Archive - Sep 21, 2007
It has been a few days since I’ve written up thoughts about what is going on in the Second Life markets. Some of it is because I’ve been sick and I’ve been busy with other things, but another part of it is that the markets have just sucked recently.
Yesterday, I wrote about the amendment to an appropriations bill which complained about MoveOn. I compared the actions of Sen. Cornyn to that of Superintendent Schwartz in the Avery Doninger case. They both have reacted in ways that have empowered their opponents. In Avery Doninger’s case, people have been contributing to her defense fund. I hope you do the same. In the MoveOn case, they sent an email today saying they’ve already received half a million dollars in response to the criticism they’ve been receiving and hope to break a million. If you can contribute a little bit there as well, please do. I would hope that people look at these two examples before they make a federal case of people expressing contrary views.
While I would not have used the phrase ‘General BetrayUs’ in pointing out that Petreaus appears more interested in his own advancement than in the general good of our country, I think MoveOn is doing an important job of getting people to look at his apparent sycophancy. Conservatives are trying to distract people from focusing on Petreaus’ sycophancy by focusing on a poor choice of words. This is a pretty common tactic and it is not unlike Superintendent Schwartz trying to get people to avoid looking at her anger management issues and financial management issues by trying to focus on a poor choice of words by Avery Doninger.
Yet there are a couple important issues with MoveOn that bear looking at. Many progressives that I know of complain the traditional broadcast format of communications that MoveOn uses. MoveOn sends out all the emails. People have spoken about feeling not heard when they respond, and unless you get to some MoveOn event, you don’t ever communicate with other MoveOn members. Even if you do attend a MoveOn event, the connections rarely seem to go beyond the event.
Yet there is an even more interesting issue that has been brought up about MoveOn. MoveOn uses events, like Sen. Cornyn’s ill-advised amendment, to do effective fundraising. Their emails are also very effective in getting members to contact rules making organizations to express opinions about a proposed rule.
Dr. Stuart W. Shulman, Director of the Sara Fine Institute School of Information Sciences at University of Pittsburgh has an interesting paper, Perverse Incentives: The Case against Mass Email Campaigns where he explores the efficacy of mass email campaigns to federal rules making bodies. It is still a working draft, but it raises several interesting issues.
should we welcome, resist, or seek to steer this drift towards an unreflective and non-deliberative form of click-through democracy?
The quote from the beginning of his paper reflects conclusions that he appears to have already arrived at, that these emails generate unreflective and non-deliberative responses. In his research he has been studying the responses of numerous people to various requests from online advocacy organizations and notes that in most cases, people simply forward the message that has been sent them. In some cases, they add a little additional information.
He spends a lot of time explaining his methodology, but ends up noting that
Nonetheless, MoveOn commenters are most likely to modify their form letters with the types of comments regulators least need to hear, while they are much less likely to focus on core economic or scientific issues that are the statute-mandated basis for a decision.
Now there is nothing to say that MoveOn couldn’t approach its email blasts in a manner that would encourage members to contribute new information from personal experiences that would be relevant to the rule making process. Let’s hope that they move in that direction. We are still finding our way around online advocacy and there are many lessons to be learned. Hopefully people will learn from Dr. Shulman, as well as Sen. Cornyn, Superintendent Schwartz in how better to deal with the world of online advocacy.