Saturday, August 09, 2008

McCain campaign promotes rewards program for online commentators

This is from the August 7, 2008 Washington Post story, titled Win Points for McCain:

Spread John McCain's official talking points around the Web -- and you could win valuable prizes!

That, in essence, is the McCain campaign's pitch to supporters to join its new online effort, one that combines the features of "AstroTurf" campaigning with the sort of customer-loyalty programs offered by airlines, hotel chains, restaurants and the occasional daily newspaper.

On McCain's Web site, visitors are invited to "Spread the Word" about the presumptive Republican nominee by sending campaign-supplied comments to blogs and Web sites under the visitor's screen name. The site offers sample comments ("John McCain has a comprehensive economic plan . . .") and a list of dozens of suggested destinations, conveniently broken down into "conservative," "liberal," "moderate" and "other" categories. Just cut and paste.

Activists and political operatives have used volunteers or paid staff to seed radio call-in shows or letters-to-the-editor pages for years, typically without disclosing the caller or letter writer's connection to a candidate or cause. Like the fake grass for which the practice is named, such AstroTurf messages look as though they come from the grass roots but are ersatz.

McCain's campaign has taken the same idea and given it an Internet-era twist. It also has taken the concept one step further.

People who sign up for McCain's program receive reward points each time they place a favorable comment on one of the listed Web sites (subject to verification by McCain's webmasters). The points can be traded for prizes, such as books autographed by McCain, preferred seating at campaign events, even a ride with the candidate on his bus, known as the Straight Talk Express, according to campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

This is just strange. John McCain is trying to buy supporters into posting online commentary favorable to McCain with rewarding points that can be used to purchase McCain campaign items. It is now no longer about whether you believe in McCain's political policies, but rather how much the McCain campaign is willing to pay for your support. I'm not going to say that this is right or wrong. Instead, I think it degrades the McCain campaign in that their supporters are not motivated by their political ideology, but a sense of greed in obtaining campaign prizes. As a political blogger, I would have a greater respect with other people expressing their views on the basis of whether they believe a candidate, or that candidate's policy positions, and are willing to present their arguments through their blog posts or comments on political blogs. But McCain is not appealing to his supporters--he is trying to buy them. And it is really sad just to see how low the McCain campaign is willing to go here in buying spammers because they do not have anyone in the online community that is willing to support John McCain's candidacy.

There are some other interesting points that I have found through McCain's Spread the Word. First, the McCain campaign was gracious to provide links to liberal, moderate, and conservative blogs. For the liberal blogs, the McCain campaign links to only five blogs--Daily Kos, ColoradoPols, Crooks and Liars, My DD, and Think Progress. Only five blogs? While I may be more of a liberal blogger, I at least provide 20 conservative blog sites here for you to peruse. The moderate list contains only four blogs--with one being the Washington Post's The Fix and the other being the Politico. The other two moderate blogs are Delaware Politics and Enlighten New Jersey. What I am trying to say here is that are these the only liberal and moderate blogs that the McCain campaign is willing to link to for allowing their "supporters" to present these McCain PR-talking comments for points and prizes? It is almost like the McCain campaign doesn't want their "supporters" to spread the word of the McCain campaign among the liberal or moderate blog sites--but it is perfectly fine to spread the word to the 71 links to conservative blogs that the McCain campaign has provided. Now I can understand the McCain campaign trying to court the conservatives in providing numerous links to these conservative blogs, but how many conservative bloggers and commentators are willing to go through the trouble of posting such McCain talking points, and then going back to the McCain campaign site to record such talking points for McCain-points? I would guess that such conservative writers and bloggers are posting online because they have an opinion that they wish to express--just as I have my own opinion that I wish express through my blog. The question I would have is how many of these conservative bloggers are willing to cross-post on McCain's site for these points, or the prizes?

And now to present this one chilling detail of McCain's Spread the Word. From the WaPost story:

More chillingly, dissidents alleged earlier this year that the Chinese government has paid Chinese citizens token sums for each favorable comment about government policies they post in chat rooms and on blogs.

Nice. The McCain campaign is copying a page from the totalitarian Chinese government in paying Chinese citizens for posting comments on blogs and chat rooms that are favorable to the Chinese government. You have to wonder how this looks to the McCain campaign--using online strategies introduced by a totalitarian government. Then again, maybe McCain also believes it is easier to rule as a dictator--just like his buddy President Bush.

And finally, there is this interesting detail from the WaPost:

McCain should reconsider the program for an entirely different reason, says Zach Exley, who directed online organizing for John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign in 2004. Both the Kerry campaign and the GOP's national committee, he said, had underwhelming results when they offered incentives of various kinds to volunteers.

"This stuff never works," Exley says. "People in politics aren't motivated by points. That's not what gets people to act. They're motivated by genuinely caring about the issues."

Indeed, he adds, some volunteers resent points and incentives because they think it demeans or devalues their work.

People in politics aren't motivated by points. That's now what gets people to act. They're motivated by genuinely caring about the issues. It doesn't matter whether you care about the issues from a liberal, moderate, or conservative viewpoint. The fact is that you care about them and are willing to express your views on the issues through blogs and comments. The McCain campaign has got it backwards in thinking that they could reward people for placing favorable comments on blog and news sites. And if the McCain campaign's reward for such favorable comments are perhaps McCain bumper stickers, tee-shirts, and key chains, how many people are willing to put up such work for such meager rewards? It is not going to work.

Then again, what do you expect from a "clueless" campaign?

Update: I though I would McCain's Spread the Word at least once to see how many points I would get for a single comment. So I sent my comment from The Daily Kos to the Spread the Word campaign site. Not that I expect much from the McCain campaign, but I'll keep my eyes open to see how the McCain campaign will respond to my spreading McCain's word.

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