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Scrutiny
 
US ELECTION GIMMICKS I: CYBER WAREFARE
How Obama’s i-beating Romney
With leading contenders hooking on to the Internet as a major platform for campaigning, the medium seems to be as decisive as it was in 2008. Purely on that aspect, Obama remains miles ahead
Issue Date - 15/03/2012
 
Back in the 1960s, John F. Kennedy used television as a medium for the first time in the history of US campaigning, which revolutionized the entire election campaign. Nowadays, people live in/on the Internet, especially on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Obama was quick to realise it and used the Internet extensively to his advantage in 2008. So much so, that he was given the tag of ‘Internet President’. In the words of Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee.”

Elections are back again and this time, the battle for the White House is being fought tooth and nail on the Internet, with all the candidates giving a special focus to online campaigning. Despite the open acceptance of the power of the web, Obama still seems to be doing much more to garner support than any other candidate. Currently, Obama not only has a staff of close to 300 in the digital communication team; but also has close to 12.5 million followers on Twitter and over 25 million subscribers on Facebook. Comparatively, Mitt Romney has a meager 10 members in his digital communication team and also pales in comparison to Obama with just 0.3 million followers on Twitter and 1.4 million subscribers on Facebook. Even the number of tweets by @BarackObama is more than thrice that of the number of tweets by @MittRomney – 2,843 and 830 tweets respectively. Even their daily averages have a wide gap. More importantly is the method of engagement. While Romney’s tweets are simply plain spiel, Obama has connected calls for action with interesting rewards. In one example, the tweeters submitting the most pro-healthcare reform tweets got a chance to spend time with Obama.

Even on YouTube, Obama’s campaign team is utilising the medium to the core and more importantly, as a platform to advertise elongated promotional campaigns. As per Edelman toolkit, during the 2008 elections, 2,000 YouTube videos were watched 80 million times; adding up to around 14.5 million hours. This clearly shows that Romney cannot ignore YouTube if he wants to maximize his outreach. But then, Obama’s campaign team has explored sites most would not even think of – AsianAve.com, MiGente.com, BlackPlanet.com – to name a few. They did not even leave alone music streaming services like Spotify. Obama’s 2012 campaign playlist consisting of 28 tracks is already available on Spotify. Additionally, in the last one year, he has joined sites like Google+, Instagram and Tumblr. A couple of weeks back, he even came for a live interaction with voters across the country on Google+’s Hangout. According to the White House, almost 230,000 people submitted close to 133,180 questions and 1.6 million people rated the questions.

Yes, Romney is trying. His campaign team has launched a platform called MyMitt (incredibly similar to MyBO created by Obama in 2008) on his website MittRomney.com. The rapid increase in number of accounts opened there is encouraging. But in comparison to Obama, and this effort notwithstanding, Obama is virtually steamrolling Romney on every aspect on the web. The issue now is not whether Romney can equal Obama’s efforts on the net, the issue is, does Mitt recognize this as an issue?

 

Mrinmoy Dey & Amir Hossain           

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