Friday, March 23, 2018

We didn't start the fire? Yes, we did!

I don't make friends. And I piss off friends that I manage to make.  All because I want honest conversations, and it turns out that how much ever people are educated and worldly and sophisticated, well, unlike me most are good at making unprincipled tradeoffs as long as their objectives are met.  What an awful loser I am!

I would love to talk with rabid Barack Obama fans about his use of social media, given all the brouhaha over trump and bannon dealing with cambridge analytica.

Keep in mind that I am no trump sympathzier--I have not only been anti-trump from the day he announced his candidacy, I have banished from my social life trump voters, including friends and neighbors.

Back when Senator Obama launched his candidacy, he and his campaign worked the social media, which was a new thing at that time.  A couple of days after his historic election, the NY Times reported:
For Mr. Kennedy, it was television. For Mr. Obama, it is the Internet.
“Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee,” said Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post.
We set out on a new election campaign approach--the internet and the social media.

The highly organized Obama team correctly figured that "the electorate could be seen as a collection of individual citizens who could each be measured and assessed on their own terms."
After the voters returned Obama to office for a second term, his campaign became celebrated for its use of technology—much of it developed by an unusual team of coders and engineers—that redefined how individuals could use the Web, social media, and smartphones to participate in the political process. A mobile app allowed a canvasser to download and return walk sheets without ever entering a campaign office; a Web platform called Dashboard gamified volunteer activity by ranking the most active supporters; and “targeted sharing” protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade.
But underneath all that were scores describing particular voters: a new political currency that predicted the behavior of individual humans. The campaign didn’t just know who you were; it knew exactly how it could turn you into the type of person it wanted you to be.
"Turn you into the type of person it wanted you to be."  That is from a 2012 essay in MIT Technology Review.  Political advertising had been successfully weaponized. PhDs were writing algorithms to microtarget voters.
Few events in American life other than a presidential election touch 126 million adults, or even a significant fraction that many, on a single day. Certainly no corporation, no civic institution, and very few government agencies ever do. Obama did so by reducing every American to a series of numbers. Yet those numbers somehow captured the individuality of each voter, and they were not demographic classifications. The scores measured the ability of people to change politics—and to be changed by it.
Yep, every American was reduced to a series of numbers, who could be influenced by well-targeted ads.

We had started down a slope that was soon bound to end up in the hands of evil.  JFK mastered the television medium, yes.  But then it was also the same television through which another election was swung with the notorious Willie Horton ad. 

Yes, the trump team committed flagrant fouls. Egregious ones.  But, most people are sports nutcases and they will easily understand the following comparison: It is not uncommon in team sports for coaches and players to intentionally commit fouls in order to win games.  I find it deplorable. But, that is how it is done in sports and in politics.  And, often, fans cheer when their team commits those fouls and win games, but jeer when the opponent does that and wins.  As Michael Kinsley put it in the context of John Kerry being swift-boated: "People tell pollsters they are sick of nasty politics, then they respond to it every time."

The problem is not that fouls are committed, but that people--even the religious ones--have bought into the bottom-line:  "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."


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