When it comes to electorates, there’s low-information, and then there’s low-information. State legislative elections features a lot of candidates that voters aren’t very familiar with, for example. An open city council primary like the one we just had in Carbondale — in which 16 candidates were whittled down to 12 for the general — is likely to rely on personal networking as much as anything else. But judicial elections are another beast entirely: Most people don’t really get what judges do, particularly at the appellate level and above (see, for example, Gregory Casey’s “The Supreme Court and Myth”).
So part of electing justices turns out to be lots of irrelevant scare-tactics about how Judge So-and-so wants to let child molesters loose in the schools, but another important part is elite cuing in the form of endorsements. You may not really know anything about the candidates or the job they’re running for, and you may not have the helpful cue of party identification, but it’s easy to sort out the latent partisanship of each candidate’s endorsements. Having said, Wisconsin will have a Supreme Court election in April, between incumbent David Prosser and challenger Joanne Kloppenburg. Let’s look at some of the prominent names in their lists of endorsers:
Prosser – Three former governors, a former lt. governor, apparently every Republican in the state legislature, many county sheriffs and DAs, and the county executive of Waukesha County
Kloppenburg – The county executive of Dane County, the mayor of Madison, several county supervisors, various aldermen, one state representative, and many private citizens.
Non-partisan election status aside, Prosser is the Republican and Kloppenburg the Democrat in this race. Notice the difference between how the parties understand this? The entire Wisconsin GOP is lined up behind Prosser, providing the kind of elite cuing that tells Republican voters how they should cast their ballot, even if they don’t know the first thing about Prosser or Kloppenburg as judges. Wisconsin Democrats, on the other hand, have apparently decided to sit this one out. Keep in mind, like all non-presidential elections, this is a turnout election — getting voters informed and interested in the election is the key to winning, particularly for a challenger. So where are the state legislative caucuses? Where is private citizen Russ Feingold and his considerable organizing and mobilizing weight? This is the first opportunity to demonstrate the energy of the anti-Scott Walker protests can be channeled into something sustained, and it has the added benefit of being a race that will impact the inevitable court decisions about what Walker’s trying to do.
Filed: We R in Control || 17:33, February 27 || No Comments »
After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them. Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression that there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.
But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.
The piece goes on to describe the process by which “persona management” companies provide “pre-aged” fake personae, which have built-in histories of social media use, various profiles and accounts, etc. Apparently the Air Force has just signed a big contract for these types of sophisticated sockpuppets, which is seems have “the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate.” Really? I kind of can’t imagine that anyone of note takes newspaper site comments that seriously. If the past several years have taught us anything, it’s that online discourse is a powerful tool for political organization, but probably not much in the way of a discursive public sphere. Has there ever been an instance of public policy deriving from the balance of blog posts favoring one side or another? Of sentiment analysis driving legislation? No matter how many sockpuppets elite organizations deploy — even if that number were zero — we have better ways of measuring public opinion than looking at what people are saying online. And if our concern is providing a productive environment for learning about policy issues, well, online discussion already doesn’t do that.