Law in the Internet Society

The “McCain Moment” defeated by the “Obama Revolution”.

“It was a peer to peer, bottom-up, open-source kind of ethos that infused this campaign, there was a vision to this” (Ralph Benko, cited in Stirland).

As the United States celebrate the election of their first African-American president, this study aims at analyzing the many assertions that have been made about Barack Obama being the first President elected by the Internet. President Barack Obama is also the first first-term senator ever to be elected into office,

  • This statement is false, and makes the rest of the paragraph silly. Warren Harding, serving his first term in the Senate from Ohio, was elected by 60% of the vote in 1920, with 76% of the electoral vote and no Internet. You didn't do any research here, you just took some crap published by some blogger that you found through Google and used that as fact.

so it is particularly remarkable how it was possible that a senator almost unknown to the large public just 2 years ago was capable to win 52% of the nation’s popular vote, but to win close to 70% of the electoral votes.

As one commentator said, Obama’s campaign, compared to the Clinton campaign of 1992, was like a multinational corporation versus a non-profit organization (cited in Stirland).

  • If true, this is a result of the money. One can't use it to compare technological resources of campaigns separated by the immense distance of 16 years.

This articles aims at showing how the Web first elected the new US president and may permit democracy to reach new levels and massively support efforts to reach a more direct democracy.

The Obama Campaign

In the 2008 election process, both candidates heavily relied on numerous features of the digital world to run their campaigns, and the online success of Obamas campaign proved to be the key to his winning the presidency (Lai Stirland, 2008).

  • All the votes cast by people under 30 were only 18% of the vote, and Obama won most places that he won by double digits. So showing that the Net is responsible for the victory requires much more than quoting a blogger.

To grasp the magnitude of Obama’s Net campaign, a look at the numbers is very revealing:

  • $600 million in contributions from more than three million people
  • 1 million phonecalls on election day to get out to vote
  • 150’000 Campaign related events
  • $293 million spent on TV ads

  • None of this is directly about the Net. Items (2) and (4) are not the Internet campaign.

Almost 50% the 600 million contributions came from people giving less than $200, many of them donating through his website (Stamper). Thanks to the deep pockets the Web allowed him, there were times in the campaign, were Obama spent 4 times as much money on advertising, in every possible medium, as Sen. Mccain.

The most interesting feature about this “Web” campaign was probably that it made perfect use of the philosophy behind it, and proving the superiority of principles that characterize the digital millennium. This was mainly achieved by a commitment to online organizing that led to the hiring of Joe Rospars and Chris Hughes .

  • What does that first sentence mean

Obama was the first candidate to understand that the Web was good for more than just to raise money, and that it opened new ways to do politics (Carr).

  • Surely that statement is nonsense.

To illustrate the main Ideas behind the success of the campaign, I will use three principles, two stolen from Prof. Moglen classes, and one principle poorly named by myself.

Never pay for anything you can get for free

The campaigns Web success is massively linked to its ability to get different people (especially those not necessarily interested in the political process) to massively invest their time and money into the campaign. The efficient use of these resources was then achieved by maximizing group collaboration and coordinating individual actions (Lai Stirland, 2008). Every possible platform was then used to further the reach of the message and enroll further volunteers into the campaign.

Early in his campaign, Mr. Obama already clearly stated that real changes comes from the bottom-up (Stelter, 2008), and the key to capitalizing that change was to organize and structure it through the internet. Mr Hughes applied the winning strategy of facebook (“keep it real, keep it local”) to maximize their effect on real life connections and their possible effect on persuading people to join their cause.

One of the greatest surprises and achievement of this campaign was observed in Indiana and North Carolina, traditionally Red States. The Obama campaign very wisely used Facebook, Twitter and the main Internet Site to build an enormous basis of volunteers, to get people to register but also for getting these people to voting booth on Election Day (60 Minutes). The building of volunteer groups, led by neighborhood team captains, really allowed to involve people in a efficient manner, appealing to local ties and intrinsic motivations.

  • There isn't the slightest evidence presented here that the Net was even a but-for cause of the electoral outcomes here. Two states tending increasingly Democratic this decade--as Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle filled up with new professional-class voters sharing the outlook and political opinions of college-educated northern whites--with large, energized black populations voted for Obama in a year when the economy was falling apart and the guy on the other side was mostly detested by the conservative stalwarts in control of the state Republican parties? And you're going to tell me that was about the Internet? Where's the proof?

Pull beat Push .

One main aspect of every campaign is to perfectly achieve the coordination between the elaboration of a message and its transmission to a maximum amount of people. But that transmission has to be effective. The mail campaign days are over. This campaign nailed that principle, by favoring the creativity and enthusiasm of his supporters, having as well international stars as nobodies manifesting their commitment with numerous creations, from internet sites, applications, songs, movies, etc. This content then circulated all over the Web, without any further action need by the centralized campaign, being pulled by users all around the Web.

  • Hooey. All that stuff doesn't amount to more than a tiny piece of the traditional television campaign. People who got most of their information from the Net were decided on their choice in April. If it had been about the Internet, we could have skipped the whole campaign.

Appeal to the need for expression and self-commitment of people

But the campaign was perfectly run, and did not forget that substance should not suffer from the form, or in other words, that the campaign is primarily about ideas and only in second place about the transmission of these ideas, and ideals. The two preceding principles would have been useless without the perfect elaboration of a message that would transcend all barriers and appeal to the individuals need for self-commitment to a cause. With simple, yet powerful messages, and this is in my opinion the best feature of this campaign, it was possible to incite citizens to want to join this cause. An analogy can be made with the success of the internet over television. Internet suddenly made it possible for every single terminal to not only consume content bus to create it. This campaign was the first one where citizens not only consumed the message from the candidates through basic mediums like radio and television, but also were able to pass it along and illustrate it in a creative way like never before. Suddenly, there was no need for an enormous central campaign bureau like before, and the close team around the candidate had more available resources to invest in substantive efforts, to perfect the message, and not worry so much anymore about the transmission to potential voters.

  • This isn't what happened. where did you get this from?

What's next?

What might be even more important is the fact that the Net allows Obama not to owe anything to big Media Companies, since he does not really need Network Television anymore to carry its message and to reach its supporters. This independency is unprecedented in US history (Carr).

  • It's fantasy. That's not what's going on now.

Now that President Elect Obama achieved his (first) goal, the results of his campaigning is multiple. One big asset is the links and ties he will still be able to make use of to govern (Carr). He will be able to reach his supporters in an unprecedented manner for a president, allowing him to react quickly and maybe “test the waters” for new ideas, as his administration will get to work. This will probably allow in shift in US politics, and hopefully keep those so involved in his election as interested in national matters as they were during this election. Maybe this bond some of those volunteers felt during the campaign will remain alive, and the change will be even deeper than imagined before?

This evolution in politics also bears some risks. One possible risk is a direct consequence of voting privacy and confidentiality being one more time left aside for different means. It is possibly a delicate situation when an administration has names of all that encouraged and financed it, and thus of all who did not. What would have happened just 60 years ago if Administrations had such powers. Could such a situation ever arise again?

  • What?

One final remark is the surprise the reader might have when reading the positions of Vice-President Biden that are summarized in this article.

  • What relevance has this to anything else in the piece?


  • This is the Web: what's the point of making a source list and then putting links in it, thus taking the links out of the text, where they belong?

60 Minutes, Obama's Inner Circle Shares Inside Story, CBS 60 Minutes, 11/09/08

Carr, D.,How Obama Tapped Into Social Networks’ Power, NY Times, 11/10/08.

Lewicki D. and Ziaukas, T., The Digital Tea Leaves of Election 2000: The Internet and the Future of Presidential Politics, Dec.

Noble, P., Internet key to Obama victories, Interview with Phil Noble on BBC News, 06/11/08

Stelter, B., The Facebooker Who Friended Obama, NY Times, 07/07/08.

Stirland, L., Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency, Nov. 4th, 2008.

Stelter, B.,Campaigns In a Web 2.0 World, NY Times, 11/02/08

Stamper, J.,How Web 2.0 helped Obama win, Open Source Blog, 05/11/08

Thompson, B., How politics will change the web, BBC News, 11/04/08



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r11 - 16 Feb 2009 - 18:32:55 - EbenMoglen
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