Update: About the same time I published this post yesterday, Crowdpac, a previously non-partisan crowdfunding platform for politics announced it would be suspending all Republican campaigns on their platform.
The peer to peer texting app Hustle recently announced via this Techcrunch article something that has been a poorly guarded secret for a while: conservatives aren’t welcome to use their platform anymore.
They didn’t want to be in the business of delivering “fringe conservative campaign messages they couldn’t stomach.” That’s fine and companies in the political space often have to make a determination, but Hustle previously stomached working with Republicans like Jeb Bush, so partisanship wasn’t core to their identity.
What sets Hustle apart is the $30 million investment it has received from companies like SalesForce and Google who have seen how effective peer to peer texting is in the political space and are taking the technology to market to support for-profit businesses.
Sure, there are startups on the right who are doing great work with peer to peer texting, but I’d love to see what they can do with tens of millions of dollars in venture funding.
Hustle’s relationship with Republicans is just one front in the arms race for political technology. Both sides are investing heavily in tools designed to help them earn minor but determinative advantages on Election Day.
The Privately-owned Public Square of 2018
But the Left is particularly traumatized by the fact that President Trump’s campaign was more effective at using Silicon Valley tech to defeat the liberals of Silicon Valley. They’ve resolved never to let that happen again.
Technology platforms and the private sector are moving Republicans to our own technological ghetto at an alarming rate. I’ve been advocating for expanded use of technology in government and politics for the better part of a decade, but the rise of partisan technology is a troubling trend.
The public square of 2018 is online and it’s controlled by private companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix. And increasingly, conservatives aren’t welcome. The liberal mob is expert at shaming these corporations if they step out of line. Meanwhile, my fellow conservatives shrug and say “they’re private companies, they can do what they want.”
That’s not a sustainable strategy.
How We Fix It
I’m not asking for a participation trophy — I believe in fierce competition, but let’s compete on ideas — not on tools, tactics, and platforms.
Unfortunately, our current political dialogue isn’t in a place right now where we are able to have discussions based on policies and ideas. Voters need a better understanding of what is and isn’t possible under our system and that requires greater civic education.
Candidates and organizations need to be more focused on sharing their policies and ideas rather than obliterating the opposition, which also requires a better informed electorate.
Journalists and the media should focus more on candidates’ policy differences than the horse race and scandal of the hour, but that means a revenue model that isn’t based on advertising and eyeballs and probably requires more civic education, too.
There are plenty of challenges our democracy faces, all of which are only exacerbated with hyper-partisan technology. Campaigns that are focused on dialing in their TV targeting, audience modeling, audience engagement, and fundraising ROI aren’t in service of the American people.
These are all problems technology can help us solve
In a healthy democracy, elections are supposed to resolve issues. If we’re focused on the most effective turnout of our respective bases, nothing gets decided and we suit up for the next round.
Moving all Republicans to the technology ghetto only makes it harder for Americans to come together in the same public square and resolve the issues of our day.