Political Attacks: How far is too far?

When reading about Barack Obama’s 2008 Campaign, I was initially impressed by the use of new media, who wouldn’t be? The Campaign is considered one of a kind, or at least the first of it’s kind to be successful, in terms of reaching supporters and voters through social and new media. But, I was also weary about how new media can be manipulated and shaped to influence opinions.

In Daniel Kreiss’ article, Acting in the networked public sphere: the Obama campaign’s strategic use of new media to shape narratives of the 2008 presidential race, the following passage struck me: “As the discussion below reveals, this work entailed everything from releasing the candidate’s birth certificate online to promoting content that made it look like Hillary Clinton’s supporters were generating racist attacks on Obama” (P. 10). This sentence was more compelling to me than any other part of the article. It shows underlying aspects of political campaigns: no matter how well a campaign embraces technologies and adapts to the changes of the social sphere, there is always an ugly side. Through old technologies, when there were attacks on other candidates, it was relatively easy to trace where the content originated. In my opinion the Internet has allowed campaigns to launch attacks on other candidates without consequences since they are able to cover their tracks. Furthermore, it has taken attacks to a new low. In my opinion, it is extremely poor to spread rumors of racist attacks in order to get ahead.

This reminded me of Morozov’s argument that the Internet could be used to distract users from the real problems and issues surrounding politics and democracy. While I don’t think US campaigns today are trying to distract the users from engaging in political activity, I do believe the Internet can be manipulated to the candidate’s advantage in order to make opponents look bad without taking responsibility for the attack. This is dangerous because once a rumor or idea gets started on the Internet it can have a snowball effect; eventually users won’t know where it started. Do you think it is a problem that campaign personal can manipulate search results, videos, and content in order to frame their candidate favorable? Or is it just part of politics?

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This entry was posted in Fall 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Political Attacks: How far is too far?

  1. macjulie says:

    I think your skepticism of new media use in political campaigns here is refreshing. I have normally come across only opinions that praise new media and the movements it creates. It is important to examine the other side as well.

  2. margauxsax says:

    I agree that campaign manipulation of search results, videos, and online content in general can be problematic for the types of information users receive. But as we discussed in class the negative campaigning has always been there, now there are more channels to launch attacks. Campaigns are no longer limited to buying TV ad time or giving major news sources negative information to publish a story. It’s important to note that all of this online information and online interaction with supporters and opponents reduces the level of control that a campaign has over a candidate’s image, for better or for worse.

  3. Melissa Marcus says:

    If candidates want to have a strong internet presence, then it is inevitable that there will be negative side effects and some personal information may be unwillingly exposed. When viewing political websites or candidates’ campaign websites, individuals should be conscious of the existing bias. The manipulation of these websites is part of the election process and competitiveness that accompanies campaign time. It makes sense that each website will portray their candidate favorably, so voters should make an effort to discern the truth from rumors when evaluating candidates.

  4. bdisant611 says:

    I have never been a fan of negative political attack ads, so perhaps I am biased, but I understand their importance. The internet and viral video has given so many opportunities to attack the opponent. The 47% video was blurry and taken on a camera phone, it probably should not have made it to the national stage, but if you were Obama’s reelection committee, how can you resist the urge to use something so relevant and potentially damaging to your opponent. The problem is that these attack ads are coming from increasingly obscure sources and vague information. In this election, I feel that all attack ads have become no more than a high stakes game of “he said, she said”. Politics are ugly naturally, but I’m afraid the internet has only added more gasoline to this fire.

  5. Lauren Myefski says:

    I would have to agree that the Internet has possibly added fuel to the fire of the ugly side of politics. If it weren’t for the Internet, campaigners would probably find another way to frame their candidate as favorable and make their opponent look bad. I am not sure, though, that this would be quite as secretive or hidden as the manipulation done using the Internet. Unfortunately, with the positive benefits of pretty much anything comes the potential for negative side effects. That being said, I think that the ability to reach out to voters at so many different levels is a huge benefit of the Internet. The Internet certainly makes it easy to cover your tracks, but it also makes exposing dirty secrets easier than ever. Unfortunately, I do not think the dirty side of politics is going to change anytime soon – and either is the increasing use of the Internet in our society.

  6. jessliu91 says:

    I do believe that it is problematic to have search results, content, or videos being manipulated by campaigns in order to further their poll numbers. The Internet, and the media, is supposed to be hailed as a platform that promotes democracy because of how it is able to keep politicians and government accountable for their actions. It helps get information about what the government is or is not doing to the public and it helps the public connect with one another as well. However, the actual use of the Internet or the media is not always utilized in such a fashion. Many politicians and powerful actors have their hands in media organizations. And even if they don’t, these corporations also have political interests and might, on their own, manipulate content or search results to benefit one party or another. Therefore, even if Obama wasn’t manipulating search results, the corporation itself, might do it instead. And they will continue to do so insofar that their interests intersect with the government’s interests.

  7. stemulka says:

    I completely agree that campaigns can manipulate search results. For one thing, the amount of money that a candidate has can influence Facebook results. One particular effect is because Mitt Romney Facebook page will appear when someone is typing OB, only when typing in Obama will his Facebook page appear. Also one thing I have begun to notice was sponsored ads in my news feed, and most of them are urging me to either like Romney or go to his Facebook page. I hadn’t seen any ads by Obama at all. Furthermore, I have found Mitt Romney is always coming up as a suggestion for a page for me to like, even though more of my friends “like” Obama. I think this is a clear manipulation of social media sites. It isn’t just showing me what I am interested in, it is showing me what someone has paid for me to see.

  8. nverduin says:

    Although the Internet is suppose to democratize information and allows campaigns to spread awareness of their platforms, I do believe negative aspects of Internet use in campaigns sit along side these positives. As we discussed in class, there has always been negative campaigning. Although it is frustrating to watch, it has always been around. The Internet has just provided a new medium for it and less cost to do so. However, I agree that now, campaigns can pass along and post information through other sights while hiding their connection to a candidate. This can be misleading for people who come across this information because they assume it is from a third party and there is less consideration for bias. Therefore, Information is likely taken for face value without considering motive. This can mount a belief for someone that is based on false or misleading information.

    Politics has always been tough and negative campaigns are nothing new, but it is dangerous that we are unaware when something is a negative campaign or just fact. It can disrupt the understandings we have and how we operate in our democracy.

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