The National Republican Congressional Committee caught flak for a Twitter petition campaign pushing for repeal of the Obama administration’s healthcare reform law. However, while snarky sites like Wonkette and Gawker mocked the effort for easily falling prey to Internet trolls, the NRCC considers the first leg of the campaign a success. The organization – dedicated to strengthening the Republican majority in the House of Representatives – said the campaign should reap at least 4,000 good emails once fake petition signers are weeded out (“Weedlord Bonerhitler” being one of them).
The NRCC plans to continue the campaign in the near future, according to recently-hired digital director Gerrit Lansing, who said the effort launched the committee’s messaging around the impending Supreme Court decision on the healthcare law.
“Plans are being worked out, but we’ll be launching again,” said Lansing of the campaign.
Yesterday, the NRCC launched the @NRCCPrinter Twitter account and the I Want Repeal Tumblr, hubs for an anti-healthcare reform petition campaign propelled by the #IWantRepeal Twitter hashtag. Signers could also watch as their petitions flowed through the NRCC printer via a Ustream account.
“Obamacare is wrong for me, wrong for my family and wrong for the USA,” stated the petition.
Not surprising, pranksters – many prompted by a Wonkette “Homework Assignment” to “Spam GOP’s Anti-Healthcare Reform Livestream Thing Immediately” posted at 6:55 p.m. June 7 – clogged the gears with phony signings featuring goofy and lewd names. Those names flooded through to Twitter postings associated with the hashtag. But before the campaign became tainted, it spurred a stream of seemingly legitimate petition signees and Twitter posts calling for repeal.
Supporters and jokesters alike can still sign the petition at IWantRepeal.Tumblr.com, though the live streaming printer has been shut down. According to Lansing, “a couple thousand” virtual signatures came in this morning, though the list will need to be filtered for moniker impurities.
Despite the hijacking, the campaign helped the NRCC add new email contacts at around $0.30 to $0.40 each, factoring in the cost of the campaign, said Lansing. The relatively low cost of such online petition efforts, which serve to generate fresh supporter contacts to later hit up for donations, have made them ubiquitous in the political and advocacy world.
— Joe C. (@DeliciousJoe) June 7, 2012
Usage of the #IWantRepeal hashtag wasn’t entirely organic. The NRCC bought three promoted posts on Facebook and Promoted Tweets on Twitter to propel the message and drive people to the petition.
“When your hashtag is taken over by the other side…at the end of the day they’re having real conversations on your turf,” suggested Lansing.
“If your hashtag and your rollout aren’t worth taking over, it’s not good enough to start in the first place,” he added. In other words, if success of a partisan hashtag is based in part on its ability to facilitate virality, it is inherently subject to being commandeered by the other side – at least in a cutthroat political atmosphere.
“They’re still using your message,” said Lansing. “I expected it to be taken over and it was only a question of when.” The former House Budget Committee press secretary was hired about a month ago to head up digital for the NRCC. “I was hired to be aggressive,” said Lansing.