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Monday, December 12, 2011

A College Student, Opposition Research, and the Internet

Our chapter on mass media discusses the ways in which the mainstream media rely on opposition researchers. The Internet has now democratized "oppo."

Jason Zengerle writes at New York magazine:

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog—or an opposition researcher. Consider Andrew Kaczynski. The 22-year-old spends most of his time pursuing a history major at St. John’s University. But when he’s not in class or studying, he holes up in his Briarwood studio apartment, plops down in front of his MacBook, and dives into C-SPAN’s extensive online archives. Kaczynski’s hobby is watching old political videos, the most memorable of which he uploads to his YouTube channel. It sounds harmless enough, unless you happen to be a 2012 Republican presidential candidate with a long video record. Then Kaczynski’s hobby can ruin your news cycle, or worse.


The damage wreaked by Kaczynski’s work points to an irony of politics in the Internet age. Technological advances have made political campaigns increasingly sophisticated in their methods, with “microtargeted” online ads and text-messaged announcements of ­running-mate selections. But those same advances have made it possible for such sophisticated plans to be easily upended. That’s because, thanks to the Internet, opposition research—long considered a dark art practiced only by hardened political operatives—can now be done, and done effectively, by amateurs. This presidential campaign is the first one since C-SPAN’s 2010 decision to put its more than 160,000 hours of old video footage online. With that huge cache of political material, all it takes to spread dirt is curiosity and endurance—and then a YouTube channel and a Twitter account.

What it doesn’t require is animus. Kaczynski describes himself as a moderate Republican.