There’s more than meets the eye with narwhals. One might
picture the “unicorn
of the sea:” a tusked porpoise related to the dolphins. But now, another
narwhal rears its head – one that also occupies the darkness of the sea,
stirring the water beneath, while the surface appears calm: President Obama’s
Narwhal describes the Obama team’s efforts to connect previously separate databases
so that information on potential voters becomes accessible to the various branches
of Obama’s campaign. In other words, Narwhal surfaces as a gigantic voter
profile information system for the Obama team as a whole.
Last election, several different information reservoirs existed;
however, each was separate from another. VoteBuilder diagnosed voters’ beliefs based
on political activities, Blue State Digital held records on e-mail and text
message registrations, one database listed donors, and yet another file held
The voter profile sharing permits campaign workers to target
voters with specific issues. Instead of sending general “safe” messages, Obama’s
canvassers and data researchers research a voter to deliver a tailored message.
A single woman might receive a message on abortion, whereas an environmentalist
would obtain a message on Obama’s energy policies.
Author Sasha Issenberg calls
Narwhal the blending of “multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online
activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified
political profile.” Obama’s project means citizens registered as Obama
volunteers won’t find an unnecessary canvasser at their door, states Issenberg.
When a donor reaches the contribution limit of $2,500, he or she will be
persuaded to volunteer rather than donate more.
2012 Campaign Manager Jim Messina hints
at an even larger plan in Chicago,
“Our efforts on the ground and on technology will make 2008 look prehistoric.” Messina employs an
in-house design crew, gear team, and tech developers to craft a “top-secret
application” to “track every conversation that every single Obama volunteer
has…every action they take.”
conceals the team’s actions for a potential desecration of voter privacy.
Michael Slaby, Obama’s integration and innovation officer, believes his program
promotes “treating people like people.” His new invention, ‘a “microlistening”
and computer modeling program,’ will uncover “online and off-line behavior patterns
for voter information” in order to “personalize every interaction we have with
the campaign: fundraising, volunteering, persuasion, mobilization.”
Narwhal project concept involves a type of social network. Volunteers log in with
their Facebook account for granted admission to “any tool…in a field office.”
Slaby advertises, “You can have that at home, on your computer, in real time,
in a way that connects to what your friends are doing and what the people
around you are doing.” In the process, the campaign obtains access to the
volunteers’ Facebook networks, as well as information volunteers submit on voters.
system will be so precise that, according to The
Daily Beast, Obama’s team “won’t send its backers a video and say, ‘Share
this with everyone you know’; it will say, ‘Share this with your four Facebook
friends in Pennsylvania’s crucial Lehigh Valley swing district who are worried
about the president’s tax policies.’”
Jim Messina denies the secret
project to claim, “some
people think we have a magic formula to win this campaign - what we really have
is you.” He elaborates that Obama’s campaign opponents lack Obama’s grassroots
network. He forgets to explan that grassroots is their magic formula: to know all through few – the potential voters
through the volunteers.
President Obama is a smart guy with a brilliant strategy
worth studying. He and Messina
focus on the “you” – the power of each individual, or “you,” to contribute to
the campaign while persuading others to join. Voters flock towards this: a
campaign that appears to believe in them and their potential as a unique
person. This campaign recognizes the difference one person can make in persuading
a family member or friend to vote for Obama.
The peril approaches when Obama’s campaign grapples over the
line of personal privacy versus personal targeting. Researching every person in
order to manipulate a variety of messages telling voters exactly what they want
to hear treads upon dangerous waters.
George Orwell in 1984, warns
of a ‘Big Brother’ government, "There was of course no way of knowing
whether you were being watched at any given moment… You had to live—did live,
from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was
overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."
Yes, Obama’s team possesses a narwhal lurking beneath the
waves. Here’s another fact about narwhals though: between polar bears and Inuit
hunters, even these massive creatures are not without predators.