This is… interesting.
I think the Democrats just threatened me: pic.twitter.com/wGvYInosk5
— Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton) October 30, 2014
Quick background on this: Jonathan Coulton is a songwriter and performer who is popular in the science fiction and fantasy community, particularly the section of it that goes to conventions. He does a lot of stuff that’s gaming- and geek-themed, and he’s one of the people who makes his living via using the (air quotes) ‘Internet’ pretty much exclusively. And if you’re wondering why any of that matters, let me put it this way: a nontrivial percentage of the people in your IT department can sing along to RE: Your Brains*.
And Mr. Coulton just told over a hundred thousand people that the Democrats threatened him.
First, let’s get this out of the way: it’s not a hoax. First off, Jonathan Coulton is neither a Republican nor a conservative. His privilege, and a potent argument against him participating in a hoax that might make the Democratic party of New York look bad. As to whether the letter came from the Democrats… it did. Lastly? Oh, yeah, this happens all the time.
The irony here is that the letter that Jonathan Coulton received is simultaneously an embodiment (as a few people have already noted) of the strategies found in The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, and a refutation of them. The embodiment part is obvious: as reviews (and even a casual look at the book itself) noted, this exact strategy had previously been used to great effect (2010 Democrats in Colorado-SEN, for those who were wondering). All the hallmarks: ugly-looking letter, deliberately manipulative language, blunt instructions, and an overall tone that firmly projects You will do as we expect, Mister Coulton. This letter does not represent a flaw in the system, in other words (and as I like to say). It is the system.
But what happened here also represents the problem with this technique: it pretty much assumes that you’re never going to do it to somebody with, say, over one hundred and fourteen followers on Twitter. The strategy, in fact, does not take into account Twitter at all. Quick reminder: while Twitter existed in 2010, at the time of the election it apparently only barely adopted the design architecture that would allow it to embed pictures and videos. It certainly wasn’t as ubiquitous among the geek, tech, and wonk communities as it is now**. Which is another way of saying: this technique may have been highly effective in 2014, but it’s also kind of old at this point. And people who rely on it a little too much to boost turnout may want to consider that said technique was invented in a time period where it was legitimately a little bit harder to complain in public effectively.
Yeah, I know: four years ago. Communication just keeps getting easier and easier to do, OK? You can almost see it improving, if you stare at it long enough.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
PS: Lost in all of this is the interesting datum that apparently the New York Democratic party is sufficiently worried about turnout next week that it feels the need to goose its own voters. Good to know.
PPS: On the off chance that Jonathan Coulton eventually reads this, bemused about the fact that RedState has posted an article that is complimentary towards him personally: I understand that the man has no wish to get involved in politics. Unfortunately, the Democratic party has no interest in returning the favor. Like war, Mr. Coulton, you may have no interest in politics: but politics has an interest in you.
Sorry about that. And note that I didn’t send the letter.
*I certainly can. It’s a great song.
**There are, yes, overlaps. As this post indicates.