Facebook Leans Into Its Looming Regulatory Battle

Yesterday, Facebook published a long blog post outlining how it believes it — and its competitors — ought to be regulated with regard to content moderation policy.

In a white paper titled, “Charting a Way Forward: Online Content Regulation,” the company poses a few big questions around what regulation looks like and proposes some guidelines for future regulations. For example:

[Question] Should regulation define which “harmful content” should be prohibited on the internet? Laws restricting speech are generally implemented by law enforcement officials and the courts. Internet content moderation is fundamentally different. Governments should create rules to address this complexity — that recognize user preferences and the variation among internet services, can be enforced at scale, and allow for flexibility across language, trends and context. 

[Suggested Guideline] Incentives. Ensuring accountability in companies’ content moderation systems and procedures will be the best way to create the incentives for companies to responsibly balance values like safety, privacy, and freedom of expression.

Facebook knows regulation is coming, and this seems to mark another, deeper step in its recent shift away from “we can handle this internally” towards “we need to be regulated… the way we think best.” 

For regulators, this is a tricky situation. You don’t want the proverbial fox to guard the henhouse, but there are serious questions as to whether federal regulators are sufficiently knowledgeable about the business of social media platforms to make effective regulations independently. 

Cory Booker’s New Branding

I first learned about Cory Booker during the early part of my career when he was the mayor of Newark, and I was working in Baltimore’s City Hall. His approach to government and leadership inspired me, particularly his unapologetic and unrelenting enthusiasm. It was clear that he loved Newark, and he seemed prepared to will it into the best version of itself if he had to.

Local government approaches tend to be less partisan or ideological and more arbitrary. Cory took a technocratic, startup-minded approach to government that resonated with me. It felt like the embodiment of David Brooks’ “thoroughly modern do-gooder” — a term that quickly wove its way into my identity. For those reasons, Mayor Cory Booker became one of the defining leaders of the early 2000s for me.

That said, Senator Cory Booker lost me. During the 2010s, I became more conservative while he more closely aligned himself with the Democratic Party’s base in the hopes of running for president. And during his recent campaign for president, I found it challenging to connect with his branding on any level. To me, it felt awkward and inauthentic—like it was trying a bit too hard.

Cory Booker 2020 Branding
Source: https://corybooker.com Cory 2020. License: All Rights Reserved. (via Fonts In Use)

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that “it felt awkward and inauthentic” is 100% my opinion, and I was not the target audience for Cory 2020’s branding. But as someone who’s followed his career for more than a decade, I could never escape the feeling that the campaign didn’t feel like him. It’s an instinct, for sure, but I am going to stand by it.

Recently, with Cory off the campaign trail and refocused on his role in the Senate, the veteran team at Wide Eye re-imagined his branding in a way that I find much more authentic and engaging. It’s iterative of the Cory 2020 branding, but excellently so.

Cory Booker’s New Senate Branding
Cory Booker for Senate branding circa February 2020 (Source: Yello)

Here, the colors are bolder, and the fonts are stronger. The cleanliness and minimalist approach of the brand echoes Cory’s longtime focus on effectiveness over showiness. Maybe that was what felt off about his presidential campaign’s branding: it felt showy. It was trying to be interesting. This refresh is clearly trying to be functional, but with personality.

Screenshot: Cory for Senate’s Homepage
Screenshot: Cory for Senate’s Homepage (Feb. 2020)

The homepage similarly reflects Cory’s technocratic bias, focusing only on what it needs to do. It also immediately conveys his boldness, his joy, and his focus on serving New Jersey. It’s a perfect example of how a great political website.

I believe that authenticity is perhaps the most important thing in politics. With this new approach to his branding, Cory Booker seems (to me) to have captured his authentic self. Much credit is due to the Wide Eye team for helping him find his way to that result. 

Making Some Front-End Decisions About Blog Post Formatting & Tagging

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the general structure of this weblog. I want to make sure I make smart front-end decisions before I get too far along because it’s very frustrating than having to audit and restructure the content of a website after the fact. 

Question #1: How Will I Format Blog Posts?

The last time I took online writing seriously, I published a link blog (in the style of Daring Fireball or 512 Pixels). So when I started writing again last year, that was the format to which I naturally gravitated. But, I don’t think it’s the right format for me anymore.

The link blog format reduces the barrier to publishing by lowering expectations for each post to just a few sentences. But it also creates a lot of “fluff” posts that don’t hold up over time. In most cases, link posts would work well as tweets. And the exceptions, where my commentary is more substantive, are worthy of a full-on blog post like this one.

The enduring benefit of the link post format is that it provides a structured way to cite the source material that inspired a post. A lot of the time, I write my posts in response to something I read or saw, and it’s important — on both a practical and ethical level — to link back to that source material to give additional context and credit where it’s due. But there are other ways to achieve that end that avoid the formatting inconsistencies and hollow writing to often associated with link blogs. 

So, my decision is this: no link posts. If I want to share something with just a few sentences of commentary (e.g., “This is neat. Check it out.”), I’ll toss it into Buffer to post to Facebook & Twitter. If I had more to add, I’ll share my thoughts as a blog post and include a small “source” link (to the original material) in the page’s byline. 

Question #2: How Will I Tag Blog Posts?

How to tag/categorize blog posts has long been a vexing topic for me. Historically, I haven’t used tags at all due to my inability to settle on a consistent approach to them. Better to do nothing than to do something poorly, I figured. But this time, I have a plan.

Rather than trying to come up with a concrete list of tags up-front, I’m going to follow a Kottke-esque approach and tag posts liberally and on-the-fly. My aim is for each tag to be usable in the sentence, “Read more about _______.” Every noun (e.g., person, place, object, idea, or topic) of significance mentioned in a blog post can and should become a tag. 

Over time, this approach to tagging will add up. For example, back in 2005, Jason Kottke counted that he had already accrued 1,376 unique tags on his blog. This approach to tagging is more descriptive than categorical. The question is not, “which bucket does this post fit into” so much as “what does this post talk about?” Eventually, the tags will come to represent a sort of 10,000-foot level description of what the blog is about. 

Each tag will be listed alphabetically on the Archives Page, and relevant tags will be listed at the bottom of each post. 

(Aside: It will be interesting to see whether NationBuilder’s {{ site.page_tags }} array has a limit to how many tags it will return. If so, I imagine that I’ll find out sooner than later.)

The Bottom Line

All of that is by way of saying that going forward, Hines Digital is going to use traditional blog post formatting (not link posts or other tumblelog formats) and a very liberal tagging system.

I hope you enjoy it.

My First NationBuilder Zap

Earlier this month, NationBuilder announced a new integration with the popular API connector Zapier, saying: 

Today, we're excited to launch our official Zapier integration! Zapier lets you automate day-to-day tasks across apps and workflows, with no coding required, so you can focus on leveling up your engagement efforts.

I just created my first NationBuilder Zap — automatically creating a new person (or updating an existing one) in my nation when someone schedules a call with me using Calendly. It was incredibly easy, and the zaps happen almost instantaneously.

If you haven’t tried this integration yet, I strongly recommend it. The possibilities are innumerable, especially when you consider the possibilities of multi-step zaps.

Michael Bloomberg’s Hiring Spree

Ryan Grim, reporting for The Intercept:

[Bloomberg] is hiring armies of staffers and canvassers in nearly every state in the country at eye-popping salaries, poaching talent from other campaigns and progressive organizations that are now struggling to fill jobs. In just three months, the Bloomberg campaign has hired thousands of people to staff more than 125 offices around the country, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Progressive groups, local campaigns, and presidential operations are either losing staff to the Bloomberg campaign, or are struggling to hire people because the former mayor has picked so many political operatives and canvassers up, according to interviews, emails, and messages from dozens of people involved in hiring.

Don’t underestimate the impact of this level of staff spending as we get deeper into the primary election calendar. Bloomberg is probably also moving aggressively to scoop up senior staff from competing campaigns as candidates withdraw. In the past, this sort of hiring doesn't typically happen until after a nominee has been chosen — and even then it’s more out of necessity (they’re the only job in town) rather than via competitive salary offerings. 

My question is what happens if Bloomberg doesn’t win the nomination, but keeps his pledge to maintain his campaign infrastructure through Election Day. How does the eventual nominee build a staff?

An American GDPR?

Makena Kelly, writing for The Verge:

On Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a proposal to overhaul the way the US government regulates privacy. Gillibrand’s Data Protection Act would found a new independent agency called the Data Protection Agency (DPA), tasked with protecting consumer data at large. Consumers would file complaints with the DPA that could trigger larger investigations into data malpractice, potentially implicating major platforms like Google and Facebook. If a company is found to have abused consumer data, the DPA could take action by inflicting civil penalties or seeking injunctive relief.

Momentum is clearly building towards an American equivalent to Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation scheme. 

With Republicans in the majority, Senator Gillibrand’s bill is a non-starter — not necessarily due to its policy aims as the natural incentive to deny the minority party legislative victories in an election year. But I would expect to see this sort of data projection agenda as a top-tier issue in the next congress.

Go Deeper: “The U.S. Needs a Data Protection Agency” by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

The DNC’s “Grassroots Partners” Program

Christen Sparago, the Democratic National Committee’s Sustaining Donor Manager, writing in “Does this bring in money or votes?” (the DNC Mobilization Team’s official newsletter):

Our monthly donors are digging deep to support the DNC’s goals, but keeping our sustainers engaged -- and getting them back when they stop donating -- is an evergreen project.

In April of last year, I began peer-to-peer texting donors who had cancelled their recurring gift within 48 hours of their cancellation.

I learned that simply asking donors to reconsider pulling their support works about 10% of the time, and nearly 70% of the donors I’ve messaged have responded and have been willing to engage in a meaningful conversation about the DNC’s goals (higher than I expected).

For those who reply no, an ask at 60-70% of their original monthly gift + a reminder that the DNC is building the eventual nominee’s campaign right now (and that Trump has had a 3-year head start) has been most successful with these folks.

And, bonus: those who sign up again increase their giving by about 12%!

This is a fascinating peek behind the curtain of the Democrats’ concerted effort to retain recurring donors through direct, 1:1 contact. 

The key thing, it seems, is that this is a cross-channel effort: it doesn’t matter whether they’re digital donors, direct mail donors, etc. The DNC has a coordinated program designed to reduce churn among monthly donors — whether they give through the mail, telemarketing, ads, SMS, or email.

The Impeachment Fundraising Boom

Melanie Zanona and Ally Mutnick, writing for POLITICO:

Impeachment has become a gold mine — turning even some rank-and-file lawmakers into fundraising juggernauts as they took starring roles in prosecuting or defending President Donald Trump.

A number of Democrats and Republicans who sit on the key committees investigating Trump saw their war chests flooded with cash — and their national profiles raised — during the months-long impeachment fight, which has consumed Washington and dominated headlines since September.

And there is real evidence that impeachment played a role in the fundraising boom, at least for Republicans. Donation pages for WinRed — the GOP’s online fundraising tool — that included the word “impeach” or “impeachment” raised 300 percent more than pages that did not, according to a source familiar with the fundraising platform’s operations.

No surprise: if the base sees you as a key player in the national narrative, your fundraising numbers will improve.

That said, I’m starting to wonder if campaigns will ever come down from these fundraising highs. Or will they keep ginning up controversies like impeachment each cycle to use as fundraising hooks?

How and Why You Should Clean Your Campaign’s Email List

Eric Wilson, writing at Best Practice Digital:

Has it been a while since you’ve sent an email to your campaign’s email list? Do you have an email list from a past campaign you want to reactivate? Maybe you’re spending lots of money to store inactive emails on your email marketing software. Or your deliverability might be suffering because you’re sending emails to subscribers that never open.

These are some of the reasons you need to practice good email list hygiene.

A dirty or stale email list is the single most likely reason that your campaign or cause is struggling to raise money online. 

Email is not like direct mail: sending messages to people who don’t want them (or people who don’t exist) will dramatically affect your ability to reach the people who do want to receive your messages — for the worse. 

Unfortunately, convincing a candidate, campaign manager, or executive director that shrinking their list will result in more fundraising is almost always a tough sell. It doesn’t matter that it’s the truth, and it doesn’t matter if the data and common sense support it. Every time I’ve had that conversation with someone in leadership it’s always been a hard one.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to convince your boss to let you clean your list, you’d do well to start by following Eric’s advice. And remember: list cleaning isn’t a one-time deal! Once you’ve cleaned it, you have to keep it clean by regularly removing unengaged subscribers.

“If I See The Real Thing in Nashua, Should I Tell You About It?”

“The West Wing” is, without a doubt, my favorite TV show of all time.

I discovered the show near the end of its running, around 2003–2004, and it formed a key part of my political education. (In fact, I would emphatically argue that you can learn more about the real work of politics by studying The West Wing than by studying political science at most of the nation’s colleges and universities.) And throughout the show’s seven seasons, I’ve always found that I related most with the character of Josh Lyman. 

One of my favorite scenes is a flashback to how Josh first came to be a part of President Barlet’s senior staff. At the time, he’s working for Senator John Hoynes, a cunning Democratic centrist and the frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination. Josh is at the peak of his career to date, and is doing exactly what he had set out to do; he’s also profoundly unhappy and feels like he’s lost his way.

Then, a friend of his father convinces him to go to Nashua, New Hampshire to see a longshot candidate speak. On the way, he makes a pitstop in Manhattan to see an old friend, and this is the conversation that ensues.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I first watched this show, and I still find new lessons in its story. When I first watched it, I was a teenager aspiring to a career in politics. Now, I’m nearly the age Josh was in Season 1 — and basically the same age he was in this flashback. And, like Josh, I sometimes wonder what I’m doing. 

I enjoy my job day-to-day, and it’s allowed me to create a good life for my family. But deep down, I think I’m still looking for the “real thing in Nashua.”

So my ask today is this: if you’ve found that person, tell me about it. Convince me to take the train to wherever and hear them speak. Don’t keep it to yourself. Because (and I know this sounds crazy) the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential elections are right around the corner.