The piece below is extracted (p.8-11) from a longer article in Notes From the Borderland issue 9 (2009) 'An Expected Shock: The 2009 BNP Election Success & Anti-Fascist Strategy' p.3-14, written after the June 2009 European Elections when the BNP gained two seats, the first time any fascist party had done so in the UK. The extract is preceded by a detailed analysis of BNP voting patterns & strategy, and followed by a critique of the other main anti-fascist show currently in town, 'Unite Against Fascism', concluding with pointers to a realistic anti-fascist strategy (some covered in the extract from NFB 7 in the the 'Fascism/Anti-Fascism' section of this site). After you have read the article below, check out that of 4/11/11 'No Hope, Lots of Hate: Civil War Breaks out in Searchlight' on this site also.
Aside from old anti-fascist hands (like NFB) most people in recent times will have heard of Searchlight through contact with their 'Hope Not Hate' front. It is fitting then, especially as HNH's structure is 'virtual', for this critique to be placed on the internet. Not least because issues raised about the nature of politics, democracy, and the role of the internet in all these matters are of profound importance generally, and increasingly preoccupy (and trouble) NFB. Searchlight themselves, as befits their Stalinist origins, don't do debate--that is expected. Inasmuch as Blue State Digital were informed of this article, and sent copies, it might surprise the uninitiated that they too, have not dared answer criticism, something further indicated here http://www.lexferenda.com/05032010/matthew-mcgregor-blue-state-digital-at-uea/. Not surprising, fundamentally--for BSD anti-fascism is primarily a PR/money-making opportunity--and responding to NFB would not be good PR/business. Nonetheless, even if belatedly, should BSD care to respond we would be happy to hear from them. We hope that anti-fascists inadvertently sucked into Hope Not Hate's orbit take up the issues raised herein--especially the perfectly legitimate questions we suggest are asked at HNH events. Tell us how you get on (in confidence if needs be)--we might even publish what you have to say! The BNP's performance in the 2010 UK General Election does not, it should be pointed out, undermine our critique of HNH --but that is an argument to be had another day/ article.
SEARCHLIGHT/HOPE NOT HATE--ONE FRONT BEHIND ANOTHER
(A) PHASE 1-ORIGINAL SPIN?
Perhaps surprisingly for an entity describing itself as "Britain's leading anti-fascist organisation", 'Hope Not Hate' (hereafter HNH), brand name for Searchlight's anti-fascist leafletting campaign, was not founded 2005, as stated . HNH is a 'front' every bit as fraudulent as any BNP scam. 'Hope Not Hate' was first used as a slogan in Spring 2004, emblazoned on the red bus touring around the country before the European elections. The smiling (if slightly demented) grey and yellow sun logo was first used on t-shirts sold for Searchlight by long-time ally, ex-Marxism Today contributor and professional 'England supporter' Mark Perryman .
Prior to using the 'Hope Not Hate' label, Searchlight persuaded local activists under their spell to distribute (from April 2003) a Searchlight tabloid newspaper geared at specific elections. Unfortunately for Searchlight, some militant anti-fascists, aware of their track-record in disrupting/smearing anti-fascists and pimping for MI5/Special Branch declined the bait . Searchlight adapted by setting up 'Stop the BNP'. Initially just a list of groups in the magazine, the name was registered as a web-site in April 2005 , in preparation for a split from the SWP-dominated 'Unite Against Fascism' that took place that June . The disappearance nationally of Anti-Fascist Action had emboldened Searchlight--instead of just whispering disinformation in anti-fascist ears, offering highly selective and partial 'intelligence', they aspired to taking over the whole show. 'Stop the BNP' didn't cut the mustard, being neither a memorable or unique slogan. It was decided to make more of the longstanding HNH name, and in February 2007 the site was registered-two years after Searchlight claim HNH was founded .
Given there was no HNH organisation, merely a change of name, the core activity remained standard--leafletting target areas with localised propaganda. Additional techniques included phone banks, direct mail-shots and voter identification, which were innovative for anti-fascists. A pity, however, that the message content was not appropriate. Just as the working class deserted Labour in droves, Searchlight/HNH became even more explicitly aligned with the Labour party, admitted by Nick Lowles & Paul Meszaros--responsible for the BNP's best ever publicity, the 2004 'Secret Agent' documentary. Speaking of a 2007 Halifax initiative the dynamic duo wrote that "anybody...serious about stopping the BNP was by now mobilised behind the Labour Party campaign. The campaign was carefully planned with Hope Not Hate Yorkshire to coordinate Labour activity and third party interventions" . These two geniuses reported "communities once threatened by the BNP are returning to Labour now that we are once again visible on their estates" .
(B) PHASE 2--BORN IN THE USA (& BACK IN THE USSR)
We have already seen Nick Griffin's explicit debt to the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. Searchlight finally decided to access the Obama magic [for his online strategy see brief analysis following this extract]. In January 2009 Blue State Digital (hereafter BSD) began work with HNH . What matters is not whether these techniques helped Obama (they patently did) but whether importing them root & branch into the UK is a good (or even effective) way of 'doing' anti-fascist politics.
The UK BSD operation is headed by director Matthew McGregor, but the employee most involved with HNH is Dan Thain, who joined in December 2008 and before that was "the Labour Party's e-Campaigns Manager" , While the timing of his exit could just be a media-savvy rat leaving a sinking ship, Tory blogger 'Guido Fawkes' (aka Paul Staines) recently reported a presumably friendly conversation where Thain admitted on record he knew about Labour plans to set up an anonymous Labour blog attacking Tories, the fall-out from which greatly embarrassed Labour spin-doctors Damian McBride and Derek Draper, not to mention Gordon Brown . Strangely, nobody in the media seems interested in ascertaining who leaked Fawkes those internal Labour emails Thain (among others) was privy to.....It is not known whether Thain, in his new guise as 'anti-racist guru' asked Staines whether he is in fact the Paul Delaire-Staines who reportedly wrote to Ian Walker, Hull BNP Organiser on 22/5/86 wondering if "Perhaps members of the BNP would care to join us in our anti-leftist activities. We can arrange a meeting to discuss possible joint future activities" .
BSD has altered the way HNH/Searchiight do business somewhat:
More effective fund-raising--early on Searchlight's Nick Lowles claimed "we have had more small individua donations in the past two weeks than we have had in three or four years", and Thain later boasted of a "1000%" online funding increase '
Increase in web-based activity--using BSD 'tools' such as Twitter, Face-Book, viral emails (recipients asked to forward-the virtual equivalent of pyramid-selling) and so on. Designed to simulate participation, the tools are sometimes absurd. Take the 'Not in My Name' petition. Up to 90,911 people signed to say that Nick Griffin did not represent them. For Searchlight "the standout example of capturing the public's imagination... tapping into the public's emotional reaction to an event" . However, even assuming accurate numbers, this was less than voted for the BNP in either constituency they won in (120,139 and 132,094)! In any event, Griffin & Brons do not purport to speak for those signing this petition. To claim the pair "do not represent Britain in the European Parliament"  is casuistry worthy of Jesuits--the BNP see themselves, like all partisan politicians, as representing their own voters primarily. To pretend otherwise makes anti-fascists look stupid.
Statistical trickery--we have discussed [on p.3 of the article this is extracted from] Searchlight's dishonest attempt to 'prove' the BNP flopped in the Euro Elections. PR evasion from BSD and Searchlight's regard for truth acquired in the 'Stalinist School of Falsification' means unverified numbers get thrown around like confetti. Searchlight allegedly "began the 2009 election campaign with 6,000 email addresses and ended it with 111,000, the largest and most active political email list in Britain" . How was this rapid expansion achieved? Showing a disregard for personal security typical of an ex-Communist Party member, Perryman volunteered 21,000 names from his business database--philosophyfootball.com customers please note . Also, union members received unsolicited personalised emails from their new 'friend' Nick Lowles. Given Searchlight closeness to the bureaucracy, I advised anti-fascists to keep quiet, for fear of victimisation. Unions handing member details to a known MI5/Special Branch satellite is unsurprising, but still appalling.
Incessant self-praise--gushing admirers are quoted, testimonials are never in short supply . BSD's Thain is equally frugal with the truth, claiming HNH got a February 2009 Liverpool BNP meeting cancelled--no evidence given . His immediate post-election take was priceless, wailing "Everything was against us-and everything was supporting the BNP...when BSD teamed up with HNH, the general consensus was that under the present political climate the BNP would win 5,6 or 7 seats in the European Parliament" also arguing "HNH stopped a BNP breakthrough" . Both untruths indicate BSD & Searchlight are well-matched indeed.
Dropping the pretence of coalition with existing activists--previously, Searchlight affected humility at times, in 2006 claiming "we are not arrogant enough to believe that we have all the answers nor do we want to run your campaigns but we might just be able to make a positive difference to what you and your group will do next year" . Insincere, certainly, but different from HNH, where the inexperience of activists (who are thus unlikely to ask difficult questions) is presented as a positive. "Our new activists have challenged standard political orthodoxy. The internet campaign and our emails reached a new layer of people who either had not thought anti-fascism was important or did not want to get involved in the usual way" . It is obviously essential to get more anti-fascists involved--but in addition to existing militants, not instead of them. To anticipate somewhat my conclusion, anti-fascism cannot be treated as just another franchise opportunity, or marketing campaign. It is a serious matter, and to cynically recruit, as HNH do, untried people without alerting them to very real personal risks they are potentially taking by becoming involved is unacceptable. Campaigning against the BNP isn't a mere life-style (or even voting) choice, but far more important: maybe life and death ultimately.
(C) WHAT HAS NOT CHANGED
Contrary to ex-staff mutterings, BSD entering Searchlight's clique has not fundamentally changed them. Continuities outweigh changes as follows:
THE SAME OLD STORY-LINES
The rationale behind Searchlight dominating HNH is the supposed understanding of what the BNP stand for. Over the years their perspective is more widely-known than my alternative take on matters .
Nevertheless, two particular defects came to the fore during this campaign:
First. Searchlight have become so accustomed to lying-about fascists, themselves, anti-fascists & much else, they do not know the difference between propaganda and fact. Graphically illustrated by the keynote Searchlight article before voting day by Sonia Gable (publisher Gerry Gable's wife), 'BNP campaign comes off the rails' . The impression is given of BNP collapse amid scandal, financial meltdown and political ineptitude. The 'evidence' laughable--references to internal BNP documents no voters have heard of, leaflet drafting errors (80 million as opposed to 75 million Turkish population) and best of all attacking BNP use of non-members on the 'British Jobs For British Workers' leaflet. A BNP mistake, certainly--but media coverage played into their hands, what is known as the 'dog whistle' effect. I suggest Madam Sonia looks that one up (and it isn't a coded reference to how she actually gained her intimate knowledge of fascism in the 1970s). If her article had an outcome, it would have encouraged anti-fascists to think the BNP a busted flush, and redoubled effort superfluous.
Second, repeated assertions Griffin and the BNP (rather than some individual members) are 'Nazis'. As the HNH site (from which most HNH acolytes derive knowledge, along with You-Tube) puts it "Nazism combined extreme nationalism, racial superiority, state authoritarianism and a conspiracy theory which blamed all of the world's ills on a single racial group, namely the Jews. The BNP might have toned down its political tone but the core beliefs of its leaders, especially Nick Griffin, remain hardline" . Not only has Griffin never been Nazi, the label hinders apprehension of his developing post-modern fascist strategy. While inaccuracy will not encourage BNP defections, it might cause increased member/voter allegiance to the party.
POWER: BUT NO RESPONSIBILITY
Searchlight play an important role shaping the BNP's media portrayal. "Our media strategy was designed to set the narrative for the campaign, to highlight the stories and issues that we wanted the media to talk about" . As 4th June loomed Searchlight "went on the offensive placing dozens of articles in the press" . Very lucrative-but if 'placed' stories miss the mark, such as the Manchester Evening News depicting the BNP as 'neo-Nazi' , what then? The BNP anticipating the 'Nazi' tag ied to them using Churchiliian imagery in the first place. Searchlight were (and are) incapable of adequately responding, instead repeat tired cliches with less and less effect. They can neither change approach (that needs ideological sophistication and analytical skill) nor will they accept even partial responsibility for BNP success. Typical of petty Stalinists, Searchlight sweep under the carpet stories that might embarrass them. Sadie Graham & Matt Single being charged over the BNP membership list theft was reported (22/8/09) but neither the Hope Not Hate site nor Searchlight have mentioned Single's conviction!
Despite a claim to be even-handed, appointing ex-Labour apparatchik Dan Thain, and BSD generally, means HNH remains a New Labour front. BSD founder Thomas Gensemer is on record saying "We are and will continue to be supportive of Labour's efforts and will help in any way we can" . In Griffin's constituency Green candidate Peter Cranie was his most credible challenger, but Searchlight's efforts went into supporting Labour. "Another success of our campaign was ...that Labour managed to turn out a significant section of its traditional vote but also new voters" . No nudging voters in a Green Party direction .
For something styling itself "Britain's ieading anti-fascist organisation" , HNH has an elusive structure, especially financially. According to Sonia Gable "Hope not Hate...is run by Searchlight Information Services" . Yet, the downloadable HNH standing order form suggests writing to another group 'Friends of Searchlight', making regular debits payable to a third--the 'Searchlight Fighting Fund'. Rendering totally uncheckable her claim that "money given to Hope not Hate is spent 100% on the campaign" . Taxation without a pretence of representation. What 'leading organisation' doesn't have its own bank account? One whose proprietors (Searchlight) dread accountability to the actual 'grassroots. Not so much 'Hope Not Hate' as 'Jupe and Bait' .
How could "a genuine grassroots organisation"  launch the 'Not in My Name' e-petition within minutes of Brons being elected (32 to be precise )? Even better, how come it was Searchlight readers who first heard (in the October 2009 issue) "HNH is launching a 'People Together' initiative as a way of mobilising opposition against the English Defence League" after it had been set up , when even the HNH web-site hadn't mentioned this additional initiative?
Searchlight/HNH urge the police and Home Office to ban EDL activities, facilitating not state action just against them but the tools they use, such as static protests. This continues Searchlight's ignoble tradition of pimping for the political police . Should the EDL turn out to be a state-sponsored safety valve, Searchlight would be reprising the role they played in relation to Column 88 in the 1970s and Combat 18 in the 1990s .
(D) HOPE NOT HATE--THE DEBATE
Genuine discussion about antifascist strategy Searchlight fear, lest the outcome is unfavourable. Blogs they control exclude troublesome anti-fascists. Nonetheless, by aspiring to control national anti-fascist organising, Searchlight have come under fire.
THE SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY/UNITE AGAINST FASCISM
Martin Smith (SWP) has criticised Searchlight, if not HNH. Like a dog walking on two legs, the signal fact is he has done it at all. Some is cringe-worthy--such as denouncing Lowles for not using the term Nazi enough . He is on stronger ground objecting to the 'Vote Labour' policy, as "this slogan actually weakens our movement", accepting for many voting BNP is "a protest against the mainstream parties" .
Keiron Farrow's piece critiquing HNH and Unite Against Fascism is more like it . Much I agree with, having made identical arguments over the years--the idiocy of the 'Nazi' label, how counter-productive harping on about BNP criminality is, that supporting repressive measures against the BNP quickly leads to them being used against the Left, the folly of urging a working class abandoned by Labour to support it & so on. Farrow astutely grasps how Griffin could turn accusations of 'Holocaust denial' to his advantage , and questions the worth of music festivals and 'No Platform' from above, rather than a "community-led and supported refusal to allow the BNP to operate in their area" . I disagree with Farrow over whether the BNP could ever take power, also the rhetorical demand Searchlight abandon their pro-Labour position, but his refreshing contribution all anti-fascists should read.
Farrow's article was only printed in Red Pepper after critical responses were sought. Green Party member Paul White "for one, would not be actively encouraging people to vote" Labour . Good! HNH's Paul Meszaros untruthfully claims Searchlight now use the BNP member 'criminality' tactic "sparingly", and ignores Farrow's objection to the Nazi label . He is though, unrepentant on the disastrous HNH alignment with Labour.
A PR INDUSTRY VIEW
Stuart Bruce, Wolfstar MD and ex-Labour councillor, sees HNH as motivating the"professional classes" to oppose the BNP, but does "not think it did anything to connect directly with people in the communities being targeted", especially as internet take up in such areas is low. He saw "too much hate and not enough hope" and doubts replicating Obama's campaign in the UK would work, with "outsiders coming in and telling [communities] how they shouldn't vote" .
(E) THE INTERPASSIVE SUBJECT?
If the 20th Century taught anything, it was that technology (including the web) is not a socially neutral form. The great Jurgen Habermas has questioned Web 2.0's effects on public discourse, but Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek's critique is most salient. To explain interaction between the individual and contemporary mass culture--including the internet--he has conceptualised a construct, the 'interpassive subject'. Zizek argues those "who praise the democratic potential of new media generally focus on...how cyberspace opens up the possibility for the large majority of people to break out of the role of passive observer following the spectacle changed by others...and to participate actively not only in the spectacle, but more and more in establishing the very rules of the spectacle". As seen, neither HNH (or Obama's campaign) allow that.
He sees the "other side of this interactivity" as "interpassivity...the situation in which it is the object itself which 'enjoys the show' instead of me". In other words, by choreographing in minute detail and statistically tabulating the actions of participants-Twitter, blogs, uploading photos, e-petitions etc--their very spontaneity and individuality is crushed. He proposes "the notion of false activity: you think you are active, while your true position..is passive". Zizek alleges interpassivity "deprives me of the very kernel of my substantial identity" . As a Lacanian Marxist, Zizek's intricacies are sometimes difficult to follow, but nonetheless (and uncomfortably!) this concept is useful in explaining how all relevant actors-the Obama campaign, HNH and BNP-use similar techniques to construct online 'imagined communities'.
BEYOND THE MATRIX
Searchlight are acutely aware HNH has no off-line reality as an organisation--Lowles recently admitting HNH has "a huge online network but to turn these people into offline activists we need to be able to slot them into local campaigns that can organise meaningful activities in which they can get involved" , Pawns, of course, get 'slotted'. HNH want local groups, to be led by patronisingly termed "super-activists" . One fear is groups might think for themselves, deviating from the centrally-imposed 'line'. Lowles again: "a network set up incorrectly could have severe and negative consequences" . Some are more equal than others, "local coordinators who show an apparent ability and eagerness to take their anti-BNP campaign beyond a basic level will be invited to residential training courses"  --taking a weekend unlike the standard three hour course.
HNH reduces anti-fascism to a marketing initiative, with local franchise holders (appointed organisers) encouraged to "take ownership of the HNH campaign in your area" . The aim (even if naive franchisees do not know yet) is to hoover up local market share by obliterating the UAF--seen as competitors not allies.
Does Hope Not Hate combine Stalinism with market-oriented mind-manipulation techniques? To help find out, some questions for'grassroots' activists to ask at HNH events:
1) Why were local anti-fascists such as UAF not asked to this meeting?
2) Why does HNH have no constitution? When will members get to vote on HNH policy and organisation, including the removal of incompetents?
3) Where are the HNH accounts, and why does it have no bank account?
4) What anti-fascist suggestions have been rejected since HNH inception?
5) How come only Lowles seems to make HNH policy, and invent initiatives he doesn't even put on the web-site?
6) Why should we accept Lowles and Meszaros' expertise in opposing the BNP (including choosing organisers), when both are responsible for the BNP's best-ever free publicity--the 'Secret Agent' documentary ?
7) What is Searchlight's cut of the Blue State Digital (BSD) contract?
8) Is BSD's contract performance-related? If not, why not? If so, why wasn't it terminated in June? What level of BNP success would trigger termination? Or is BSD's contract mainly a fund-raising one?
9) Given Searchlight's dealings with Special Branch, which agencies have you given our personal details to?
10) How many of your 113,000 email addresses were acquired by people contacting you, and how many by breaking the Data Protection Act?
Record for posterity if at all possible....
(NB Don't forget to scroll down for analysis of 2008 Obama Campaign & the internet)
FOOTNOTES TO EXTRACT
66) Searchlight Extra September 2009 has the claim of suprancy on p.12, and of foundateion date p.2
67) see Perryman's www.philosophyfootball.com 'About us' & 'Heart on our sleeves, well chest actually' 13/7/09 on www.strongerunions.org (accessed 2/10/09)
68) For references on this see my 'Searchlight For Beginners' (Phoenix 1996)
69) see the whois site, showing the Registrant as Gerry Gable.
70) on the ostensible reasons for Searchlight leaving UAF, see 'Letter of resignation to UAF' Steve Silver 30/6/05, editorial Searchlight 361 July 2005 p.3, and the Morning Star debate between Ken Livingstone (27/8/05) and then co-editor Steven Silver (3/9/05)
71) Registered 23/2/07, owner Gerry Gable, see also Searchlight 381 March 2007 supplement 'Anti-Fascist Fortnight'
72) see their article 'Stopping the BNP' in Fred Grindrod & Mark Rusling (ed) 'Stopping the Far Right' Fabian Society 2007 p.31
73) op. cit. p.33
74) see Chloe Markowicz in PR Week on-line 21/1 & 23/1/09.
75) see www.bluestatedigital.com/blog/people/dan-thain/ (last accessed 24/7/09)
76) 'Red Rag: the Others Who Knew at Labour HQ' Guido Fawkes blog 19/4/09 (last accessed 5/10/09).
77) quoted in The Guardian 31/5/86 (David Rose: who else!). Guido Fawkes Times on-line article (17/4/09) fails to address the issue in usual spin-doctor manner.
78) Lowles in The Guardian 26/1/09 (the eternally-gullible Matthew Taylor), Thain's claim in 'Hope Still Stands' Blue State Digital blog 10/6/09 (last accessed 24/7/09)
79) Searchlight Extra September 2009 p.8
80) http://action.hopenothate.org.Uk/page/s/notinmyname (last accessed 25/7/09)
81) Searchlight 409 July 2009 p.11
82) Nick Lowles 'Help Still needed' HNH blog 4/4/09 (last accessed 2/10/09)
83) for example Searchlight 412 October 2009 p. 12
84) see Thain's blog on bluestatedigital.com 26/2/09 (last accessed 24/7/09)
85) 'Hope Still Stands' Dan Thain blog 10/6/09
86) Searchlight 375 September 2006 p.17
87) Searchlight Extra September 2009 p.8
88) see my articles in Lobster magazine (Hull) issues 23/24/25/26/29/30/38/49 [which will all be placed on this site in time], also NFB 6 p.33 has a one page summary of my position
89) Searchlight 408 June 2009 p. 12-13
90) see the 'real BNP' & the 'Nick Griffin: Not in my name' sections on www.hopenothate.org.uk where (unreferenced) quotes give the same impression (last accessed 10/6/09)
91) Searchlight 409 July 2009 p.9
92) Searchlight 409 July 2009 p.10
93) e.g. 'BNP's Dark Past' (David Ottewell) Manchester Evening News 28/5/09
94) 'Correcting the record in London' 17/9/09 on www.bluestatedigital.com (last accessed 17/9/09)
95) Searchlight 409 July 2009 p. 11
96) for a dignified, if livid, take from the Green candidate see 'Reflections on the NW Campaign' 15/6/09 http://petercranieblogspotcom/2009/06/reflections-on-nw-campaign.html
97) Searchlight Extra September 2009 p.12
98) 'BNP's fake AFA email' www.hopenothateorg.uk/news 8/4/09 (accessed 26/6/09)
100)'Run the campaign in your community' on http://notinmyname.tv/page/s/organiser (last accessed 25/7/09)
101) Lowles 'Not in my name' on Hope Not Hate blog 8/6/09 (last accessed 16/6/09)
102) Searchlight 412 October 2009 p.9
103) On their relationship with the police, my 'Searchlight For Beginners' (Phoenix 1996) gives multiple references, and see virtually every previous issue of this magazine. Searchlight 412 October 2009 p.5 states their campaign "might involve taking to the streets if the authorities do not or cannot act".
104) see 'Searchlight For Beginners'
105) p.69 of 'How Do We Stop the BNP?' International Socialism Journal 23 Summer 2009 p.41-79
106) ibid. p.69 & 70
107) Red Pepper 167 August/September 2009 p.33-35
108) ibid. p.34
109) ibid. p.37
110) ibid, p.36
111) ibid, p.36
112) 'We need more hope and less hate to defeat the BNP' 11/6/09 on www.stuartbruce.biz (last accessed 24/7/09)
113) Slavoj Zizek 'The Interpassive Subject' 25/6/09 http://theenlightenedworld.org/home/ 2009/06/25/the-interpassive-subject-slavoi-zizek/ (last accessed 23/7/09)
114) Searchlight 412 October 2009 p. 11
115) Searchlight Extra September 2009 p.10
116) Searchlight 410 August 2009 p.20
117) ibid, p.21
118) Searchlight 412 October 2009 p.11
119) for a detailed critique of the documentary, and the fall out, see my 'The Secret Agent' Notes From the Borderland issue 6 2005 p. 11-38
BACKGROUND: THE 2008 BARACK OBAMA ON-LINE CAMPAIGN
Few deny Barack Obama's campaign was impressive, not just because it show-cased his charisma and intelligence. According to organisers Blue State Digital (BSD) 3 million individual donors contributed $500 million online, with a staggering 200,000 offline events. 13 million email addresses were harvested, John Kerry had only 3 million four years earlier [a]. The most impartial witness to his success is Andrew Keen, some-time web entrepreneur, author of a flawed masterpiece denouncing the internet's pernicious effects on society & culture. A new Chapter, 'Web 2.0 and Politics', written early in 2008, stated that as opposed to the internet "TV, newspapers, books and other traditional media will remain the primary vehicles of information-and for this we can be grateful" [b]. By polling day, he accepted that "old mainstream media and the supposedly new media of the internet have become so entangled in America that it is becoming increasingly hard to cleanly separate one from the other" [c]. Two additional points:
First, not all Obama money was raised online-50% came from traditional wealthy politically powerful elites, and "his key political relationships...were all forged in the classically analog environments of the US Senate or on the streets of Chicago rather than in the abstraction of cyberspace".
Second, the "Obama Presidency will be a singularly top-down organisation...resembling his tightly run campaign, Obama's administration will sell the appearance of democratization through direct email campaigns, personalized text-messaging announcements and intimate flickr photo spreads, but will actually be a highly centralized marketing operation" [d].
BSD's 'Obama For America' campaign had four key features:
1) Technologically sophisticated--a bewildering array: Face-Book, Twitter, viral emails, merchandise, banner advertising, graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation, You-Tube videos (from below & above), photo galleries, phone banks, user blogs, advocacy tools, redirection sites etc. All cutting-edge.
2) Financially manipulative--the success of the Obama campaign in general is most critically measured by its fundraising success" [e]. As Ben Self, BSD co-founder put it, "the more they were asked, the more they gave. In most emails, there was a request for a donation of $5~a small sum. Even voters experiencing economic troubles can commit to $5. Once they have donated, they then have a vested interest in the success of the campaign" [f].
3) Emotionally manipulative--a "powerful suite of community content generation and social networking tools facilitate a range of real-time person-to-person activities, from user profiles to blogs to online forums, that will leave your site visitors with the feeling that your online community is richly alive with content and commitment...your active users can encourage each other to post, participate, and get more deeply involved" [g]. A feeling is not necessarily a reality.
4) Centralised--the "BSD management dashboard ...enables authorized staff to control the look and feel of landing pages, create new fundraising and action campaigns, produce an outbound email fundraising program, manage a community content and blog program...Statistics are tabulated automatically, so that the campaign's program managers could monitor performance on a continuing basis and modify promotions to maximise response and results" [h]. Clients can "create and manage petition campaigns that help you to identify your most committed activists, channel their energy, and lead to viral activity and more sign ups. Petition content and look and feel are fully controllable" [i]-but not by activists.
Although the campaign styled itself 'grassroots', this was a marketing ploy. One incisive observer commented Obama's "brand communication strategy cleverly exploited the fact that no consumer can resist an approach that talks about them and helps them feel they are in control" [j]. That word feeling again...all told, a great achievement. Don't, however, mistake any of this for sovereign democratic political participation.
TO READ THIS NFB 9 ARTICLE IN FULL, IN EITHER A HARD COPY MAGAZINE OR AS A PDF, CLICK ON THE SHOP ICON ABOVE
a) http://www.bluestatedigital.com 'Case Study: my.barackobama.com' (last accessed 23/7/09)
b) Andrew Keen 'The Cult of the Amateur' DoubleDay (New York) 2008 p.214
c) 'Did the Internet elect Barack Obama?' 7/11/08 on www.cultoftheamateur.com/ (last accessed 30/7/09)
e) see footnote (a)
f) 'Who is Ben Self www.dominiquehind:wordpress.com 16/2/09
g) 'Community tools' on the BSD site
h) see footnote (a)
i) bluestatedigital.com 'Advocacy Tools' section.
j) Paul Temporal 'Building Brand Obama' 25/11/08 on www.temporalbrand.com (last accessed 30/7/09)