In a world where crowdsourcing has become a mainstay of politics, a new site from the Democratic National Committee is taking the idea one step further and asking voters to find damaging videos of opposing lawmakers and candidates.
The Accountability Project is pretty simple: you can upload and view videos, or track down Republican candidate events. There's no voting or comments; it's essentially a platform for videos to go viral. So far, uploads mostly consist of tepid footage of conservatives criticizing Democrats. But when compared to other political crowdsourcing projects, the site stands out as one of the more potentially disruptive ideas in this midterm election.
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Crowdsourcing in politics has become ubiquitous over the last several years, particularly as candidates and agencies have figured out how to use social media well. But this year is the first major election since President Obama so famously harnessed those social tools in his 2008 election bid. Online videos have already played a significant role (one of the most famous involving a Democratic Representative).
Roy Temple, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic political consultant, says that usually, "When parties or candidates seek activist opinions (like the current GOP effort to crowdsource policy priorities), there is a certain level of cynicism that their opinion will count."
The Accountability Project, he continues, "taps into the belief by party activists that politicians of the opposite party say one thing in front of the press, and quite another when they think no one is really listening. However, all activists can imagine a scenario where what they capture on video could really make a difference in a campaign.
"The projects asks activists to undertake an activity that almost all of them can appreciate the value of, which increases the likelihood that they will take such action. And it offers them a way to be involved that they might not have otherwise thought was possible or meaningful."
That last point may be the most critical part of the DNC's project. In a paper published last month on crowdsourcing [PDF], a researcher at the London School of Economics wrote that, "The needs, aspirations, motivations and incentives of the crowd to participate in the initiative must remain the most important consideration [...] The practitioners must understand the crowd motivation and align their goals according to it." (Emphasis ours.)
That might sound like common sense, but considering the number of projects asking the crowd to do the equivalent of ranking policy initiatives, too many political strategists seem to be confusing the crowd's interests with what will genuinely motivate it.
In other words, if you want to create an effective crowdsourcing project and the crowd is hungry for political blood, then give them the equivalent of an elephant gun.
Photo by Scott Liddell