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July 3, 2008

McCain, sockpuppets, and comment spam
Posted by Teresa at 12:06 AM * 95 comments

I swear, McCain’s websites feel like every scrap of intelligence that goes into them is being charged for at retail rates, and the campaign’s getting taken on the deal.

I first noticed McCain’s comment spam solicitation page on his campaign website some weeks ago. The program, called Spread the Word, offers his supporters “McCain points” for posting his campaign’s talking points du jour on a list of target weblogs. It attracted a fair amount of criticism when it went up. I didn’t write about it at the time because I was sure McCain’s campaign strategists would immediately see what a terrible idea it was, and take it down.

Silly me. As Markos Moulitsas said in The GOP’s Sockpuppets:

“John McCain is aware of the Internet.”

This dubious assurance—an instant Internet classic—was offered by John McCain aide Mark Soohoo at a recent technology conference, where he had the unenviable task of defending his boss’s previous confession of computer ignorance (“I’m an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance I can get.”). Unsurprisingly, Soohoo’s argument that “you don’t actually have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country” did not convince the assembled digerati.

The self-confessed tech ignorance from the head of the GOP pervades the party from top to bottom, as Republicans have failed miserably this decade to keep up with critical technological advances and the societal changes they have spawned. While Democrats build on the innovations pioneered by Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003, Republicans at all levels are being left far behind in today’s socially networked world.

Rather than adapt and innovate, as Democrats have done, frustrated Republicans are resorting to clumsy guerrilla action—attempting to sabotage their opponents’ online efforts by creating “sockpuppets,” or fake online personas.

Or by getting their supporters to post comment spam.

To my amazement, the Spread the Word page is still on McCain’s official campaign site, and is still linked from the front page. I have to think the comment spam project itself is a washout, because if it were working, we’d have noticed by now. That failure doesn’t excuse the attempt. I’m still offended that they even tried it. The hell do these people understand the internet.

Some notes on the implementation:

Spread The Word

Help spread the word about John McCain on news and blog sites. Your efforts to help get the message out about John McCain’s policies and plan for the future is one of the most valuable things you can do for this campaign. You know why John McCain should be the next President of the United States and we need you to tell others why.

I think they were trying to enlist relatively naive web users who don’t normally post comments on political weblogs. This may help explain why the program was a washout. Lurkers seldom turn into commenters. If they do it at all, they do it on their own schedule.
Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here,
When you choose Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Other from their pull-down menu, you’re offered a list of target weblogs. The list of right-wing weblogs is by far the longest. You’d think they’d be trying to reach out to a wider audience.
go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known.
This may be the other reason the program went nowhere. They don’t actually want their supporters’ own opinions. Further on down the page, they give them the talking points of the day. It’s a brain-jamming contradictory message: We want you to express your opinions, and we’ll tell you what to say when you do.
Once you’ve commented on a post, video or news story, report the details of your comment by clicking the button below.
Notice how many things those instructions leave out: You’re a guest in someone else’s conversation. Don’t just barge in. Read their current comment threads and follow the links in the initial entries before you start posting. If you don’t understand what they’re talking about, look it up on Wikipedia. Talk to people, not at them. Say something pertinent that’s a response to earlier statements. Come back and read your replies, if you get any. And so forth: basic online behavior, as laid out eons ago in hundreds of forum rule sets and Usenet newsgroup FAQs. But the site doesn’t tell McCain’s followers any of that stuff.

This means that if the campaign had succeeded in aiming their stream of naive users at other sites’ comment threads, they’d have made a complete hash of the conversations. You’ve seen newbies in action. They’d have turned up on targeted weblogs, posted semi-random comments in random locations (current threads, guestbooks, administrator alert forms, user profile pages, old archived threads), and then left and never come back. If this program is a measure of the McCain campaign’s respect for the online political discourse, they’ve got no respect for it at all. If it’s a measure of their internet savvy, they flunk.

After your comments are verified, you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action Center.
The only McCain Online Action Center is the comment spam page itself, and it doesn’t say how many points you’ll get per comment, or what the points are good for. That’s lousy organization and site design. McCain has an entire line of campaign merchandise. How much trouble would it have been to add a t-shirt, feed cap, tote bag, and cheap windbreaker with a “McCain: Spread the Word!” design, plus a note saying they’re only available in exchange for comment points?
Today’s Talking Points
More bad organization: the text under “Today’s Talking Points” hasn’t changed since the page went up. You get your choice of two versions:
The Issue: Time for Solutions
John McCain will put the national interest ahead of partisanship, he will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again. If John McCain is elected President, the era of the permanent campaign will end. The era of problem solving will begin. Read More…

The Issue: Partisanship
There are serious issues at stake in this election, and serious differences between the candidates. And we will argue about them, as we should. But it should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands; each of us, despite our differences, united in our great cause, and respectful of the goodness in each other. Read More…

(No kidding? An end to deliberately destructive partisanship? I’ll believe that line out of Republicans when they throw Grover Norquist the hell out of their party and burn him in effigy.)

Both of those “read more” links go to the same place: a transcript of the McCain speech from which they were excerpted. That is: they aren’t real talking points. They’re placeholders. This is an unfinished web page, and it’s been live on McCain’s official website for weeks. That’s amateurish to a startling degree. If the program wasn’t ready to go, McCain’s people shouldn’t have gone live with it. If they’re having second thoughts about the idea, they should have taken down the link from the front page.

It makes me want to explain the online world to McCain when there’s a camera running: “I’m the moderator of a weblog called Boing Boing. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; almost no one reads it. This guy Flickr is one of our regular commenters. He’s got a really impressive photography website. He’s also a contributor to The Live Journal, which is an open-content project like Wikipedia, except instead of an encyclopedia they compile a monthly general-interest magazine. You can buy a printed copy of it through Fark.com. Both The Live Journal and Flickr’s photo site are Web 2.0, which means their code is finished and has no bugs in it…” And all the while McCain would be smiling, and nodding sagely, as if to say, “Yes, of course—I was already aware of that. After all, it’s the internet.”

Comments on McCain, sockpuppets, and comment spam:
#1 ::: Rulial ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 01:55 AM:

*delurk*

I think blogs ought to consider adding a checkbox in the comment form that says "I am being compensated to post this comment", or something to that effect. It shouldn't stop you form commenting--I have seen political aides make good comments on blogs--but it should put a flag on the post so people are aware. Of course, the McCain spammers might still neglect to check the box, but at least it would be more clear to the less net-savvy why such tactics are wrong.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:07 AM:

I'm certainly against paid commenting, but what appalled me about the idea when it first came out was the way it would trash conversations on the target weblogs. Now, there's a sure-fire way to win friends and influence people...

#3 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:07 AM:

Ah, a typical half-done mostly-abandoned beta project. It sounds like the McCain campaign gets this whole "web" thing at a deeper level than you're giving them credit for. :)

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:10 AM:

In that case, shouldn't it have a "This Site Under Construction" sign at the top?

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:16 AM:

In your scenario, Teresa, shouldn't Senator McCain pat you on the head once he's done nodding?

#6 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:23 AM:

*giggling madly at the camera running scenario*

#7 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:24 AM:

Didn't Ron Paul use the same sort of spamming tactics?

Really. What does that say about McCain that not only is he so hopelessly out of touch with the modern world, but he can't learn from the failures of his peers?

He really does remind me more and more of Dubya every day, and I honestly don't know whether to laugh or just shake my head at the embarrassment of it all.

#8 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:31 AM:

TNH @ 4 -- yes yes, with an animated construction worker guy. And a "Best viewed with Browser X" button.

This is sort of an aside, but damn, McCain's site is ugly under the hood. Neither site is going to make a serious Standards Nerd happy, but at least Obama's markup makes some sort of sense.

#9 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:33 AM:

Teresa @4: Actually, I don't think I've seen one of those in years (well, except at sites that were really quite old); I think they were just a Web 1.0 thing. Or maybe a Web 0.9 thing.

#10 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:48 AM:

I mean seriously, what is up with that hidden __VIEWSTATE param? He's got 26K of crapola to what, track the user's state? He could use that to track the state of all the baryons in the visible universe, many, many times over. WTF were they thinking?

#11 ::: old ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 03:17 AM:

I would agree 100% that they don't get the internet. This looks to me like the tactics that they use for 'Letters to the Editors' section of newspapers, and complaints to the FCC. They don't realize maybe that their astroturf will be covered with a tarp and rained out but the comments to follow.

It would be interesting in a backfired sort of way if one of their posters actually read follow up comments to their cut and paste posts and had their mind changed.

Too bad about the etiquette aspect of it all. Maybe someone should start an internet finishing school. I wonder if there would be any money in that?

#12 ::: Ian Seckington ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 05:19 AM:

Evan @10: That's an unfortunate side-effect of using ASP.Net technology and enabling session tracking. In this case, it's not Senator McCain's misunderstanding of the internet but Microsoft's technical architects.

Still, from this side of the Atlantic, I'm actually quite pleased the McCain campaign still fails at the internets...

#13 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:00 AM:

"The list of right-wing weblogs is by far the longest."

Hum ... is there a parallel universe out there of right-wing weblogs, social networks, and so on? There's Conservapedia, after all. Given that McCain seems to have a problem with ""true conservatives"" who refuse to back him, this might make sense as an operation mainly targeted on the bits of Interweb that such people use.

#14 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:14 AM:

I think McCain is a hardcore conservative, certainly much more conservative than his "maverick" reputation would have led me to think. However, if I believe the news media, conservatives aren't actually happy with their choice of nominee (although I doubt this will stop them from voting for him). In that case, I could see his campaign wanting to build up support on among conservatives. Hence, the long list of conservative blogs. Spread the Word, had it gotten any traction though, would have backfired on him.

It is really sad how clueless McCain is with all of this. Unless the unbearable happens, he'll still be a senator come January. His presidential campaign is making me wonder if he's actually qualified for that job (to say nothing of the presidency).

#11: The chief obstacle to a successful internet finishing school is that the people who most need it won't go to it. Either they don't realize they need help, or they want to be the troll. Fortunately, most people eventually get the memo.

Besides, it's the internet. Surely, 9 out of 10 internet finishing schools will be scams?

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:39 AM:

Not an internet finishing school. An O'Reilly title.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:21 AM:

Might I suggest that, once more, the dictum of John Stuart Mill that stupid people are generally Conservative is once more proven?

#17 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:25 AM:

Motivating people to go out and be heard is a tactic used by both sides, after all. Moveon.org sends me email about writing congresspeople, and always includes a sample letter I can use (I never do, of course; if I write, I write my own words). Doesn't seem that different from the "talking points" you mention above (though it's different in being more current, and in other ways).

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:32 AM:

I suspect most people use their own words. After all, why write if it isn't yours? What a sample letter is good for is suggesting pace, approach, and length.

#19 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:48 AM:

Teresa: Your interview idea is beautifully evil....

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 09:30 AM:

And my #16 was struck by the Department of Redundancy Department. Ugh.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 09:35 AM:

There are (...) serious differences between the candidates

Bozo the Clown was a Democrat.

#22 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 09:38 AM:

Anybody here an I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue fan? Its a great BBC Radio show. When I read:
"...you will be awarded points through the McCain Online Action Center."
All I could think of was Humphrey Lyttelton saying "And Points mean prizes. What do points mean?" (This is one of those things that is really funny if you've been listening to the show for years, but makes first time listeners wonder what all the fuss is about.)
Here is a list of what McCain should award as prizes! A sample: This week's prize is certain to wipe out even the most uncomfortable of embarrassing personal ailments - it's this Preparation-H Bomb.

#23 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 09:47 AM:

It's kind of fun to Google for those texts on his page. They don't actually show up online very much (TPM!) but when they do, it appears that somebody asks immediately how many points the poster got.

Yeah. Internet awareness -- it's not just for breakfast any more.

#24 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 09:54 AM:

If somebody really wanted to poison the well, they'd comment-spam those for him. There's a comment on RedState where the title is the title of the post, the first sentence "Personally, I think it's great that" + title, the next paragraph from his page, and the last sentence "Therefore, I think it's great that" + title.

Even conservatives online don't like that...

#25 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:06 AM:

"My name is John McCain, I'm running for president. I believe that a campaign should be a conversation ...

So shut the hell up and listen to me tell you how much I care about you."


And I love the "truthiness" inherent in the Markos Moulitsas quote.

John McCain is aware of the internet: He's heard of it, knows it exists, and knows it has something to do with computers.
[He's also aware of the economy, and in the same way, except change "computers" to "getting elected."] The fact he's never used it and probably thinks it's a special type of software doesn't change the fact he's "aware" ...

#26 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:09 AM:

Sorry, that should read Mark Soohoo quote.

#27 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:24 AM:

Dan @ 7: Don't say his name! *looks around frantically*

#28 ::: mdlake ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:32 AM:

One might think your paraphrase is satire, until realizing it's not so very far from "You have free speech so I can be heard" in Rudy's infamous freedom-is-about-authority speech. Or from Bush the lesser's formulaic proclamations that he understands people are angry, desperate, grieving, frustrated, skeptical, being driven into poverty, or otherwise upset at the screwing he's giving them.

We've already got people expressing the sentiment quite literally.

#29 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:35 AM:

If John McCain is elected President, the era of the permanent campaign will end.

What scares me is that I'm afraid that's true.

#30 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:40 AM:

Ian @ 12 - Thanks for the explanation. So that code wasn't dreamed up by a random team of overpriced Republican consultants, it came from people who supposedly really are supposed to fundamentally understand Internet tech. Wow again.

Michael @ 23 - immediately asking how many points they earned -- excellent, that's the perfect response.

#31 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:01 AM:

Teresa please please please consider editing the last line of your post to:

And all the while McCain would be smiling, and nodding sagely. Joe Lieberman would lean over and whisper something to him then McCain would say "Yes, of course—I am aware of all internet memes."

#32 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:06 AM:

I'm envisioning a YouTube piece with Teresa and John McCain: Teresa explaining, McCain nodding sagely, and the rest of net watching in dumb amaze.

#33 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Blog Comments For Dummies!

So you're aware of the Internet, you've got a point you want to make. You've got some email, a homepage, and a blog, but nobody's reading them. What you want to do is to leverage the long tail power of grassroots2.0 and comment on other peoples' blogs, and this book will show you how.

Complete with user-friendly icons and helpful tips, you too can get your favourite politician elected, get your least favourite legislation repealed, get your least favourite minority group into internment camps, and become a net.celebrity with a full glossy head of hair!

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Oh, Teresa, I sure hope McCain buys your free term paper, free term paper, free term paper!

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:23 AM:

#33
'All for the low low price of $19.95!
-- But wait, there's more!'

#36 ::: Papawhale ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Jeebus, Teresa, just writing about all this is giving the dumbass so-called hero/war criminal too much attention...some intern may read makinglight and get some good ideas. You could swing the election in his favor! hahahahaha...

#37 ::: Redshift ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 11:43 AM:

The absolute best result of the McCain comment spam program is how it created an instant boilerplate response for trolls on political blogs that is relatively good-humored and avoids most of the problems created when people can't resist engaging them:

"Okay, you've earned your McCain Points. Bye now."

#38 ::: Redshift ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 12:01 PM:

#17 - David, I think the difference is that those letter-writing campaigns are directed at offices or newspapers where that's the standard form of communication. The McCain comment spam program is more like if MoveOn sent you a letter and a list of parties or meetings to go to and recite it from memory, regardless of whether anyone's talking about the topic.

#39 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 01:37 PM:

I suspect most people use their own words. After all, why write if it isn't yours? What a sample letter is good for is suggesting pace, approach, and length.

Alas, I think your opinion of the initiative and amount of energy "most" people is higher than mine. I've written sample lobbying letters for our community, and the copies that people send me of what they signed and sent to our legislators are often simply my words on their letterhead.

#40 ::: Kristi Wachter ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 01:39 PM:

"Help spread the word about John McCain on news and blog sites. Your efforts to help get the message out about John McCain’s policies and plan for the future is one of the most valuable things you can do for this campaign."

You know, I think this is true. I really should be posting comments on more blogs, spreading the word about McCain, his policies, and his plans for the future:

"Great post about McCain. Did you know about his plan for a wall at the border? I can't even imagine how much that will cost. I wonder if he remembers Reagan's 'tear down this wall' speech?"

"Hm. McCain and foreign policy, eh? I'm afraid he lost me when he started supporting torture after roundly opposing it. I think it's a terrible policy, and sends troubling and dangerous messages to our allies and our enemies."

I get the impression that a lot of people think McCain isn't a great candidate but are unaware of how appalling he is.

When I picketed Scientology, I often used the phrase "Scientology - it's worse than you think" to tempt people to take my fliers. Seems like I need to do my bit for McCain's campaign by spreading the word about his policies and plans - making sure people know he's worse than they think.

#41 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:04 PM:

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Rachel @#39, not because I've received those kind of letters, but because I've sent them. Well, sort of.

What has happened the times I've sent letters that came supplied with boilerplate was that I usually wrote a paragraph or two of my own, and then referenced the rest of the letter and specifically said, "I didn't write that, but I have read it and I can't say it any better. I agree with that 100%, and I want you to do [or not do] X."

Persuasive writing is not something I'm particularly good at, and I figure that a partially-cribbed letter, especially one that acknowledges the cribbing and specifically states that I'm aware of the content and agree with it, is better than no letter at all, which is what I'll send if I think about it too hard. Sad, but true.

#42 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Is any of this related to that email John McCain sent me claiming he's the widow of a Nigerian dictator? I'm a reply away from him dumping $20 million in my bank account.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:23 PM:

R.M.Koske @ 41... Persuasive writing is not something I'm particularly good at

I guess I shouldn't start letters with "You fool! You idiot! You incompetent!".

#44 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 02:35 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 18:
I suspect most people use their own words. After all, why write if it isn't yours?

You are assuming it's easy for most people to write. I suspect that's based on your own experience and the people you know. For a lot of people, even some quite intelligent people, writing is an agonizingly difficult effort.

#45 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Clifton@44 -- I wouldn't say I find writing agonizing (I was a technical writer for a while, even), but writing a fresh letter for each MoveOn request would take more time than I'm willing to devote to the project. I click and (cough) move on.

#46 ::: McCain Supporter ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 05:43 PM:

Today, John McCain detailed what he envisions achieving as President by the end of his first term in 2013.

John McCain will put the national interest ahead of partisanship to build an America that is safer, freer and more prosperous than when he was elected.

When John McCain is President, the era of the permanent campaign will end. He will work with anyone who wants to get this country moving again and will listen to any idea intended to solve our problems, not make them worse.

In forming government policy, John McCain will work with members of Congress from both parties.

John McCain's administration will set new standards for transparency and accountability.

John McCain will not leave our problems for another unluckier generation of Americans to fix after they have become even harder to solve.

John McCain also outlined his views on presidential power. The President's powers are rightly checked by the other branches of government, and John McCain will not attempt to acquire powers granted to Congress. He will exercise his veto but not subvert legislation through statements.

#47 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:01 PM:

I figure it isn't any harder to write a short letter than it is to comment here. Maybe easier: they don't expect poetry. Or the Spanish Inquisition.

#48 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Mad (32), in my fantasy they pick me to talk to the candidate because I look like a nice older woman who doesn't know jack about computers, and will thus not notice that everything McCain is supposedly going to be doing is already loaded up as a one-click presentation. I shut down the presentation software with surreptitious keyboard command, then start explaining. McCain goes along with it because he thinks we're still following a script. The news cameras are rolling. No one can stop me now.

#49 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Teresa, shouldn't #48 end with 'Bwahahaha!'?

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Hi there, McCain Supporter! Welcome to Making Light!

How many McCain Points did you earn? How many will you need to have in order to trade them in for a lampshade?

There's one thing that confuses me, though. When you say that John McCain's administration will set new standards for transparency and accountability, what do you mean? After all, George Bush set new standards transparency and accountability but no one is terribly happy with them.

#51 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:15 PM:

I don't think he can get points. ML isn't one of the weblogs in the list of weblogs in the Gimme Points! submission box.

Maybe we can send him some Green Stamps.

#52 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:30 PM:

pericat #51:

Wouldn't he qualify for some form of Bingo Points?

#53 ::: Mr. Gunn ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:32 PM:

No, unfortunately, ML isn't in the list, but still, SOMEBODY had to do it.

#54 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 06:38 PM:

You are assuming it's easy for most people to write. I suspect that's based on your own experience and the people you know. For a lot of people, even some quite intelligent people, writing is an agonizingly difficult effort.

Exactly. One more voice in the chorus, here: folks who are motivated enough to send a letter aren't necessary as motivated to attempt to draft one. It's not a matter of laziness so much as pragmatism -- I've seen the same thing firsthand from energetic young activists, true believers who just don't see themselves as particularly worthy writers.

As someone who really enjoys writing, seeing that sort of thing made for a weird and slightly uncomfortable personal revelation. But as far as that goes, I'm feel at least less cynical about someone taking five minutes to mostly-copy out a letter longhand than someone hitting "Forward" in their email client.

#55 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Rachel, #39: I always rewrite those letters, both because I think individual wording is more persuasive and because often there are facets of my opinion that the letter doesn't mention.

McCain Troll: Wow, that was a lot of words to say nothing of substance. But I doubt you'll be back -- you're just in it for the points anyhow.

#56 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:17 PM:

I suspect that Mr. Supporter was making a dead-pan joke. If so, kudos at least for a mechanically flawless execution.

#57 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:57 PM:

I like to write, Teresa, but I've still sent boilerplate letters from places like MoveOn (was it them? do they do that? It's been a couple of years.)

This McSame boilerplate, though -- it sucks. You'd have to be a Republican to think it sounds good.

#58 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:59 PM:

"Thanks, McCain Supporter. Now, if you'll just tell us your McCain Action Center ID Number, we'd be happy to vouch for your work..."

"Huh?"

"Oh, it's probably the same as your social security number..."

#59 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 07:59 PM:

Cilfton Royston @ 56: To say nothing of flawlessly mechanical.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:06 PM:

There is a secondary effect to this which interests me.

Suppose an internet newbie McCain supporter decides to venture into the blogosphere and spread the word to the liberals. They post a set of talking points, and the thread degenerates into one of those exasperated discussions that anyone who has posted anything about evolution is all to familiar with.

What does the newbie learn from this experience? Why, that liberals really are as rude, hostile and angry as talk radio makes them out to be.

Maybe this isn't just about convincing us. Maybe it's also about keeping the troops clear on how bad we are.

Which makes a calm reply ("Yes, yes, you've earned your points, now run along.") the best solution. Anything hotter plays into the politics of divisiveness.

#61 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:21 PM:

I'm volunteering to work with the campaign to rebrand their internet outreach program.

Our pre-composed targeted comments will now be called Straight Talk Opposition Outreach Lines (STOOLs). Battalions of United Line Leavers (BULLs) who drop particularly outstanding STOOLs can earn McPoints that can be redeemed for a wide range of rewards including: ambassadorial positions, federal judgeships, executive pardons, and defense contracts!

#62 ::: old ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:14 PM:

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 08:06 PM:
...

What does the newbie learn from this experience? Why, that liberals really are as rude, hostile and angry as talk radio makes them out to be.

Maybe this isn't just about convincing us. Maybe it's also about keeping the troops clear on how bad we are.

It is pretty diabolical! I was hoping that the talking points would be refuted politely, and maybe the tactic would backfire on McCain, by changing some minds But I think in the real world your scenario is true and mine probably wishful thinking.

#63 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2008, 10:50 PM:

Perhaps the response that works best here isn't just dismissive, but pointing out that they've been set up?

"Look, those talking points you're quoting from are all over the internet by now. Sending you off to spam them all over the blogosphere is like dressing you in Klansman robes and kicking you out of the car in the middle of Anacostia."

The goal here is to get across a message Teresa once put very well: Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side.

#64 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 03:21 AM:

Serge, #21, the guy who played Bozo the Clow died to, er, yesterday.

#65 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 03:22 AM:

And I read that in preview, too, but missed that I'd left the n off Clown until just after I hit Post. Hmph.

#66 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 08:00 AM:

Rachel @ 39: "Alas, I think your opinion of the initiative and amount of energy "most" people is higher than mine. I've written sample lobbying letters for our community, and the copies that people send me of what they signed and sent to our legislators are often simply my words on their letterhead."

I was going to say something like that, but since you already went through the effort, I guess I'll just repeat your version.

#67 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 05:14 PM:

It's too bad that you have to post to a site on the special list of blogs to get points. It would be so much fun to earn McCain points for posts to a Potemkin blog.

#68 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 07:53 PM:

Clifton @ 44: In the words of the almost-English I use most of the day, "I have that pattern."

At previous jobs - not so much at my current employer - I've received high praise when I've documented something. (As in, the documentation team will say "wow, I didn't know we had a programmer who could write like that") And yet, as any former manager of mine can attest, getting documentation out of me is like pulling teeth. On my end, producing documentation feels like slogging uphill through three feet of thick mud. It's exhausting, and one little 5K-wordcount document will wipe me out for day, or close to it. (Hence why it's so hard for managers to get it out of me) For some reason, sitting with someone and walking them through something, or even giving a presentation to a group of people is not nearly as hard.

(At my current job I both do less documentation and work with people who are generally much less prone to the "engineer who can't communicate with normals" stereotype)

#69 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2008, 08:01 PM:

Teresa wrote: "And all the while McCain would be smiling, and nodding sagely, as if to say, “Yes, of course—I was already aware of that. After all, it’s the internet.”"

And McCain would excuse himself from the interview saying that he "has an appointment at the gym with a rickrolling trainer".

#70 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 03:46 AM:

The McCain astroturf page looks like something a newbie would have written in, oh, 1996....

And someone needs to take clips of McCain nodding sagely, film Teresa with her "explanations", cut the two together, and post it to YouTube. :D

#71 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 05:20 PM:

My own gut is that the 'consensus' is massively underestimating McCain's popular appeal.

I can't think of a state (New Mexico? Colorado?-- but against a Senator from a next door state?) that voted for Bush that is likely to be in the Obama camp.

Florida has retirees and ex military people: it will go for McCain.

And so it comes down to Ohio (again). And there, Obama will take the northern rust belt (as Kerry did) and McCain will take the Appalachian fringe. That leaves the southern part: I have been told Cincinnati is known as the most segregated city outside the south, and southern Ohio is certainly Bible Belt.

Try as I might, I can't see how Obama can win this: internet or no.

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 05:38 PM:

Valuethinker:

Nope. Florida doesn't like the GOP much this year. Not after Jeb and Charlie the tuna Crist. A lot of voters are looking at things and going, well, the Republicans have screwed things up, let's vote against them this time.
PA and Ohio and Michigan will be important, because they have a lot more votes in the electoral college, but the whole country is not going to go for McSame.

Look at the various charts and maps here.
This is Poblano's site, a respected polling geek: he got more right this spring than anyone else.

#73 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 09:35 PM:

I'd be surprised if Colorado doesn't go Obama by 5+ points; look for a pretty sizable bump in the pols right around/after the convention.

Of course, if Bush keeps getting photo-op'd fiddling while the economy burns, it might be 10+ points :)

#74 ::: Darin ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 10:28 PM:

#54 and #55 Regarding letters to elected officials - I've been wondering which approach won't get ignored. Typewritten, handwritten, or Email?

Should I stand outside their local office in a trenchcoat and pounce on them once they leave for lunch? Or perhaps waive Monopoly money in their face and claim I'm an important lobbyist.

The question really boils down to : What is the polite way to get a busy politician to reflect on your point of view?

#75 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Ooh, it looks like Virginia may swing as well. It's very interesting to watch this state go purple. Also, people around here will NOT be happy about McCain deciding to bail out mortgage corporations rather than people. The real estate bust hit harder here than almost anywhere I know. All the more reason to make sure everything's in order and get people out to the polls.

#76 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 11:55 PM:

Darin, there's no guarantee of any of those working.
Some of them, it's clear, don't actually pay any attention to what's sent; some will respond to phone calls, some to personal visits. Send actual paper letters to the local office, because DC offices still have their mail irradiated.
(Some of them are actively hostile to visitors and phone calls, and not necessarily the ones you'd expect.)

#77 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 12:35 AM:

Valuethinker, #71, Virginia went for Bush the last two times, but there's a good chance we'll go for Obama this time. We have two former governors dueling for John Warner's (R) seat, and Mark Warner (no relation), the Democrat, is almost certain to win. That will make more people think of change.

#78 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 01:47 PM:

Darin @ 74:

The last time a politician was asked that question in my presence (Canadian provincial Liberal), she said she took snail-mail more seriously than e-mail, because e-mails are so much easier to send. She also strongly preferred letters clearly from an individual, or at least added to by an individual, over obvious templates or mass mailings. She said nothing about handwriting versus typed, but I suspect typewritten is preferable unless you have particularly legible handwriting. She also gave the impression phoning would go over well.

#79 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Scary article today about Carly Fiorina touting McCain's tech credentials.

Money quote from the above article: "Fiorina said McCain understands the importance of the Internet and sees government-mandated net neutrality as a hindrance."

DO NOT WANT.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 05:09 PM:

#79
McCain's tech credentials are about as good as Confederate dollars. [/s]

He can't even use e-mail without help, how can he make reasonable decisions about technology?

#81 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 05:34 PM:

Darin @74:

I do a lot of work with political organizations, and the conventional wisdom right now is that postcards are the way to go. They have room for a brief, pithy comment; they are clearly from an individual, not a mass campaign; and they don't get held up in the mail-room security mess.

You can make your own using heavy paper, or the post office sells plain ones. (Generally, stay away from picture postcards, unless the picture is very relevant indeed.)

On preview, as per PJ Evans @76, there are no guarantees.

#82 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 05:50 PM:

#81
I'll add to this: you can buy printable postcard blanks, generally for 4-up printing, at office supply places.

You can also download a 'Spine' pdf file, ready to use.

#83 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:02 PM:

G. Jules #79

Carly Fiorina turned out to be a marketdroid moron who hollowed out what had been one of the great companies of the USA and the world, getting rid of the tech core/engineering focus, turning the US branch into a combination of marketing organization and we-will-buy-out-your-IT-department-and-run-you-IT-operations sharecropping business and moving large amounts (the majority?) of the design and development and production and customer support for end users (as opposed to corporate customers who outsourced their IT operations to HP)off to Asia and Eastern Europe.

HP turned into a combination of primarily Just Another made-in-China-computer-and-prinicipal-peripherals-seller and IT contract operations house.

What's left in North America is marketing and sales for North America and the corporate headquarters and the IT operations for large North American customers.

Once upon a time, HP was an engineering and computer giant which made everything from microwave chips that went into military equipment to oscilloscopes to bedsheet sized ptiners to computers from handhelds to "big iron" machines, which provides spec and engineering documentation and supported people trying to roll custom applications in hardware and software. There was Digital Equipment Corporation. There was Compaq. Now there is a seller of made in China stuff and IT services contractor which spun off the electronic instruments, and hundreds of thousands of people who once worked for Digital, HP, and Compaq in the USA who know what life feels like trying to jobhunt when the company they had expected to work for lifelong, shed them, and left them unprepared for trying to find work in a "downsized" and offshored universe.

#84 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 11:40 PM:

Lenora Rose, #78, sending snail mail to congresspeople in the US is pretty much useless. The anthrax attack (that killed two postal service employees) means that all letters go through special handling and they take a long time to actually get to the legislator. And I don't know of any US legislators who take phone calls.

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 11:45 PM:

Marilee # 84

Postcards. You can't hide much inside one, so they go through faster.

Many of them have staff people who will answer the phone, but your best chance of getting a live human is at the local office, not the one in DC. Heck, I've called my congresscritter's office a couple of times, and I know he's never - well, hardly ever - in his district; he's too busy in DC. (We tend to wonder when he finds time to sleep.)

#86 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 12:01 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 83

I don't have a lot of use for Carly Fiorina, myself, but she just put the final bullet in the head of HP; her predecessors had already riddled the body. I think it's very telling that HP, Digital, and HP's one-time biggest competitor, Tektronix* made their biggest gains on technology they developed, often based on research within their own corporate labs. HP in particular had a very good lab; I've worked with several people who worked there and I've always been impressed by the caliber of the people and the scope of their work. The first major sign that HP was being sold down the river was when the labs were downsized**, and re-focused on "market-relevant" research.

* Disclosure: I worked for Tek for 8 years, including 2 in the corporate labs.
** Don't call it right-sizing, call it cap-sizing!

#87 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Republicans have failed miserably this decade to keep up with critical technological advances

They have kept up with voting technology. They can use it to twist votes like no-one else.

#88 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 03:49 PM:

What about faxes for contacting politicians? I've been using an email-to-fax gateway for a few years, since I was under the impression that faxes carry more weight than email. You can send attachments, so it basically just prints out my nicely formatted Word document as a fax on the other end. I even have a .gif of my signature so it looks like I signed it.

Postcards sound like a good idea, but they don't fulfill my desire to send a message immediately. And I always get nervous on the phone and feel like I'll forget what I want to say.

#89 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2008, 09:58 AM:

>The self-confessed tech ignorance from the head of the GOP pervades the party from top to bottom, as Republicans have failed miserably this decade to keep up with critical technological advances and the societal changes they have spawned.

Isn't this just another example of the anti-intellectualism that pervades the Republican party?

#90 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2008, 07:38 AM:

[Spam from 117.197.197.22]

#92 ::: Carrie S. sses spam (I think) ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Going on the username being the same as the product involved.

#93 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2008, 08:24 AM:

Teresa: I think you should ask the McCain webmasters to add ML to the list of liberal sites.

It might be kind of fun to engage in a bit of internet dickery by following those instructions to the letter. Mind you we'd need a collective false name. Travis Tea, perhaps?

#94 ::: Singing Wren sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2011, 08:32 PM:

Nonsensical, but comment spam is one of the original post topics.

#95 ::: P J Evans sees probable spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2011, 07:12 PM:

linkie in name - it goes to a somewhat odd site.

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