Obama looks to go viral (again) – Election campaign will be organized like FarmVille…

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Interesting attempt by the Obama team to once again tap into the potential virality of the web using a new addition to myBarackObama.com called Dashboard.

Quoted in the Guardian today, Eli Pariser (former Moveon.org and now CEO of the new sharing site Upworthy) says, “If Dashboard works as billed, it will import into politics the kind of feedback loops we are familiar with from Facebook and online games.”

As Ed Pilkington and Amanda Michel writing for the Guardian suggest:

“The hope is that it will become the election equivalent of the Facebook games CityVille and FarmVille, where online participants cooperate with their social networks to run a city or manage a farm. In this case, Dashboard’s creators hope to bring the power of the social networking right to the doorstep of the American voter.”

In an article for soon to be published special edition of the Scandinavian Journal Distinktion I have used the work of Gabriel Tarde to look at Obama’s campaign in 2008. Here Tarde offers an interesting take on persuasion theory in which populations are not merely swayed by fear or security needs alone. Religious and political institutions nourish their congregations by way of ‘unheard-of expenditures of love and of unsatisfied love at that’ (Tarde 1903, 202). I have already discussed the catching refrain of Obama-love in this context (Sampson 2011). This was an invention that appropriated the desire of voters taking flight from the fearsome GW Bush administration and transforming it into the refrain of hope and change. Much has been made about the role of social media in this capture of desire. Facebook certainly helped to spread activism through joyful encounters encouraging disaffected voters to pass on their devotion for this new idol. Activists readily and spontaneously engaged in fundraisers, parties and gatherings, ‘without any formal leadership from Obama headquarters’ (Sullivan 2008). Obama was indeed the new master of a Facebook Politics enabling his campaign of empathy to reach out far beyond the US. The emotionally charged and intimate Flickr pictures of his family poised in front of the television on the eve of his election spread through global media networks like a firestorm, painting a mood, and stirring up a worldwide love contagion.

What is important to stress here is not a dualistic relation between the fear mongering of GW Bush and Obama-love, but a mode of political persuasion that traverses the entire affective valence from the repeated TV images of the horror of 9/11 to these initial joyful encounters with Obama.

See the Guardian ariticle “Obama’s team of tech gurus to unleash ‘Holy Grail’ of digital campaigning” and link to Dashboard

About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Social Media (due 2020 with Polity Press). Tony is the organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK (see archive on this blog). As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Tony has been project lead on a number of funded projects that bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach. These activities have included large conferences, symposia and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres, co-organized with community groups and local authorities. Tony occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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