For some time political parties have been working to harness social media to help them win elections. The Obama campaign famously outspent the Romney campaign online by a factor of 10 to 1 ($47 million vs $4.7 million). Even its use of traditional media was tailored using the huge amount of digital information the campaign hoovered up from online sources.
As the New York Times (“Data You Can Believe In“) found:
“the campaign literally knew every single wavering voter in the country that it needed to persuade to vote for Obama, by name, address, race, sex and income. What’s more, he hinted, the campaign had figured out how to get its television advertisements in front of them with a previously inconceivable level of knowledge and accuracy.”
Yet, with the notable exception of the Obama campaign, contemporary political parties have been uniformly bad at building their online presence. Online startup 38Degrees has more campaigning “members” than any British political party including their Facebook likes.
To the fill the gap left by the professional, but ineffectual, online presence of the major political parties, third parties including trade unions and individuals have stepped in. Working often with minute budgets and turning out material that can cause embarrassment to the established parties, these third party actors are beginning to make an impact.
Dontbeafuckingidiot.com is created “BY A HUMAN BEING WHO DOESN’T BELONG TO ANY POLITICAL PARTY BUT DOES GIVE A SHIT”. Sweary, blunt, highly simplified and pro-Labor the site went viral near instantly with over 1 million unique visitors in just 24 hours (with possibly up to 4% of total registered Australian voters viewing the site). Jesse Richardson, the site’s creator, had to issue a media statement re-iterating it was a personal project and nothing to do with his employers or the Australian Labor Party.
Meanwhile, in Germany, trade union IG Metall’s video implores voters not to believe the re-election of Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition is a done deal – through the medium of LOLs. A bolt-together of amusing Youtube clips spliced with a light political message, it’s amusing and effective. It works because on the face of it, the film is a spontaneous response to the direction of the election. The video opens with an unflattering image of Peer Steinbrueck of the Social Democrats (SPD) looking miserable, presumably after losing the election. No permission was sought from the SPD.
These LOL campaigns are often more effective than the efforts of the mainstream political parties. Only one SPD Youtube clip has just over 100,000 views on their channel, while the IG Metall clip has been viewed over 750,000 times – more than all the SPD’s official videos combined.
While Britain’s three main political parties limber up to the next election, it’s likely that the online political moment to go viral will be created by none of the above.