… 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
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...