Something is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What it Is

…do you, Mr Priebus?

A study by Pew Research says that Americans are increasingly getting their news from Facebook and Twitter.  The study indicates that 63% of both FB and Twitter users says that they get news from these sites, up from 47% and 52% in 2013.  (Bear in mind that 66% of US adults use Facebook, whereas only 17% use Twitter.)  In general, it seems that FB users are more likely to pro-actively share and comment on politically-related posts, whereas Twitter users are more likely to follow stories from “official” news organizations.

Of course, the fact that someone gets news from FB or Twitter does not by itself say anything about how important that site is to them within the universe of possible news sources.  Another part of the survey attempts to answer that question.  Among people 35 and over, 34% say Facebook is “the most or an important” way they get news; the corresponding number for Twitter is 31%.  But among those 18-34, the number is 49% for both FB and Twitter.

WSJ recently reviewed a new book,  The Selfie Vote,  by political analyst Kristen Soltis Anderson, who says:

“I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters.  What I’ve found should terrify Republicans.”

She believes the current Republican approach to political marketing does not mesh with the way Millennials (“who view their comfort with technology as what makes their generation ‘special'”) tend to get information.  Quoting the WSJ piece:

“Take the 2012 presidential race.  Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck mostly with network TV ads during prime time, sometimes…paying nearly six times as much as Barack Obama’s campaign for an ad of the same length during the same time slot.  Team Obama made use of individually targeted ads for satellite subscribers, tailoring the campaign’s message to specific voters in swing states and spending less money on network TV.  The Obama campaign also developed cost-effective online ads that targeted Facebook and YouTube users based on personal-preference data, even running ads in online videogames…As more millennials pull the cable plug and spend their free time exclusively online, Republicans can’t expect to compete by pouring resources into 30-second spots during “Jeopardy!””

I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion.  But the Left is using it very effectively to circulate memes, usually in the form of simplistic poster-like images with a photo or graphic of some kind and a few words or dubious statistics.  There does not seem to be any coherent effort on the part of the RNC, or any other Republican campaign organization or conservative/libertarian organization, to rapidly generate refutations of these when called for, nor do I see very many counter-leftist memes that I judge to be good enough, from a marketing standpoint, to be worth circulating.  And there is very little of marketing value to be found on either the FB page of the RNC or the FB page of RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

My sense is that while the RNC leadership may understand old-style get-out-the-vote campaigns and precinct organization, they have little concept of social media marketing, and have also been outdone in the use of “big data” for campaign management.  (See my post Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480.)  I don’t think they’re really all that good at old-fashioned direct-mail marketing, either, based on what shows up in my mailbox.


The review of Anderson’s book says that “her prognosis is hopeful”…the book profiles some members of “a new generation of GOP digital strategists,” such as the RNC’s chief technology officer, Azarias Reda.

I certainly hope the RNC is figuring things out, and Reda looks like a good guy.  But I think the issue here is at least as much a marketing professionalism problem as it is a technology problem.  You don’t really need to be a technology whiz to gather information on what misleading memes are being circulated by the opposition and to craft incisive responses to them…you need to be a good wordsmith and a creative user of graphics, with broad knowledge to the issues and rapid access to a research staff.

So while I hope that the “new generation of GOP digital strategists” will raise the party’s consciousness and do it quickly, I am somewhat cynical as to the likelihood of this really happening.  Also, a lot of the assertions that are circulated via social media are more philosophical than directly political…but do have an important political influence, and it is probably unrealistic to expect a political party organization to deal with these.  (I have in mind, for example, some of the supposedly science-based claims of Neal deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, and various assertions about economics.)

So, while hoping that the GOP will up its game, and applying pressure where possible, perhaps some of the members of the “right-thinking” blogosphere should take the lead in creating an organization to generate useful Facebook memes, and to track and respond aggressively to false and misleading ones.

It would be a shame–and that’s putting it mildly–if America were to be lost because of a failure to deploy professional marketing communications skills effectively in the cause of liberty and sanity.


31 thoughts on “Something is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What it Is”

  1. I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion.

    Sounds like just the place to influence low information voters.

  2. The professional competence exists on our side.

    The party and the candidates need to employ the people who have it.

    There is no excuse not to do so.

  3. This morning, someone linked a story about idiots who believe the Pluto mission was faked with, with the header:

    “Inadequate science education produces more than just creationists and climate change deniers.”

    This kind of message–disagree with a leftist policy and you are anti-science–is quite common. Actually, of course, anyone who had *real* science education would know enough to question the “climate change” story….the Left’s idea of science education seems to be “believe what (carefully selected) credentialed people tell you to believe.”

  4. “anyone who had *real* science education would know enough to question the “climate change” story”

    That’s not the only place where certainty trumps science. There is increasing evidence that the 50 year campaign against cholesterol is collapsing. I had a lengthy debate on Powerline about it with a guy who is convinced that diet books know more about nutrition than medical professionals. He was nice about it but there is no moving some people who get their information from non-science sources.

    I spent the day Saturday in a CME course about such matters as fatty liver and would have avoided the mini-debate except that I had just spent a day listening to the latest info.

    I once got into a really nasty debate with diet nuts about a diet book with an outrageous title, “Heart Hoax,” saying that diet could replace coronary bypass and doctors who were telling patients they needed bypass or stents were lying to them. One enthusiast came over to my book page on Amazon and posted a nasty “review” in retaliation.

  5. Being circulated today, I don’t know how widely: a compendium of real and alleged sins against Iran:

    …the obvious not-too-deeply-hidden message being that because of this history, we have no right to object to Iranian nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, etc. Reminds me of those Brits & Americans who in the late 1930s and even as late as 1940 argued that we should focus on Allied “sins” against Germany (viz, the Versailles treaty) rather than being overly concerned about Nazi rearmament and aggressiveness. See C S Lewis

    Dangers of National Repentance

  6. Question ?


    Before joining First Look, Jon Schwarz worked for Michael Moore’s Dog Eat Dog Films and was Research Producer for Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.

    The best history of Iran I have read is The Persian Night by Amir Tehari.

    My review on Amazon.

    A bit from that review:

    Taheri points out that the regime in Iran bases its entire foreign policy on anti-Americanism and there is no possibility of a “grand bargain” with America. In the waning days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he became convinced that a breakthrough was possible, beginning with a “casual handshake” with the Iranian president at the UN. Clinton stationed himself in the corridor where the supposed handshake was to occur but the Iranian never showed up. They had decided humiliating Clinton was more valuable to their cause.

    Prediction of the future ? Clinton was never as arrogant and ignorant as Obama.

  7. I’ve sometimes thought that those Republicans begging for dollars via the phone might be Democrat plants. (Our son-in-law, having spent the last week answering those calls, has pinned up “Please put me on your no call list” messages all over the place.)

  8. Well, never mind about a strictly scientific education — although I think I might have gotten more of that over the dinner table from Dad, the research biologist than I did from HS and college science courses. (Weird – that I got excellent grades in those courses without being particularly interested … again, Dad.) The whole global warming shtick never flew with me, because of history. The ‘man-caused global-warming’ thing absolutely lost me, in “disappearing” the Medieval warm – when Greenland was warm enough for subsistence farming – and the Roman warm, when it was warm enough in England to cultivate wine grapes. Yes, both of those places were on the outer margin of possibility when it came to those enterprises, but don’t you dare try and erase them from the whiteboard of history.

    Don’t pee on me and tell me it’s a warm and slightly acidic, pale yellow rain.

  9. I’ve got a couple of new engineers right out of school in our small firm. They all have done “green” projects in school (thats where the grants are) but I spend time reeducating them into the real world. It’s not just technology but economics, taxes etc. Being small but working in all of the US plus internationally, they have to know the details and I want them to know why these things are there. It slowly sinks in but if they were at a bigger firm it might take years. the media is not the issue, it’s the teachers, coaches, bosses etc. that count. Get them both on the side of reality and be willing to help them. But also work hard at getting the really bad ones out of their positions or make them visible to the public.

  10. If you’re looking for a marketer to move the GOP into new style communications, I can’t think of anybody better than Gary Vaynerchuk. Just picking him would set off a chain of events that would be very enlightening for millennials.

  11. I’ve seen many of the memes circulated by my liberal family and friends. They are rotten, misleading, and illogical!

    One can spend hours rebutting or disproving specific postings only to be blocked. Liberals are mentally and socially self-isolating. The damage is with the newbies and LIVs who come to FB and get lie after lie after lie.

    These are indeed “The Crazy Years” where the desire and ability to face reality is fading.

    Eventually, the real world will smack these people in the face so hard they will either wake up or they will curl up and surrender. Just like Ashley Wilkes in GWTW, they will not be players in the new reality.

  12. Whitehall…” One can spend hours rebutting or disproving specific postings only to be blocked. Liberals are mentally and socially self-isolating. The damage is with the newbies and LIVs who come to FB and get lie after lie after lie.”

    It is just too time-consuming to make a general practice of rebutting specific postings. That’s why I think we need a common solution of some sort, so responding to one of these things becomes just a matter of looking in the meme bank for the opposition post and a vetted response.

  13. I do not think the opposition is generally self-isolating, unless you mean on a group rather than an individual basis. Rather, I think consistency within the herd is a very important value to many if not most of them.

  14. “Being circulated today, I don’t know how widely: a compendium of real and alleged sins against Iran:

    This is typical leftist behavior: scroll back through history until enough is found to blame the West for anything and everything bad that has ever happened anywhere, thus excusing anything ever done any non-western regime to westerners or their own citizens.

    Other items the audience of the piece don’t know, and won’t be told, include the huge numbers of Iranians murdered by the regime when it took power, the brutal tactics used to end the weeks of protests against the stolen elections of 2009, the endless attacks by that regime upon Americans, and the continual promises the regime makes in Farsi to use nuclear weapons against the US once they are obtained.

    In other words, American politics continues as usual. A leftist fifth column busies itself advocating for our enemies, with no notice or response from anyone, including the political party generally supposed to be opposed to the left.

    This won’t end well, one way or another.

  15. “It is just too time-consuming to make a general practice of rebutting specific postings. That’s why I think we need a common solution of some sort, so responding to one of these things becomes just a matter of looking in the meme bank for the opposition post and a vetted response.”


    Perhaps we could organize a political party, which could take contributions large and small, and use them to pay political operatives to do just that. It could employ expects in various fields of communication, who could use their expertise to respond to the endless lies of the left in a timely manner, because they would be paid to do so by the party. Surely if such a party was organized I’m sure it would put your wonderful idea into practice immediately, because it’s an excellent idea, although it would likely be a small part of what should grow to be a large and important communications effort.

    In fact, I’m quite surprised none of this has been done before now, although I’m also sure that since the suggestion is now out in the open it won’t be long until it is taken up.

  16. “Liberals are mentally and socially self-isolating. ”

    I have two children, my two oldest and both lawyers, who are hard leftists and immune to any argument. My middle daughter is a lefty but open to discussion. For example, she was upset because some Texas school board had ruled that creationism could be taught with evolution in science class. I asked her what was more important; evolution or reading and math. She agreed that reading and math were more important. I’m not sure the other two would have agreed.

    My two younger kids are both conservative/libertarian.

  17. Let me expand on my statement that liberals and leftists are mentally and socially self-isolating.

    As Mr. Foster noted, the need to be part of a herd is strong. Facing hard questions squarely will make them doubt their bona fides as member of the herd.

    Ergo, contact with a conservative who asks, no matter how politely, hard questions is to be avoided. Having lived many years in the Marin County, I’ve seen this isolation behavior many times, up close and personal.

    That’s why many conservatives will choose to just avoid bringing up subjects uncomfortable to liberals. But no matter, everyone will be tested – are you with the herd or outside the herd?

    You see this on FB. Political or philosophical postings repel this from the other side. Personally, I seldom rebut the postings of liberals (except for some family members) and keep my own conservative-oriented postings to a smattering.

    Hopefully, FB has peaked.

  18. It seems to me that the lack of argumentative skills has made for self-isolating groups. When the favorite argument is ad hominem, when the best way to smear scientific research is to argue it is funded by right wing or oil interests, etc. the discussion Is not going to be on the facts.

    Two word choices that have seemed more and more common have been “expressed” where before a more specific or at least objective word would be used (said, wrote, argued, contended, etc.). The other is “needs” where before wants, desires, etc. would be used. I really really don’t like these – at first I thought I was being picky, but I do think they are representative. But this is the vocabulary of the young – a group not more selfish or full of romantic expression than ours was. I fear it is a sign, however of what they have been educated to use and therefore think in terms of.

  19. There is a lot to unpack here. Most voters are cognitive misers and vote according to association, not reason. Educating people does not work, as Keith Stanovich has shown, because most people whilst intelligent are not rational. The great success of the Liberal movement has been to create a series of powerful “cognitive” associations, especially amongst the young, which is not just profoundly influencing the political nature of the country but also its social fabric. “Gay marriage”, something inconceivable 30 years ago is now a reality.

    The main vehicle for the social change has not been social media per se, but the arts, with the internet and various communication media being more efficient forms of data presentation and delivery. The complete dominance of the liberals in this field has completely sideswiped the Republicans who are still trying to “rationally” engage the voters. The arts emotively engage a person and the great success of the democratic movement has been to fuse emotion with image and condition the System 1 cognitive response of voters. The fact that the Obama administration has been a failure does not matter, since Obama is way “cooler” than any of the bland republican alternatives. The mental image of Republicans amongst Joe Public is that they are old, boring, efficient and heartless. Whilst the image of the Democrats is associated with care, social justice, social welfare and “coolnees”. Rationality doesn’t factor into the analysis at all as Phillip Converse showed this in his seminal studies in the early 60’s

    The problem with the successful Democratic association between social welfare, coolness and compassion is, that when the economy tanks, the natural instinct of the voters will be to vote for them. Given the direction of the economy, the winds will be favouring a democratic advance over the next few years. Republicans who insist on “frameing” presidential debates on economic lines re-enforce the Democratic advantage of compassion and emphasise the profit centric nature of the Republicans. It’s so stupid. Why don’t the Republicans simply point the gun to their own heads.

    I don’t like Donald Trump and I think he is an idiot, but he is an idiot with personality and he’s framing the debate along immigrant lines/nativist lines, and his blowing away of all and sundry amongst the Republican hopefuls is powerful illustration of just powerfully how emotion trumps substance. Furthermore, he’s framing the debate along a line where the cognitive association with the democrat brand is negative. He’s fighting the democrats where they are weak.

    Effective political leaders have always known that the average voter is an idiot. Their success have come about through manipulating the voters emotions, not debating them.

  20. Slumlord,

    Well put, yes- but you’re making excuses for GOP failure, and patting the party on the back for losing.

    It shouldn’t be news to anyone that voters- or humans, for that matter- aren’t mere creatures of rationality but also have an emotional component to behavior. It especially shouldn’t be news to people supposedly attempting to win elections, which necessarily requires advertising. I’d think people in the ad business should know full well that successful advertising requires some emotional connection to the audience, even people doing political advertising. Furthermore, since the GOP does in fact control Congress and many state governments I’d argue that many Republicans do in fact understand this, at least well enough to win at the state and local level. The problem is at the national level.

    It also shouldn’t be news to anyone the leftist media and Hollywood are hostile to Republicans. This has been the case for generations now, without response from the GOP, even as the old leftist mainstream media organizations crumble and die. It is astonishing to me that none of the wealthy GOP donors has ever purchased a leftist rag and re-purposed it to make a conservative case. I can only conclude that none of them actually want to make a conservative case.

    It is also astonishing to me that after two terms of a failed presidency, with the economy poised for yet more decline, the GOP should expect to be pay a price for this, because compassion. If so, this is yet more evidence for the stunning incompetence of the national party.

    About Trump and his supposed idiocy and nativism, everyone should know by now that the GOP base is rather not fond of illegal immigration. It should surprise absolutely no one that the base has reacted to a candidate who actually seems to care about the issue in a way that establishment candidates absolutely will not. It seems to me that the establishment, which is quite fond of illegal immigration, is in fact using against the base all the emotional tactics the left uses against the GOP in an attempt to win yet more amnesty. I find it interesting that if you oppose illegal immigration you are slurred as a “nativist,” for example. So I think that the national party does in fact understand propaganda very well. It just wants to use it to defeat the base, not the left.

    I also dispute that Trump making an issue about immigration is mere emotion over substance. Considering that California has from reliably GOP to democrat stronghold due to illegal immigration, this an issue with grim real world importance. Yet neither party is interested in representing the large segment of the American population that opposes the de facto open border policy of the political establishment. This has left a huge political vacuum in American politics, which may well give Trump the GOP nomination.

    I doubt it, but his success yet again demonstrates that the pro-amnesty policy pushed by the GOP establishment is a political loser, not that the party cares to notice. That the party leadership keeps pushing it despite such events as the stunning defenestration of Eric Cantor or the surprising success of Donald Trump shows that the party isn’t making rational arguments too smart for the dimbulb voters to understand. It’s a sign that the party is led by people who don’t want to represent the people who vote for them, despite multiple lessons that should have taught them, if they were in fact interested in learning.

    But they aren’t, alas.

  21. I don’t think the GOP has had a coherent thought on campaign messaging since Lee Atwater died, or on campaign mechanics since Richard Viguerie brought in direct mail ca. 1980.

    As such, the GOP can survive in non-Presidential years, but when the election is nationalized every 4 years, it’s the Democrats’ to lose.

    15 GOP Pres candidates notwithstanding, that very much applies to 2016.

  22. Stumbled on this column recently regarding the ‘anti-science’ meme of scientific logic’s primacy over natural law, moral truths, natural rights, etc.

    Who benefits from the “conflict” between Science and Religion??

    Harrison regularly points out that “science” is not a natural kind. Similarly, he emphasizes that “science” is not a thing. Our use of the word “science” — as in “science clearly shows us” — is predicated on its own myth, a little noble lie, a wink and a nod by which we agree to group an array of disparate human practices as if they constituted one thing. And what defines that “thing”? What are the parameters of “science”? Well, that it’s not “religion.” This fulfills one of the primal functions of myth: validating a view of reality and a community of practice by “othering” an enemy and threat. Yet this mythically constructed “science” lives off of the borrowed capital of the “religion” it displaced.

  23. “It would be a shame–and that’s putting it mildly–if America were to be lost because of a failure to deploy professional marketing communications skills effectively in the cause of liberty and sanity.”

    America was not established that way.

    It was not preserved that way.

    The current government owes it’s legitimacy and existence to inertia based on Victory in War in 1776, 1865, 1945 and 1989 with the Cold War ending in our favor.

    The current government is indeed criminal, malicious and will not be de-established by talk. Including elections whose time has passed. Truly with The New Deal – for the deal was Administrative government. As it was benign until recently no one cared. That it would realize sooner or later we were prostrate before it and take advantage is human nature.

    We will not be saved by clever marketing, and the price and indeed right of Liberty has only ever belonged to those who take it by Force. That is ancient and eternal.

  24. “The current government is indeed criminal, malicious and will not be de-established by talk. Including elections whose time has passed.”

    You are advocating armed violence?

    Note comment policy 5.

    This is a warning.

  25. Whitehall,

    Thanks for the link, as it was a fine article.

    That’s what’s really sad about the stunning political incompetence of the GOP establishment, by the way.

    As the left descends even further into the sheer insane idiocy as described in the article there should be a huge opening for the Republican party to sweep in and destroy the democrat party for generations.

    But the party never makes the case, leaving the left free to advance, essentially without opposition.


  26. I’ve ordered the Hunter Thompson book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” as recommended in the article I linked to.

    Sorry, I should have used the Chicago Boyz’ Amazon link!

  27. “advocating armed violence?”

    I didn’t hear a call to arms, but what do I know. To give up on the electoral process seems a bit much to me but that’s his opinion. He expressed a philosophical perspective of history with respect to freedom. Unless we, or the bloggers, have good reason to be to be paranoid (and one can’t rule this out – an interesting topic, hint, hint), why the sensitivity?

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