -- but neither engage with followers the way
Clement does," Akin said. "Clement was the lead minister on the unpopular long-form census decision earlier this year and did as much as could to defend that decision from specific criticisms originating on Twitter."

It seems to be paying off for Clement. Trevor May runs poliTwitter, a website that tracks and rates the Twitter usage of Canadian politicians, the political press and politics-related online chatter. As of this writing, Clement has the second-most followers of any member of parliament, and is ranked in the top three in the "Top Federal MP Tweeters" and "Top @replied Tweeters" categories.

"Tony Clement's Twitter is definitely known for being a bit amusing and personal," May said. "Which might seem surprising to some, seeing a Conservative minister cracking jokes or being sarcastic."

In terms of what most Canadian MPs use Twitter for, May said, "Many are just tweeting mini press releases and don't interact with others."

Have a look below too see some of Clement's recent, notable tweets and what people say to him on Twitter:

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org and the Toronto Star. He serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative local news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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October 26 2010


Will Geo-Location Services Play a Role in Elections?

The experiments that took place with Facebook and Twitter during the 2008 presidential campaign are now viewed as standard operating procedure just two years later. Will the same be said about location-based services come 2012?

Foursquare and Gowalla are the current crowned kings of geo-location and have been getting regular mentions in the tech blogosphere and beyond.

mediashift_politics 2010 small.jpg

Geo-social is very much in its early stages, with smaller adoption rates compared with Twitter and Facebook. But it's still playing a role in this year's elections. Several campaigns have been updating their status with their location in the hope of being seen as on the cutting edge with social media, and as a new way to interact with voters.

The Foursquarian Candidate

Following the news that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley would not seek re-election after more than 20 years in office, digital marketing company Proximity Chicago recently announced a contest to annoint a new mayor using Foursquare.

The Proximity office in downtown Chicago has been dubbed the City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters. Now people can check in on Foursquare when they are in the vicinity. The more often they check in, the higher they rank. The person with the most check-ins by October 31 becomes the Foursquarian Mayor and receives marketing materials such as logos, slogans, bumper stickers and signage, among other support from Proximity, to actually stage a real run for the job as mayor of Chicago.

The current Foursquarian mayor is Rob Mowry, who over a recent three-day period checked into Proximity's City of Chicago Mayoral Headquarters more than 50 times. Below is a look at some of the tweets and check-ins associated with the contest:

It's a fierce competition and the fact that there are subtle ways of cheating your location means the contest is not without a hat tip to political traditions in Chicago.

"It's still a new enough social media platform that it can be manipulated a little bit," said Kevin Lynch, creative lead at Proximity Chicago, who is heading up the Foursquarian project. "It's not truly a Chicago election without a little bit of controversy. This is in keeping with the established history of the city."

Lynch said in a phone interview that ideally the contest will garner attention for an unknown candidate, or enable a well-known candidate to show constituents they understand how communications work circa 2010. So far Rahm Emanuel and other top tier candidates have not checked in.

The Geo-Social Campaign Toolkit

I Voted Badge.gif

In terms of the larger political season, Foursquare has not released an official badge or program. This is despite an online lobbying effort for the company to develop an "I voted" badge. Gowalla, however, is off to the races with the 2010 campaign toolkit it released in August.

Gowalla's platform was initially adopted by candidates including Charlie Crist, Rick Perry and Jim Ward, with additional candidates jumping on board since.

"It's fun, but also a lot of work," Alejandro Garcia, Gov. Rick Perry's campaign spokesperson, said in a phone interview. "Anything that we feel might be a good tool we try out. It's sometimes hard to pinpoint what works."

The candidates, along with their supporters, can create Gowalla events to check into, including rallies, town halls and other political happenings. Additionally, campaigns can create candidate pages with an open "follow" button on their Gowalla Passports. People that attend fundraisers, meetings and other events receive the candidate's custom passport stamp for their Gowalla passport and an "I Voted" pin on election day.

Despite the buzz around geo-social, there isn't a lot of check-in activity on Crist, Perry and Ward's pages. (Rick Perry currently has 68 Gowalla followers, Charlie Crist has 55 and Jim Ward has 38.) Andy Ellwood, director of business development at Gowalla, said in a phone interview that activity in 2010 might be low, but the potential value for candidates could be significant.

"It's not just an 'I'm at Starbucks in Louisville,' " Ellwood said. "Candidates are pushing these types of initiatives [because] they don't just want their supporters to say they are following them, but to say, 'I've actually decided to use my time and my foot traffic to come out to an event that is specific to the way that I am going to vote in the elections.' "

Some critics argue that it's just too early for geo-social to make a big impact in the 2010 elections, and that the small number of early Foursquare and Gowalla adopters won't likely reach enough voters to justify a campaign's time and money.

All that suggests geo-social could still be a big thing come 2012.

Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC,WGBH,PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

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October 25 2010


Special Series: PoliticalShift 2010

About this Series

After the success we've had with previous in-depth reports -- the Beyond Content Farms series and Beyond J-School, we decided to do another series on MediaShift. This time the series will look at "PoliticalShift 2010," the way that social media, technology and blogs are changing the equation for politicians in the context of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. While Barack Obama used the web and social media to raise millions in micro-donations and for organizing, the conservative side is pushing even harder into social media to rally supporters this year. We'll look at the Tea Party's crash course in social media, a Canadian industry minister's quirky use of Twitter, and we'll have a roundtable discussion in San Francisco for 5Across.

The entire series is linked below, and we'll be updating it over the next 8 days.

Check Out All the Posts

> GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections by Anthony Calabrese

Coming Soon

Tuesday: Steven Davy on campaigns using geo-location tools
Wednesday: Craig Silverman on the Canadian industry minister using Twitter

Thursday: Corbin Hiar on the Tea Party's use of social media

Friday: 5Across roundtable discussion with politicians, activists and journalists

Monday: Julie Posetti on how political reporters' jobs are changing in Australia
Tuesday: Live online chat with special guests via CoverItLive

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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