Election campaign – Apps : Part of surveillance capitalism

Election campaign – Apps : Part of surveillance capitalism

24. June 2020 0 By Horst Buchwald

Election campaign – Apps : Part of surveillance capitalism


New York, 24.6.2020


The Trump app has “News” and “Social” tabs that offer carefully selected feeds of tweets and articles. They draw readers’ attention to topics of conversation in the campaign and then deceive them with highly questionable headlines. Here are some examples: “Media continue to spread debunked theories about tear gas,” “Media mask shamers are repeatedly caught breaking their own rules,” or “Top 8 moments from Joe Biden’s embarrassingly disastrous, epically boring live stream.”

Most of the news, articles and announcements within the Trump app don’t have a named author; they rarely quote sources beyond government press releases and tweets from Trump’s own supporters and White House staff. The app also has posts that attack social media companies such as Twitter and Snapchat, berating them for their alleged bias and lack of transparency while they themselves employ strategies that are opaque and attention-grabbing.

Users are asked to provide their phone number, full name, email address and zip code. The campaign aims to collect the mobile phone numbers of 40 to 50 million voters.

Nobody can overlook this anymore: It’s about unprecedented data collection-and that’s exactly what the Trump 2020 application does. During registration, users must provide a phone number for a verification number, as well as their full name, email address and zip code. They are also strongly encouraged to share the app with their existing contacts. This is part of a campaign strategy to reach the 40 to 50 million citizens who are expected to vote for Trump’s re-election. However, the campaign is being run with the intention of collecting every voter’s mobile number.

The app has already received some criticism, not least from security researchers, who noted that it has left information open that could allow hackers to access user data. The response to this made the campaign’s priorities clear: they quickly fix the bug once it is revealed, while maximizing the data they can collect themselves. They want as much voter data as possible, even if they don’t want it to remain unprotected for outsiders – and they will use it in any way they see fit.

Team Joe: Your contacts are crucial here, too

Team Joe, the app created by Joe Biden’s campaign, has some similarities to the Trump app, but it’s a completely different proposition. Team Joe is built primarily for a single purpose: relational organizing. This concept is explained in Team Joe’s Digital Tool Kit:

“Relational Organizing is when volunteers use their existing networks and relationships to support our candidate Joe Biden. Friend-to-friend contact is one of the most effective ways to have meaningful conversations about our campaign, and it’s an efficient way to convince and identify supporters … We call on voters and elected officials to identify supporters and convince friends and family to support Joe. These discussions with targeted voters and faction members to increase support will make a big difference in the election of Vice President Biden”.

It is not to be overlooked: These campaign apps are part of a larger system of surveillance capitalism. Yes, they provide first-hand data on the strongest campaign supporters. But they are also designed to use this data to create lists of similar citizens. Meanwhile, they provide the infrastructure to help users in these closed media environments engage like-minded people through relational organizing using the addictive engagement strategies that social media and apps have perfected over the past 20 years.


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