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#Elections – Digital campaigns and cyber canvassing

With US election campaigns gaining steam and Americans due to go to the polls in November, it’s been interesting to see how the candidates have made the most of the digital sphere to spearhead their campaigns, and how we could see the use of technology and social media in our own elections when South Africans next get ready to place their votes.

Technology on the campaign trail

Having signified the beginning of his election campaign with a tweet back in April, Obama was sure to have a tech-savvy approach to securing his re-election, and rightly so.  US presidential campaigns are the most intensive on mass media and also so personality-driven that an insight into the candidate’s thoughts and feelings via tweets and other on-line updates is imperative.  In this way the public are always aware of responses to opposition comments and know where to follow the campaign trail to.  The Guardian.co.uk reported earlier this year that Obama’s tech guru’s were set to ‘unleash the Holy Grail of digital campaigning’. ‘Dashboard’, had been in development for eight years and according to The Guardian, will consolidate data acquired by volunteers from across the country, syncing this immediately with data gathered by phone banks, further syncing this with outreach efforts of volunteers at myBarackObama.com, ‘giving campaign bosses a real-time master view of the president’s re-election efforts throughout the country’.  Dashboard will also allow supporters “to join, connect with and build your neighbourhood team online” – a type of social networking project for volunteers on the ground and supporters, also available on smart phones.

Meanwhile Mitt Romney has unveiled an iPhone/ Android app, called ‘Mitt’s VP’.  Described as ‘snoozy’ and ‘unrewarding’, the app promises inside secrets and the scoop on who Romney will choose as his running mate and Vice President but has been deemed uninteresting and just a ploy to extract personal information from the users (even street addresses, yikes!), while redirecting you quickly to his official website.  The new ‘Obama’ app has been described as clever and useful and not just a harvesting scheme for voters’ personal details.  Though not quite as invasive, the app does use your smart phone’s GPS to find out where you are but this is only to make you aware of how policies affect that area, voting in the vicinity and local events.  The app is also integrated with Dashboard so extends the communal, ‘grass roots’ feel of the campaign.

Mitt's VP

Mitt’s VP App – Google.com

Meanwhile Cnet.com has reported that Twitter’s Political Index will allow the world at large to keep updated with ‘feelings’ on Obama and Romney.  Basing it’s findings on public opinion, Twitter will gauge tweets and offer its’ findings daily, giving the public some kind of insight into where the election may be headed using ‘sentiment analysis technology’.

A local investigation

Unlike their glossy Stateside peers, South African politicians tend to keep it simple.  Though not as dynamic and bearing in mind  that elections are a little way away I was still underwhelmed with the ruling party’s internet presence, the two thousand ‘Likes’ on their Facebook page and the uncontrolled, uncensored content being posted by just about anyone who has something to say, with few responses from the African National Congress.  While we cannot compare developing nations with the US when it comes to how relevant a virtual presence is, the opposing Democratic Alliance have several pages, individual party pages by province and have clearly taken control over them with recent updates and plenty of ‘campaign’ pics.

It may be a case of focusing on ‘grass roots’ level vs creating a virtual hype that the ‘every man’ will not be aware of anyway, but I dare say it’s no longer possible to do one without the other no matter where you are.


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