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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When political parties try to be too clever

The new Tory website cash-gordon.com was meant to signal a new direction in the use of the internet by political parties. As the Guardian explains the site, which was launched at the weekend on Facebook and Twitter, and was claimed to have cost $15,000, was intended to engage voters who could earn "points" for reading a speech by Michael Gove, the shadow education minister, or bombarding Charlie Whelan, the ex-Labour spin doctor now working for Unite, with hectoring tweets.

However, the internet is not so easily tamed. It is anarchic at best and despises attempts to control and manipulate it. Thus, just as happened with the Tory poster campaign, on-line users bit back.

Firstly, it was revealed that the site's template came from a rightwing American group that opposes President Barack Obama's cap-and-trade system and then the site became the target of a mass Twitter hack that led to it showing pornography, swearwords, Rick Astley videos, malware links, and redirecting visitors to the Labour party site:

It worked, up to a point: it certainly engaged voters.

Unfortunately, many of them weren't Conservative voters.

And it seems that the team behind the Tories' site hadn't learned the lesson of the Daily Telegraph, which last April saw its site peppered with swearing and insults aimed at its owners, the Barclay Brothers, when it automatically republished any tweet containing the text "#budget". ("Telegraph wankers #budget Didn't work" being one of the more polite.) So history repeated itself – for a change, both times as farce – after Twitter users quickly spotted that any tweet containing "#cashgordon" would be reused immediately on the site, regardless of whether it agreed with the Conservative view or not.

Within hours they had also discovered that lines of computer code could also be included – and used those to link to pictures (including pornographic ones), YouTube videos, malware and, finally, to redirect visitors to the Labour site. At which point the site was taken offline and visitors redirected to a page on the Conservative party site about Whelan. Crucially, that doesn't include Twitter feeds, thus saving the party's blushes.

Back to the drawing board I suppose.
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