Hacking the campaign

TechPresident’s Joshua Levy does an excellent job showing that Barack Obama’s huge numbers on YouTube are likely gamed and inflated. And this makes me wonder whether his MySpace numbers are similarly manufactured. Add this to the anonymous anti-Hillary video made by a political operative and you get a disturbing, or at least unflattering, picture of some of Obama’s supporters. Some are trying to hack his campaign for him.

No one is saying that Obama’s staff is doing this. But it could hurt him nonetheless. That anti-Hillary commercial, coming from a hidden source, smelled of a dirty trick. Somebody’s engineering lies about at least his YouTube viewership. People will wonder how much of his buzz is elusive, the effort to goose it even desperate. See Peter Hauck’s post below asking whether the honeymoon is waning. Remember, too, the unwelcome attitude many in Iowa had to the invasion by hordes of Deaniacs with accents from elsewhere. It may be easy to hack a campaign, but I doubt whether it will be effective.

Last week in California, I was talking with some people who know about these things and they thought the Obama’s numbers were bogus but didn’t yet know how to prove it. TechPresident’s Levy shows how the number of visitors and views just don’t match up. The clearest evidence of fishiness is all this is TechPresident’s own YouTube chart, which they acknowledge looks darned suspicious:

tech president obama chart

But there’s a problem with all these numbers even if they aren’t bald-faced lies. We are so accustomed to the horse-race story in politics, the narrative media loves to push, that we are in a constant hunt for new numbers and new charts that tell that tale. Beware internet numbers, though. This is not a mass medium. It is a mass of niches. And even the biggest numbers are necessarily small. It’s the sum of all those small numbers that is huge. In other words, this is not a medium of winners and losers but of coalitions. Last week, amidst the Hillary 1984 commercial kefuffle, a half-dozen reporters called me working on the exact same story (which indicates a problem with reporting, but that’s a subject for another blog), and one of them asked whether the number of negative Hillary videos on YouTube indicated a loss of momentum for her (Mo is their favorite angle in the horse-race story). I laughed, which was more polite than scoffing with scorn. One person can make 10 anti-anybody videos. A hundred can make a thousand. And all that indicates is the thinking of 100 people, not the mood and mo of the nation. The numbers of views is similarly misleading, if you let them be: I watched the Hillary commercial because it was entertaining and being talked about, not because I agreed with it. No, the press hates this, but there’s only one number that matters — the election-day tally, of course — and that’s the one scoop they can’t have; it’s ours. So whether they’re gamed or not, view all these internet tallies with suspicion. They are for entertainment only, no wagering or governing with them allowed.

(Crossposted from PrezVid.)

  • Cooler Heads

    Sounds like Hillary has got you drinking the Koolaid too.

  • Paw

    I view all internet tallies with suspicion, Jeff. Unfortunately, the MSM are too lazy to do the same and will report what is most effortless rather than what is most accurate. Scariest part is that the longer the MSM repeat something as factual, the more people will believe it. Thus, while there may very well be no loss of momentum for Hillary Clinton in reality, if enough news programs and papers say there is, then there will be.

    To their credit, I believe the Obama supporters have correctly ascertained an ambiguity among Hillary supporters: even the people that love her question whether she actually believes in anything other than her God given right to be president. They are exploiting that ambiguity through the new media.

  • Years ago there was a scandal over a management book. Apparently, the consultant company sponsoring the book was buying it by the truckload. This meant that their book landed near or at the top of the business books best seller list, which in turn meant that they got lots of consulting business. The stakes are considerably higher in this game.

  • Granted, Paw…and it’s a pity that Mr. Obama’s message is nearly as ambiguous. Oratorical declamation does not equal Statesmanship, no matter what anyone thinks. A person may SOUND like John Carradine, but that doesn’t mean he or she has anything going on upstairs besides style.

    ‘Gaming’ is such a mercurial concept to pin down. Not only could it be Obama supporters gaming his stats…it could be Hillary supporters gaming Obama’s stats to make everyone think Obama supporters are the real gamers…OR…it could be Obama supporters gaming the stats to make everyone think that it’s Hillary supporters gaming the stats to make everyone think Obama supporters are doing the rigging…and we enter the ‘hall of mirrors’ effect…

    As Ron points out, rigging one’s own game is nothing new – it reminds me of a certain artist back in Chicago. His work was going nowhere (he was one of the early vanguard of the ‘bad art’ school that is so popular these days…most of his work reminds me of bad acid trips I would NEVER want on my walls.) Anyway, he had an inspiration: he borrowed about 200 grand, set up a show of his work, and invited a bunch of his friends to the opening, handing them out wads of the cash. “Here…just show up and buy my work,” he instructed them. They did…his works were flying off the walls…and now he’s a ‘successful’ artist…even though the bulk of his work is something any seventh grader could do with a copy of Photoshop on a 486: proof positive that stacking the deck CAN work for you. It’s not a new idea, and nothing would surprise me anymore, these days.

    Like you said, Jeff, it comes down to the votes. Let’s see which candidates stay ‘on message’ and pony-up the answers on YouTube…

  • Joe

    The Myspace numbers are legit.

    I know this to be true : ).

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  • It reminds me of the book publishers who would purchase their own books in the specific Barnes & Nobel and small book stores visited by the NYTimes in order to improve their ranking on the NYTimes best seller list. Its a little scarier when these lists impact the media’s presentation of presidential elections, which in turn influences voter behavior.

  • Graeme

    The 1984 video was posted on March 6th. When did people start flocking to it? Was it featured on a major news site or program around the 17th or 18th? Might that not explain the jump at that point, as people who do not usually populate YouTube discover the rest?

  • Owen

    The day myspace and YouTube numbers actually start to matter is the day…oh wait, that won’t ever happen.

  • Graeme, it is even more than that. When people searched for Obama and YouTube, his channel page is one of the top google results.

    For Jeff to to go from one individual making a video and some speculation about his YouTube channel page numbers (with no evidence) to “you get a disturbing, or at least unflattering, picture of some of Obama’s supporters. Some are trying to hack his campaign for him.” is something he’d probably (or at least ought to) criticize if someone else did it.

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  • Certainly wouldn’t be the first time technology has been abused in order to manipulate public politcal opinion, interesting analysis :)