Oct
31
2014

Jonathan Coulton did, indeed, get threatened by the Democratic party of New York state.

Just because it’s a bluff doesn’t mean it’s not a threat.

This is… interesting.

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.

13 Comments

  • Catseyes says:

    Not a good way to make friends and influence people.

  • acat says:

    I do hope he mocks the hell out of this cowardly crap… and that you link the resulting video, Moe.
    .
    Mew

  • RainGeek says:

    It’s happening in Alaska as well, but this one appears to be from a conservative PAC. I haven’t seen one yet but I have friends and neighbors that have got this letter in the mail and they are PISSED OFF about it. – http://www.adn.com/article/20141027/alaska-voters-upset-about-public-shaming-mailers-experts-say-they-work

  • Bartlett says:

    On the other hand, if he hadn’t been threatened by the Democrats, I wouldn’t have known about the song (and on Halloween too!). So I owe them, and you, a great deal of thanks.

    That is an AWESOME song.

  • Crawford says:

    I like “Code Monkey” better.

  • RangerSG says:

    Yeah, to be fair, this isn’t a Dem-only stupidity. There’s a PAC here in SW MO doing it too, and given this is GOP land, we can be pretty sure they’re behind it. They’re doing ‘voting report cards’ as a get-out-to-vote campaign.

    What a bunch of crap. It’s like the Duopoly, incapable of coming up with ideas of merit, instead is committed to beating the populace about the head and shoulder with threats, on the off chance someone, somewhere, doesn’t hate them badly enough.

    • RangerSG says:

      Yep. Grow Missouri, and their PAC’s ideals are ones I’d agree with. If they didn’t believe in shaming people into voting.

  • Herp McDerp says:

    My wife got a “voting report card” in the mail today (a postcard, not a letter) with no party affiliation at all indicated on it … but the URL of the Oregon Secretary of State’s voting records is helpfully provided and does not discourage the impression that this is an official, non-political mailing. A bit of sleuthing revealed that it actually was sent by the “Oregon League of Conservation Voters” … and they endorse the candidates of Guess Which Party. My wife has no idea how she got on their list, and she’s registered as an independent.
     
    USA Today has an item about using shame as a political weapon: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/10/30/interest-groups-experiment-with-shaming-people-to-vote/18179423/

    In Oregon, a coalition of unions and liberal groups is taking peer pressure to a new level with a novel app — didtheyvote.org — that allows users to check their Facebook friends’ names against Oregon’s official voting records to see whether they have voted. (Registered voters in Oregon — along with those in Washington and Colorado — already have received their ballots by mail and must return them by Tuesday.)

    So perhaps one of her “friends” turned her in …

  • Erin Palette says:

    Perhaps I’m callous, but I don’t see this as threatening.
    .
    Creepy, Big Brother-esque, and maybe just a bit stalkerish, yes, but I’m not getting the whole “or else” vibe that a properly-phrased threat carries.

    • 1_rick says:

      To me, “we’ll be interested to hear why [you didn’t vote]” carries an implied threat: “and we’ll be coming ’round to ask why not” because otherwise, what’s the point of the sentence?

    • Moe_Lane says:

      That’s because you have higher standards when it comes to a proper menacing. 🙂 Seriously, these things are designed to freak out casual voters; the idea is to innuendo the hell out of the situation and hope that enough people don’t see through the scam. It worked to great effect in 2010…

    • Herp McDerp says:

      Okay, consider this scenario:
       
      ⊙ You’re a registered Democrat. (Actually, I hope you aren’t, but you know what I mean.)
      ⊙ You’re also a member of a union, possibly a public employee union, and very likely because you weren’t given the choice of not joining if you wanted to keep your job.
      ⊙ The union has some very definite preferences regarding the candidates running for office and the various proposition on the ballot.
      ⊙ For one reason or anoher, you don’t turn in your ballot in an election.
      * After the election, union officials check the records to discover which registered Democrats didn’t vote, thus depriving them of votes that were rightfully theirs.
      ⊙ The union’s local representative drops in on you to inquire about your job satisfaction. They’ve heard that you might not be happy there, and they’d like to know how they might improve your morale. In particular, they’d like to remind you how the union stands behind its friends whenever a member has a dispute with management, or whenever there’s a complaint about the member’s job performance … especially an unfair complaint. The union helps its friends, so it’s only fair that the friends should help the union, right? And we’re all friends here, right?
      ⊙ The phrase “Don’t forget, we can make every day of your life here a living hell!” might or might not occur in that conversation.

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