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Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Pinocchio's NoseNote: This is the second in a series of election posts.

This familiar phrase came to mind several times during this year’s political season. So does the image of Pinocchio’s nose growing in the famous children’s story. Candidates and their supporters often proclaimed outrageous statements without first checking facts. It seems the desire to make noise and create negative attention for an opponent was often more important than accuracy.

All this does is further erode trust in our public officials and the electoral process. Voters want to know why TO vote for someone, or what the person can OFFER. They tire easily when things get negative and especially sensational. Strong political campaigns and candidates tell a story about why the person or initiative will help the audience.

Research shows negative campaigning does work so that’s likely why it’s continuing but it doesn’t really explain why the untruthful campaigning continues. What I don’t think works is lying or embellishing.  This is also becoming more of an issue resulting in the growth of websites such as factcheck.org.

Additionally, the tremendous growth in social media since the 2008 campaign means that virtually anyone can call themselves a journalist. Bloggers, candidates or individuals with some influence could send a message that was passed around social media circles in rapid-fire fashion without regard to the truth. As you can imagine, this could be quickly damaging to a candidate.

One of the roles I had on Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign was to monitor Twitter and Facebook. It quickly became apparent that individuals outside Alaska were attempting to influence the election through their accusations. One, especially, was so outrageous I won’t give it credence here. However, it was retweeted hundreds of times by the end of the day since the writer was “influential” among a group of conservative voters.

The challenge was in deciding which rumors merited a response taking us away from our strategy and message. Throughout the day, our team monitored traditional and social media to determine if changes in messaging strategy were needed. Interestingly, supporters addressed the vast majority of challenges on our Facebook page while the majority of untruths/rumors on Twitter did not reach most Alaskans.

As a result, we were able to stay mostly on message. What we did do, however, was modify emphasis based on feedback from research, more than from the social media universe. This allowed us to respond to what OUR audience wanted rather than the background noise.

I do feel, however, this may change over time as even more professional journalists turn to social media for information and sources. Just as professional journalists abide by a code of ethics, so should bloggers. Many rules are yet to be written for the free-wheeling community but I don’t believe this means slanderous writings should be left unchallenged.   What do you think?

If you just cant’ get enough, check out these references for more midterm lies.

Earlier: This Election Was Personal For Me

Coming next: Your Mother Would Be Ashamed if She Knew You Said That


4 comments
Margaret Nelson, CCBW
Margaret Nelson, CCBW

At times the lies were so outrageous I found myself yelling at the TV! But the one thing I thought most interesting, is how values and morals showed in each candidates' programs. To me, it was obvious that some candidates will abandon all principles to win: Even pit voters against one another. Lack of trust in voters, and now in election officials, seems to rule in one candidate's mind. In the end, that's not leadership and I think the voters saw through it. But, we really won't know until all the votes are counted.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Mary, really interesting read. Especially with social channels playing such a huge role in disseminating information, I think it's vital to stay on top of what's being said, and be prepared to react to it as quickly as necessary. Sounds like you guys did all the right things. When you say "What we did do, however, was modify emphasis based on feedback from research, more than from the social media universe" - can you elaborate on the research, how it was conducted and whether or not it was ongoing through the campaign? As a research and measurement geek (you know me!), I'm fascinated by that.

mary
mary

I agree Margaret. I hope we don't have to wait for the Senate race to go to court. What a mess!

mary
mary

Thanks Shonali. Second day of counting write-in votes today and we're still looking good. It was an amazing effort.