Patrice Riemens on Sun, 25 Jun 2017 17:23:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> How Tinder helped to beat May & could win the White House back (NYT)

An upbeat story, yet for me at least, it has a feel of tech solutionism 
to it. How apps and bots, and long distance 'matches' are substituting 
for communities on the ground ...

How Tinder Could Take Back the White House

By YAara Rodrigues Fowler and Charlotte Goodman, NYT, June 22, 2017

original t:

By now, you may have heard that young voters were critical in the 
election in the United Kingdom earlier this month, helping deliver 
embarrassing losses to the Conservative Party. As politically active 
progressives in our 20s, we were eager to help mobilize the youth vote 
before the election. But we also knew that reaching out to people in our 
mostly left-wing social bubble would change nothing. Yara’s matches on 
the dating app Tinder were surprisingly responsive when she suggested 
that they register to vote. So we decided to scale it up.

With the help of two software engineers, Erika Pheby and Kyle Buttner, 
we designed a chatbot, a smart computer program that deployed an 
adaptable script. In the two days ahead of the election earlier this 
month, the chatbot struck up conversations with thousands of young 
people between 18 and 25 years old on Tinder. The chatbot talked about 
politics, with the aim of getting voters to help oust the Conservative 
government. The results were amazing. Over 30,000 messages reached young 
people in key constituencies.

This is how it worked: People we recruited from Facebook and Twitter 
“lent” us their Tinder profiles, and the bot convinced Tinder that their 
profiles were in geographical locations where the vote was close. In 
these places, the proportion of 18-25-year-olds was high enough that 
they could swing the election — if they turned out at the national 
average. Using the photograph of the person who’d lent their profile, 
the program would automatically swipe “yes” on every user, and if 
someone swiped “yes” back, creating a “match,” the bot would ask 
about the user’s voting plans.If the user planned to vote for Labour (or 
whatever party best placed to beat the Conservatives), the bot sent a 
message with a link to the nearest polling station. If the user planned 
to vote for another progressive party, the bot asked if he or she would 
consider a tactical vote to beat the Tories, voting for the progressive 
party most likely to beat the Conservatives in their area. And if the 
user was voting for a right-wing party or was unsure, the bot sent a 
list of Labour policies, or a criticism of Tory policies. People who 
lent their profiles could jump in and chat at any time. And they did.

We were amazed by the number of people saying that they’d spent hours 
convincing a match 300 miles away that high taxation for the rich would 
benefit them, because we all benefit from investment in the National 
Health Service. Others organized dates with people with whom they had 
compatible politics. The occasional match was disappointed to be talking 
to a bot instead of a human, but there was very little negative 
feedback: Tinder is too casual a platform for users to feel hoodwinked 
by some political conversation. By and large, users surprised us with 
their receptiveness. Some people who received bot messages asked how 
they could join us. Our inboxes were flooded. The number of profiles 
lent to us in just two evenings was incredible — we needed a 10-person 
team to process sign ups. We knew we were a part of something big.
Continue reading the main story

The fact is that until we saw the exit poll, which showed significant 
losses for the Conservative Party, we were pessimistic. When the 
election was announced, we prepared ourselves for a bloodbath. But like 
thousands of young people across the Britain, we got to work.

This election campaign has been like no other. Voters have been more 
engaged online than ever before. People aren’t just posting “I voted” 
as a status update, they’re sharing information with each other on how to 
vote tactically in their area. Meme-friendly graphics have condensed 
200-page manifestos into bullet points, helping people easily understand 
the parties’ policies.

Social media has also made canvassing more inclusive. Several people who 
volunteered with us said our bot allowed them to canvass despite 
physical or mental health conditions that prevented them from handing 
out leaflets. Nathalie Wright, a disability activist and writer, said: 
“I could do it in my own time on my own terms, as much or as little as I 
wanted. This reflects a bigger shift this election, where politics has 
been made more accessible and relevant to people who are usually 

What have we learned? At least two things.First, that in the weeks since 
this election was called, people on the left have come together. Every 
single person on our team wanted to beat the Tories, but we never 
discussed where exactly on the left we stood.

This isn’t unusual: All over Britain, progressive alliances have been 
cropping up. These groups, made up of activists from Labour, the Green 
Party and Liberal Democrats, campaigned together locally for whichever 
candidate was best placed to defeat the Conservatives, something 
unprecedented in Britain’s highly partisan political culture. After 
years of the Conservatives’ austerity program, which included cuts to 
housing, domestic violence services, hospitals and schools, people 
became more willing to unite against something.

In the United States, you might feel like all you do is talk and 
disagree. But when it comes it to beating Donald Trump in 2020, leftists 
will have a level of anger that just couldn’t be mustered after eight 
years of President Obama. Many voters had reservations about Hillary 
Clinton — many voters also weren’t sure about Jeremy Corbyn. But many on 
the left will agree that Mr. Trump has to go. If you get together and 
get organized, you can win.

Secondly — and this is more speculative — Tinder is an intimate medium. 
When you’re on your way home from work and someone stops you in the 
street, you’re busy: You don’t want to listen. But on Tinder, people 
want to talk, and they talk candidly. It’s not unusual to disclose a 
taboo sexual preference in an opening message. And the political is 
personal. A £10 minimum wage is personal. So is universal healthcare. 
Talking politics on Tinder works because your matches are waiting for 
you to say something personal to them. And they are willing to listen.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler (@yazzarf) is a writer and campaigner. Charlotte 
Goodman (@charlgoodman) is a postgraduate law student.

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