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 US this presidential election season. Opponents of Barack Obama have even been direct-mailing DVDs to spread their smears. As the 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 US 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 US 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 this one on 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 computerised 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 ...
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