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 can't get enough, check out these references for more midterm lies.
Biggest Lies of the Midterm (Hyde Park’s Corner)
The Biggest Misstatements of the Midterms (Newsweek)
Top ten lies from 2010 campaign ads and then
Ten More (both from SFGate)