For tech in politics, thinking beyond echo chambers

Listen to campaign managers, and they’ll tell you that the holy grail for tech in politics is increased segmentation; tracking opinions based on demographic information and reaching people through the media they’re most likely to consume.

Yet for groups and movements, the apps that serve them, and voters, the future of tech will prove to be the exact opposite.

The dichotomy isn’t quite as drastic as it may sound. While increased segmentation serves a real purpose for campaigns, for groups and civic tech start-ups, those same predictions of how people will and will not react to issues, and where they receive their information, has a hard limit, where growth essentially stops.

{mosads}Take, for example, gun control. All sides of the issue continue to expend tremendous energy reaching out to those most likely to agree with them and join the cause. But, largely, they’ve tapped out those groups and hit their ceiling, leaving the issue at a constant deadlock.

On the other hand, thinking beyond segmentation and predicted inclinations has shown great promise.

Take net neutrality. At the beginning, only a very select micro-group of people cared about and acted on the issue. Most consultants would have told their politician clients to only talk about net neutrality to that small group. And most consultants strategizing with net neutrality advocates would have focused on how to reach more people within that existing micro-group. Had those consultants won out, net neutrality would have likely died an early death.

Instead, net neutrality advocates ran a smart, guerrilla campaign, introducing the issue to people outside of their ranks — the sort of people whom consultants would say don’t care about the issue. And the issue caught fire. It disproved the notion that splicing and dicing people up is the most effective way to drive action.

Pretty soon, politicians, including President Obama, were talking about net neutrality to big audiences. John Oliver used his television show to explain the issue (to an even wider audience), causing government email servers to crash under the weight of public outcry.

The issue defied every bit of conventional wisdom.

There will be limited growth for those who believe that tech’s future in policy and advocacy is just creating mini echo chambers, where people with an issue in common join ranks among themselves for politicians to target them. It may provide a great place for Second Amendment groups and gun control advocates to target groups backing their point of view, but those will largely be groups made up of people that those groups already reached by targeting them through other means.

On the other hand, the political apps and websites that will find success are the ones that will place less emphasis on divisions. They will drive constant reengagement by introducing people to a wider array of issues and causes that audiences might not have been aware of, but care about.

In many ways, what will work in politics and policy isn’t much different than what works elsewhere. Whether it is BuzzFeed or Upworthy, some of the most successful sites and apps follow a model where people can both easily find material that interests them, and get presented with new subjects that they soon discover they’re interested in. In my experience running a civic engagement app, what I have discovered is that people get moved by issues that consultants would say they shouldn’t be moved by. Not only that, but they keep coming back for more.

It’s for that reason that tech in politics is so exciting. At its best, it can become a true game changer, if it is used in the right way. It can lend itself to paradigm shifts on many issues, dynamically altering the staid course that we seem to have been on for so long. Ditching divisions means that the future can be limitless.

Myers is the CEO of, a legislative advocacy and congressional engagement app.

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