Robocall Rants: e-lectioneering 2.0

I knew that robocalls had arrived in Australia. Nevertheless, when Prime Minister John Howard rang me before last year’s election I was startled by his voice at first. Because it was a recorded message, my colourful response was wasted.

It’s the electronic age in political campaigning these days. We are now well acquainted with the political use of the Web. Party and candidate websites, blogging, social networking pages, online videos, and internet advertising are just some of the techniques used.

It has been a multi-media frenzy in the U.S. this presidential election season. Opponents of Barack Obama have even been direct-mailing DVDs to spread their smears. As Huffington Post reported recently:

This week, 28 million copies of a right-wing, terror propaganda DVD are being mailed and bundled in newspaper deliveries to voters in swing states. The 60-minute DVDs, titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, are landing on doorsteps in a campaign coinciding with the 7th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pro-McCain Group Dumping 28 Million Terror Scare DVDs in Swing States

Jillian York captured some of the reaction at Voices without Votes:

Almost immediately, newspapers began receiving complaints for their inclusion of the DVD, which was funded by The Clarion Fund, a group set up to combat “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” Bloggers in the U.S. and abroad have expressed anger at both the distribution of the DVDs and the related crime. Global: “Obsession” Propaganda Film Incites Anger

Political Spam via email is also part of this Campaigning 2.0. Organisations such as Moveon in the U.S. and GetUp! in Australia use direct email to their subscribers as a major campaigning tool. You can also sign up to SMS or text messages from political candidates, such as Obama’s Vice Presidential announcement. This kind of email is supposed to be sent with the agreement of the recipient but unsolicited messages have become more common:

I recently received a spam that supports the case of Michael Skelly for Congress, saying negative things about incumbent John Culberson. What’s interesting: this is my home precinct. These people are actually competing for my vote. This leads to the question: how on earth did the Skelly people manage to map my work email address to my home mailing address? Privacy Digest: Targeted political spam

Robocalls are now on the frontline. These phone calls use computerized auto-dialling and a computer-delivered recorded message. In other words, telephone Spam. They have become a major smear weapon:

It was perhaps predictable that the task of recording the worst of McCain’s robo-slime — the worst so far, at least — would fall to Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani has recorded a new McCain robocall in which he suggests, in effect, that Barack Obama doesn’t think sex offenders, drug dealers and murders should have to go to jail, according to Jennifer Henderson, a stay-at-home mom in Maine who tells us she received the call.
In New McCain Robocall, Rudy Giuliani Suggests Obama Opposes Jailing Murderers And Rapists

The Washington Monthly reported on the twists and turns:

John McCain hated robocalls eight years ago when they were used to smear him and his family. John McCain hated robocalls nine months ago when his rivals for the Republican nomination used the tactic against him. And yet, McCain loves robocalls now.
It turns out, when Bush used robocalls to destroy McCain eight years ago, he relied on a firm called FLS, run by a Republican activist named Jeff Larson. And who is McCain paying now to smear Barack Obama with deceptive robocalls? Jeff Larson’s FLS. Political Animal: ROBOCALL IRONY….

There is even an anti-robocall YouTube video from the Obama campaign replaying a robocall smear and calling for a fight back: McCain’s Robocalls: An All Out Assault. In fact there is compelling evidence that negative campaigning can be counter productive. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of registered voters polled thought McCain was “too personally critical” of his opponent compared with 26% who felt that about Obama. Growing Doubts About McCain’s Judgment, Age and Campaign Conduct

The latest allegation of robocall smears also comes from the Huffington Post, an unashamedly anti-McCain source:

The McCain campaign has authorized another vicious robocall that claims Barack Obama and Democrats would cut off funds for the military, have accused American troops of “war crimes,” and pose a threat to national security.
New McCain Robocall: Obama “Accused US Troops Of War Crimes”


Kevin Rennie

Original post at Labor View from Bayside


8 Responses

  1. Rudd and his AG are going to save we Aussies from Internet electioneering with the new Internet censoring (except of course for what THEY want us to know).

  2. SB,

    I was actually thinking of having a thread on this topic (internet censorship)…. I just have to find some time to write it.

  3. Great minds… Stephen Conroy appears to be playing a populist but dangerous game. It’s a shame that he has the defence of implementing an election promise. Unfortunately hardly anyone wanted to talk about it beforehand.

  4. Remember renniek it was also a populist Howard policy, which is why Labor me tooed it but now refuse to can it or at least mod it into something more workable.

    This has sure fire expensive failure written all over it and I think if Labor didn’t have to contend with the minor parties in the Senate it would have been allowed to pass as a broken promise.

  5. Adrian
    You might be right. I didn’t like Howard’s opt-in scheme either. See Filtering the Internet

  6. Already a politician wants a the filtering extended and it’s not even in!

  7. I guess Howard’s had the advantage of being opt-in but like the even worse Rudd government proposal it was still mostly unworkable and doomed to fail after a lot of money had been wasted.

    And both schemes were most likely proposed for much the same reason, to co-opt the sensibilities of the minor parties and the religious right with very little of it being to protect the kids.

  8. I’ve done some work on “Obsession,” and it’s far from “smearing” Obama. In fact, the film is only focusing on radical Muslims who are hell-bent on destroying the West. Entirely non-political – it seems to me that fighting against the threat of extremist Islam and terrorism is a wholly non-partisan issue.

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