Bernie Sanders Digital Army is Winning the Internet

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Among his fellow 2020 Democratic contenders, Sanders is likely the best positioned to take on Trump in the digital realm

Vox - July 5, 2019

... The 2016 election was a lesson in how much the internet matters in modern politics. “The bottom line is that you can’t win with just digital, but you can’t win without it,” Alan Rosenblatt, director of digital research at the Democratic strategy firm Lake Research Partners, told Recode.

Now, as a crowded field of Democratic contenders competes for the 2020 nomination, Sanders is back, and so is a new and improved version of his digital army.

Among his fellow 2020 Democratic contenders, Sanders is likely the best positioned to take on Trump in the digital realm. One advantage is his enviable email list built up in 2016, which helped him raise more than $18 million in the first six weeks of his 2020 campaign and sign up 1 million volunteers. The Sanders camp is also leaning heavily into streaming video and other online mediums, and he’s hiring volunteers who proved their skills during his previous run.

And as demonstrated with the #NoMiddleGround effort in June, Sanders still has an army of volunteer supporters who spend their time promoting his campaign everywhere — on Facebook and Twitter, on Reddit, through Slack, and, of course, on the ground.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel this time,” David Fredrick, who co-created the influential Sanders for President subreddit in 2013, told Recode. In 2016, the subreddit raised $2.3 million in direct donations for Sanders; when you account for donors who started from a Reddit-sourced link, that amount jumps to $13 million.

The Sanders Slack group, where his army makes plans

One powerful grassroots organizing tool behind Sanders’s 2020 run is a Connect With Bernie Slack group, where power players and ultra-devoted volunteers make plans, get stuff done, and track the latest developments of the campaign.

It’s a revival from 2016, and while it had about 8,000 members then, it has 300 people after moderators deleted and reopened it. Some members are regular Bernie supporters; others are administrators of relatively prominent pro-Sanders social media properties, including People for Bernie, Digital Left, Silvers for Sanders, and the Sanders for President subreddit. Its moderators — Amanda Robertson, a former public school teacher from South Carolina, and Teri Gidwitz, a digital marketer from Chicago — are volunteers and aren’t officially affiliated with the Sanders campaign. Though some official reps from the campaign are in the Slack group, they’re not leading it.

Members share news stories about Sanders, and each day, the moderators announce his speeches and schedule, like his attendance at the Walmart shareholders meeting in June. They also encourage members to take specific actions, such as responding to a New York Times call for reader letters about their favorite candidates.

In one room, members share screenshots of their “points” accumulated on the BERN app, an organizing tool from the campaign, to show how much they’ve spread the pro-Sanders word. Some members are designers and creators, so they request and share custom campaign graphics. One room offers Spanish translations, and there are state-specific groups. Tweets from Sanders and speechwriter David Sirota post automatically.

The idea is to amplify the campaign’s efforts, spread positive stories and information about Sanders, and activate supporters. “Our ultimate goal is to get Bernie elected,” Gidwitz said. ...
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