A closer look at my Rock the Vote interview

If you all think far back, you may remember that during my presentation on social/ political advocacy I mentioned that I’d been lucky enough to score a phone interview with an employee at one of my organizations of interest, Rock the Vote. I was pretty excited to get the interview. My initial efforts to reach out to my organizations came up short and I didn’t receive feedback after attempts through email, Facebook and Twitter. However, Caitlin got back to me in what seemed like minutes of my sending an inquiry to gather more information for a school project. Given the relatively brief time of the in-class presentation, I was only able to tie in a couple of important points from the interview. I thought the blog post would be a great opportunity to share more, because I felt like the interview was really informative and interesting. Below I’ve attached the questions I asked during the interview. Caitlin’s responses are not precise or in complete sentences, but my aggressive typing during the interview, I believe, was sufficient accurately capture what she said in note-form.

  • What is your job at Rock the Vote?
  • Support marketing team, focus on supporting superiors on the marketing team, managing social media and rock the vote blog
  • How does Rock the Vote use the internet to communicate its message?
  • In a lot of different ways
  • Online voter registration tool accessible through website
  • Way to register most voters in organization
  • 1.6 million voters in 2008
  • widget
  • print and mail to correct count board of elections
  • can install to other websites
  • fully functioning website w/ volunteer hub to sign up to volunteer, join events, create own events
  • list concerts, ticket giveaways, asking for volunteers registering voters at the concert
  • merchandise store online
  • social media
  • twitter: election reminders: local election days, voter registration deadlines, breaking news, updates, ticket giveaways
  • same type of updates on Facebook
  • blog: in-house or out-house writers, write about issues pertinent to young people
  •               ex. college grad wrote on Obama’s plans for student debt
  •                out of the box, opinions
  • press clips
  • interns compile important daily news clips
  •             news in technology, entertainment, breaking
  •             google list serve and on blog
  • What are the most beneficial aspects of the internet for your organization? Do you see any cons?
  • Online voter registration tool is most beneficial
  • Easy, big #s
  • Young people are so into the internet, make process simple, do it in a way that they know
  • Ease of process
  • No downsides to rock the vote’s use of internet
  • Press enter, actually process registration online
  •            What they are encouraging
  •             Encouraging modernization of voter registration
  • Rock the Vote was founded in 1990, prior to the surge of the Internet. How has Rock the Vote adapted to changes in technology over the years, particularly the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter?
  • Signed on and used Facebook and Twitter to their advantage
  • Used to make a lot more cold calls, more utilization of phone-athons and going door to door
  • Reaching more people
  •             Now emails
  • There are concerns that the internet makes activism more passive. For example, someone might “like” a group on Facebook but fail to take action beyond that. Do you think this is valid? How does Rock the Vote avoid passive involvement?
  • People who participate in the Internet are probably people who wouldn’t have involved in the first place.
  • This is their way to do it
  • People that would actually do it: internet or not because they have the motivation, reasons, passionate people
  • How do you think that your demographic of young people effects the way that your organization uses the internet, or the overall importance of using the internet to connect with members?
  • Great tool
  • Voter registration tool
  • Modernize to fit them and what they are used to
  •             Doing things online

The next step in looking at advocacy online: Facebook creeping

So I thought it would a fun and informative to explore a little deeper the type of member that Amnesty International and Rock the Vote attract online. My methods are by no means scientific or truly representative, thought that would be ideal. Sadly, I just don’t have the means to look at all 32,633 members of the Amnesty International Facebook group or all 301,671 followers on Twitter. I did, however, look at around 30 profiles and a few twitter followers, though Twitter profiles aren’t nearly as informative to the demographics and interests of people. The rise of popularity in privacy controls on Facebook limited a lot of what I could see unfortunately. So who are AI members? Here’s what I found:

Age: There is a wide age range. The oldest person I came across was 68…not too old…but old for Facebook 🙂

Religious views: Everything from Christian to Agnostic to “mind your business”.

Political views: Again quite a variety here. A lot of people didn’t share this information with non-friends. But some interesting ones I found were “all are equal” and “socialist capitalist cynic”.

Interests: All over the place, but often included similar organizations or “activist-minded” activities like the outdoors, Green Peace, staying healthy, and “dancing to the beat of my own drum”.

From: Everywhere! Made me want to do some traveling. Here were some good ones:  India, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Germany, France, Japan, Ireland. Amnesty clearly has an international reach.

Rock the Vote also has a diverse group of members, but is more concentrated on what might come to mind when you visualize activists. That is, there seems to be a greater concentration of young, university students. The organization is aimed at motivating our generation to participate in politics so this makes sense. Also, given it is a national organization, the vast majority of members on the Facebook page are from the United States.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Facebook members were largely from Madison, WI and surrounding areas. There were a few people from neighboring states, like MN and IL, often having some association with Madison, like being a UW alumni. This makes since, as it is a local organization. Another non-surprising trend given the topic of interest is the larger concentration of female members. Males still have a strong presence though.

While lacking in scientific quality, my profiling of these groups members gave me a better idea of the diversity of people involved in the organzations, but also how their membership make-ups differ from each other based on their reach and message.


Update on political/ social advocacy online…

So…I am still finding myself having a hard time engaging actively with my chosen advocacy groups online. I have continued to reply to news posted on twitter or facebook, and “like” things now and then and what not, but like I said before, the community aspect of providing engaged feedback is somewhat missing so my interactions remain largely at the surface. After my attempts to reach out on Rock the Vote and Amnesty International’s Facebook pages (by disclosing that I was working on a project and would love to know how the organization and its’ members used the Internet to organize and connect) were denied, as they both immediately deleted my posts, I was discouraged about my ability to gather information on their internet use directly. Yesterday, I contacted via email both organizations, as well as Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, the smaller local organization I have mentioned. Amnesty International directed me to their international secretariat. I also emailed their U.S. organization. This is what I said to Amesty International:


My name is Katherine Thibeau. I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. For my communications class titled “Critical Internet Studies” I am doing a project on advocacy groups and their use of the Internet. I selected Amnesty International both for its personal appeal and worldwide recognition. I was wondering if you could help me, or help me to get in contact with someone, who could offer some insight into the ways that Amnesty International uses the internet (including social media, twitter, the website, email etc.) to communicate, organize and connect with its’ members. I realize that your organization has higher priorities than this, but I believe that your information would elevate my project/ presentation and potentially motivate eager college students to join AI or reinstate the UW- Madison chapter.

Thank you in advance for your help!”

My other emails were very similar… I am skeptical about the likelihood that I will here back from Amnesty International and Rock the Vote as they are both very large organizations. I am optimistic that Domestic Abuse Intervention Services will get back to me because they are local here in Madison and I pointed out that my presentation would bring more awareness to the group.

I really do hope that I hear back from the organizations, and that my attempts to dig deeper aren’t rebuffed once again. While I can certainly make inferences about how these organizations use the website based on my own observations and knowledge about how organizatoins in general use the internet, their direct input would provide more credibility and specificity to my understanding. I’ll let you know if I hear back! I’ll be posted again soon “profiling” members of Amnesty International, as well as posting prior to my presentation on wednesday.