David Karpf, in Analytic Activism, explains how analytics work and provides a base of understanding for a topic that can seem overwhelming. The digital listening he describes is not extremely new, but more and more pollsters and political experts are turning to this as a real strategy. Karpf provides an interesting way to look at this process. We immediately recognize the opportunity for people to speak politically online, but we rarely take the time to listen to what is being said. He explains how beneficial this listening can be. He describes how these hashtags and other ways of communicating online make up a wide array of data. This data can be used to understand political changes and desires among the people.
Karpf focusses on fundraising for a portion of the book, explaining how analytics are used to target certain groups. This makes it easier to understand which members would be more apt to donate and which would not. Before this technology, the opportunity to contribute was out there, but the motivations behind those clicking the button were not completely known or understood. This was perhaps the most interesting part of the book to me. It is amazing how this technology can target individuals (even me) to donate to certain causes that are part of my online footprint. This makes raising money for political causes and/or candidates easier than ever before. People behind the analytics can now know which candidate(s) or cause(s) to present online users with. This is incredible.
Karpf also explains that "petitions are the most flexible and essential tool of analytic activism" (2016, p. 59). He compares the difference of using social media to "like" or "share" material, versus signing an online petition. The main difference is that when you "like" or "share" something on Facebook, it is signaling a person's stance on an issue, but it is not leaving behind as heavy of a digital footprint as if you sign an online petition. When an online petition is signed, the user also has to type in his or her email address. This is what increases the digital footprint and helps with the analytics.
The use of big data, Karpf warns, can be overwhelming and at times not as dependable as you may wish. He explains how it is not always a safe bet to make when depending on the numbers and that sometimes numbers are not fully representative. He warns readers not to become overly reliant on numbers. This reminds me of the reliance on numbers during the 2016 presidential election. Many pollsters were led (by the numbers) to believe a different turnout on election day. This data turned out to be historically inaccurate.
This book was great. I believe anyone interested in political fundraising and/or polling should read it. It offered in-depth explanations of subject matter that is usually drowned in numbers that are not easily understood. Karpf explains the power behind this business, if used correctly and responsibly. It opened my eyes to a different side of social media. Usually I concentrate on what the masses can say online and not so much on what is being said. It is important to listen to the masses, and this listening brings with it massive amounts of data.
Karpf, David. (2016). Analytic Activism: Digital listening and the new political strategy. New York: Oxford University Press.