Obama's New App Puts a Lot of Trust in Volunteers' Scruples

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Even the people living under rocks know that this is a presidential election year in the United States, meaning both candidates, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, have been amping up the ways to get out the vote. As it's no longer reliable to simply put all of a campaign's eggs in the basket of a million-dollar television ad onslaught, the candidates have been traveling into the vaunted land of social media in order to gin up support from voters.

President Obama is already way ahead of Romney in terms of Facebook presence, which may prove to be a decisive factor in the election if Obama can parlay Facebook supporters into actual voters. Continuing with that social media momentum comes the latest implementation that builds on the medium of online communication, Obama's re-election campaign has launched a new organizing app that harks back to the President's roots in community organizing.

Simply called Dashboard, the platform is designed to put supporters in touch with each other in order to organize meet-ups as well as keep up on the latest news from the Obama campaign. For those joining, you will have the option of logging in with your Facebook account or, if you're not sure you want to publicize your support for the President just yet, you can also simply sign up with your email address.

Once you're logged in, you'll be able to link up with other volunteers based on what district is near you. Also, you get welcomed by this guy, Obama Campaign National Field Director Jeremy Bird:

One peculiar campaign tool on Dashboard that immediately struck me is this one:

Obama Dashboard

Upon clicking the "Make Calls" button, I'm presented with a primer on one of three campaign issues - economy, environment, and women's health - along with a related phone script replete with various responses I'm to say according to how the person I called answers the question, "Who do you support for President in 2012?" I'm also given the name, telephone number, city, and state of (what I presume to be) a documented supporter of Obama or, at least, a registered Democrat. With this person's information, and aided with my script of answers, I'm to call these people and then submit my feedback to Dashboard by indicating whether or not the person I called wants to volunteer with Obama's campaign.

And I'm to do all of this from my personal phone.

This is wildly peculiar to me because I've worked at political phone banks before where this is exactly what we did except I was required to go to the physical location of the phone bank, get briefly trained, and then I was put into a desk farm of other people all calling supporters. However, the Obama campaign has seemingly outsourced its phone banks to supporters' personal phones, which is not only leaving a lot of faith in the fact that this service won't collect opposition trolls but also trusting that the sincere followers are competent enough to follow directions and not go off-script.

I realize by what I'm about to say could potentially inspire some insidious behavior, but I had to go through zero vetting to become part of Obama's network of supporters and within literally a minute I had phone numbers of real people. Maybe the campaign has some type of secret shoppers who Dashboard members unknowingly call just to make sure everybody's behaving - in fact, I hope there's something like that in place because it seems that this novel idea of a campaign hub could easily get turned on its ear by a few dedicated trolls. As we've already seen with the insurgency of jokers using Romney's "I'm With Mitt" app (although it didn't help that Romney's campaign misspelled the name of the country that Romney wants to be president of), people don't really consider these sorts of campaign promotional tools as off-limits. However, Obama's Dashboard could make for some slightly more serious trouble than Romney's camera app did.

It's a shame that Dashboard appears so vulnerable because it really is a brilliant concept. It's nice that the Obama campaign has that much faith in people that they wouldn't believe that anyone would take advantage of Dashboard, but if anything should be painfully apparent in politics, it's that there is no such thing as stooping too low.

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