… that only 8,900 Face­book users

cam­paigns Aus­trian pol­i­tics is late to the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion. Past elec­toral have typ­i­cally fo­cused on bill­boards and tra­di­tional me­dia. But in the 2017 elec­tion, Amer­i­can­iza­tion was on the rise

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - by Michael Bern­stein With ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ben­jamin Wolf

wrote more than 1.4 mil­lion com­ments on the plat­form dur­ing the Aus­trian elec­tion cam­paign? That's al­most half of all po­lit­i­cal com­ments in that pe­riod.

Viewed through rose-col­ored glasses, Big Data – the col­lec­tive traces of ev­ery­thing we do dig­i­tally – is the ul­ti­mate re­source for civic democ­racy: Each data point can be seen as a “vote” cast, the crowd­sourced tally re­flect­ing the broad spec­trum of hu­man be­hav­ior, needs and de­sires. So­cial me­dia and dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion have the po­ten­tial to mo­bi­lize a cit­i­zenry to ac­tion, am­plify the voices of the un­der­dog, and build com­mu­ni­ties of sup­port that cut across tra­di­tional mar­ket seg­ments. Yet Big Data also has a dark side. Via so­cial me­dia, po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns can use Big Data to mi­cro-tar­get vot­ers with mis­in­for­ma­tion and erode ra­tio­nal de­bate. In the po­lar­iz­ing 2016 U.S. elec­tion, spend­ing on dig­i­tal cam­paigns rose to $1.14 bil­lion (nearly an eight­fold in­crease over 2012). While it vastly sur­passed the amounts spent on Brexit and other re­cent Euro­pean elec­tions, sim­i­lar dig­i­tal strate­gies were used by sev­eral op­po­si­tion can­di­dates and par­ties to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion, cre­ate buzz on wedge is­sues and splin­ter for­merly solid vot­ing blocs. Aus­tria’s na­tional par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2017 were cer­tainly no ex­cep­tion. As it has been with most dig­i­tal trends in Amer­ica, Aus­tria was not af­fected right away. Its rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion, con­cen­tra­tion of main­stream me­dia, le­gal lim­its on cam­paign spend­ing (each party’s

elec­tion bud­get is capped at €7 mil­lion) and data pri­vacy laws kept its po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the old-school “shot­gun ap­proach" to elec­tion­eer­ing – ad­ver­tis­ing on plac­ards, in news­pa­pers and via broad­cast me­dia. “In the USA, there are 75 dif­fer­ent TV mar­kets, each with hun­dreds of chan­nels and count­less cat­e­gories of me­dia in­ter­est,” said Aus­trian po­lit­i­cal pun­dit Peter Filz­maier. “In Aus­tria, TV me­dia dom­i­nates the elec­tion cam­paign, as it is ex­tremely con­cen­trated on pub­lic TV (ORF) and three pri­vate net­works. Tra­di­tional me­dia cam­paigns are still more im­por­tant here than Big Data.” The draw­backs to this ap­proach have be­come more and more ap­par­ent. “Par­ties must come up with a slo­gan, which must con­vince every­one, or at least all their po­ten­tial vot­ers,” Filz­maier said. “Just one ex­am­ple of many: The SPÖ [So­cial­ist Party of Aus­tria] slo­gan, ‘Hol dir was dir zusteht’ [Get what you are en­ti­tled to] was a very, very good slo­gan for some SPÖ tar­get groups.” How­ever, it turned off some of their up­per mid­dle­class sup­port­ers be­cause “they would re­spond ‘I’m afraid that some­thing will be taken away from me.’ With Big Data, this would be done dif­fer­ently,” by tar­get­ing a spe­cific mes­sage to each bloc, so that none of them would nec­es­sar­ily re­al­ize what oth­ers were re­ceiv­ing. But Big Data also can be mis­used for de­struc­tive po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, es­pe­cially by those seek­ing to grab or hold onto power against the demo­cratic will. By split­ting tra­di­tion­ally aligned blocs of vot­ers into com­pet­i­tive tribes and tar­get­ing them with dis­tinct, nar­row agen­das (i.e., “wedge is­sues”), un­scrupu­lous politi­cians have weaponized Big Data and so­cial me­dia into highly ef­fec­tive tools of pro­pa­ganda and de­mo­bi­liza­tion. These and other warn­ings were pub­lished in “Dig­i­tal­isierung und Demokratie,” a Green Pa­per pre­sented to Aus­tria’s Bun­desrat (up­per house of Par­lia­ment) in July 2017. “Per­son­al­iza­tion of news and in­for­ma­tion feeds con­trib­ute to a frag­men­ta­tion of pub­lic space and thus jeop­ar­dize the ba­sic re­quire­ments of demo­cratic de­bate,” wrote Univer­sity of Hildesheim pro­fes­sors Mar­i­anne Kneuer and Wolf Schüne­mann in their con­tri­bu­tion, ti­tled, “What we learned from Barack Obama: The role of so­cial me­dia in po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and elec­toral cam­paigns.” FROM GLOBAL TO GOEBBELS Stung by Obama’s re­elec­tion in 2012, Repub­li­cans be­gan in earnest amass­ing data on their core con­stituen­cies and or­ga­niz­ing “as­tro­turf” cam­paigns (ar­ti­fi­cially gen­er­ated grass­roots ac­tivism) prop­a­gated through click­bait con­tent (of­ten crit­i­cized as fac­tu­ally ques­tion­able pro­pa­ganda) on al­ter­na­tive con­ser­va­tive me­dia sites. One of the most in­flu­en­tial out­lets was Bre­it­bart News Net­work, which was co-founded by Steve Ban­non and re­ceived in­vest­ment from the bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can donor Robert Mer­cer. It has been widely re­ported that Mer­cer also in­vested in Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, an off­shoot of a Bri­tish dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm, and Ban­non served as a cor­po­rate of­fi­cer there. Cam­bridge claimed to have mined Big Data to cre­ate psy­cho­graphic voter pro­files, which would al­low its clients to mi­cro-tar­get au­di­ences with emo­tion­ally rel­e­vant mes­sag­ing. Data sci­en­tists claim that by an­a­lyz­ing only 300 likes of any Face­book user, they can

In Aus­tria’s 2017 elec­tion, the So­cial Democrats (SPÖ) and the Peo­ple's Party (ÖVP) bet on dif­fer­ent cam­paign strate­gies. While the SPÖ with Chris­tian Kern (left hand page) fo­cused on sol­i­dar­ity but started with a poorly fo­cused slo­gan, the ÖVP with...

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