There’s a manatee loose on the internet – and it will encourage voters towards the Liberal Democrats

I knew there was something weird going on with my Facebook feed. There are plenty Liberal Democrat related items in it all the time, but I’ve noticed adverts for things I’ve been interested in. I’ve also noticed that the UK Liberal Democrat website now seems to tell me lots of things about the very excellent Mike Crockart. I suspected technical wizardry of some description and wondered what was coming next given the way that Austin Rathe and his colleagues seem to be able to get into my head.

The secret is out now. It’s called Operation Manatee. A manatee, as Wikipedia will tell you,  is a quite peaceful looking sea cow type thing that, interestingly, has prehensile lips. The left and right sides of the upper lip can move independently of each other. This clearly is not any sort of parallel to the Liberal Democrats. Manatee is based on the Obama campaign’s similarly marine-named 2012 Project Narwhal.  This enabled Obama’s campaign to send very specifically targeted emails on controversial subjects to those voters who would be sympathetic.

Manatee works in a similar way, using Facebook and YouTube. This video gives more details.

Over 2 million social media adverts to be placed in the final phase of the campaign, right up till close of poll on Thursday night.

The party’s Digital Director Steve Pitman said:

This is the first time any political party has been able to target digital communications in this way. Typically, voters would be targeted simply by geography but that means you’re sending an awful lot of people the wrong message. This is different. For example if you tell one of our activists that the NHS is a key issue for you in the election then we could present you with a video on YouTube or Facebook which reflects that.

The first concern of many liberals will be about privacy, but it’s all secure.

Of course, protecting the privacy of the people whose data we hold is our absolute priority. Here’s how we’re doing that.
The most important thing to say is that at no point does political data on anyone leave the Liberal Democrats and none of it is ever shared with Facebook or Youtube. To explain that, here’s an example of how Manatee works.

We’ll identify a targeted set of voters in Connect that we want to deliver a specific message to. As example, let’s say that we want to send a message to our definite and probable supporters.

That list is then exported from Connect and sent securely to a third party supplier to be matched with Facebook and Youtube data. Here’s the crucial thing: when the list of voters is sent, any sensitive data (e.g. political support) is removed. All we send is a list of people labelled “List 1A”. Nobody outside the Lib Dems will know what that list name means, or why people are on it.

Once the matching is completed then the targeted lists of voters become available in Facebook and YouTube for targeting. In our example we would see a list of voters in Facebook called “List 1A”. Our HQ digital team knows that they are our definite and probable supporters, but no one else does.We then deliver the targeted adverts to that set of voters.

Austin Rathe told the Standard a few weeks ago that he would never think of paying for a Facebook like as the Tories seem to be doing. We should have known he had something far more powerful and effective up his sleeve.

Let us know what appears in your timeline…

UPDATE: Cllr James Baker posted this on Facebook in response to the news about Manatee. It made me laugh:

Never mind operation “Mantatee” the Warley ward campaign to save the last Liberal Democrat Councillor in Halifax (aka Team pie) is launching operation “Otter”. We are using a cutting edge Risographic printer and utilising the latest shoe leather technology to deliver our message up to 10pm on polling day. Text 07817 605 162 to help.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • steve white 6th May '15 - 2:33am

    when they say matched? how?

  • Charles Rothwell 6th May '15 - 8:10am

    Seems a good idea to me. The Party is obviously about to enter a period of Retrenchment and (I hope) Reform (flagging ‘red lines’ which make us unique and totally distinct from the others (Internationalist, Pro-Electoral Reform (working with the Greens (but definitely not the Kippers!), Pro-Constitutional Reform, Pro-Regionalism etc.) and any/every means which can be used to keep people in touch with each other/target those likely to share these views (and totally ignore others (such as Kippers) who are diametrically opposed/stand for the complete opposite) seems good to me. (Just hope we can have “Peace” as well and debates about reform/repositioning do not split us apart in the same ways as have happened in previous decades! On the other hand, if there has EVER been a time for a centrist, modernising, reforming party to flourish (as the swivel-eyed brigade takes over the Conservatives entirely and many a Labourite dreams of becoming the Braveheart of England), it must be now!)

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