First You Have to Decide Goals

Uncle is asking for some help:

So, there’s a lot of pro-gun activists on the Internet. I mean, there’s a ton. We’re just not all in the same place what with message boards, live journal, face book, etc, etc. If everyone actually got together, we’d be pretty influential, I would venture.

Any ideas on how to do that?

First you have to decide what your goal is, because online organizing is good for certain things, and not entirely good for other things. If the goal is grassroots mobilization, forums and blogs are effective, but I question whether we have the numbers to turn elections, which is the root of all political power. Politics is all local. A large percentage of my readers live here with me in Pennsylvania, so in a state wide race, I may have some very small effect on election outcomes. Online gun rights organizations like PAFOA, with many thousands of readers, could have even more. But could I mobilize my readership to defeat my local state representative? Probably not. A congressman? Probably not. You need a different kind of organization to affect those types of political outcomes, and for gun owners, they are, and will remain for the foreseeable future, local clubs and associations, along with NRA’s considerable election mobilization machine that works through a network of EVCs on the ground locally. This is why I think it’s important to have a debate about what we want a blanket online gun-owner project to accomplish. I don’t think online gunnies can’t affect political outcomes at all, but we have to play to our strengths, and understand our weaknesses.

20 thoughts on “First You Have to Decide Goals”

  1. The goal is not to ‘turn elections’ per se. But rather to be there to mobilize against, say, a misleading letter to the editor or show up at some protest, etc. Small aims, grassroots and all that.

  2. That’s probably the kind of thing where we can have more impact. Conventional wisdom would be that it’s very hard to get people who have jobs turned out for a protest, which is why it’s pot smoking hippies that tend to like protesting. VCDL has done a pretty effective job of disproving that conventional wisdom, however, so I wouldn’t discount it.

    I also think we’re pretty useful at generating correspondence with legislators in addition to the media.

  3. The problem is the time it would take to organize all of those groups would be a full-time job. It’s not just about creating some kind of clearinghouse, it’s more about relationship building. That’s some many of the online groups are actually not very good at doing, in my opinion. Someone would scream that they could do it better, and rather than trying to effectively work with whoever was organizing it, they’d try to just pull people away and tell them to sit out.

  4. The hardest part of such a venture is getting a unified message for three reasons:

    1) Gun owners are opinionated and often those opinions vary
    2) In my experience the average gun owner is a gun owner first and an activist second. While most gun owners can look at issues like one-gun-a-month and mandatory reporting of lost/stolen firearms and be skeptical, I’ve found very few who can effectively argue against them. In some cases I’ve seen gun owners even offer support for such measures because they did not understand the big picture.
    3) Many gun owners are highly reactionary. Learning how to pick battles and knowing when to make noise is very important. Outrage loses it’s value if everything results in an outrage.

    The key to any mass-movement by gun owners will be mass-education in these areas:

    1) How to identify issues
    2) How to gauge the importance of issues and whether it’s an issue we want to raise
    3) How to decide whether an issue is something we are for or against
    4) How to effectively argue for or against an issue

    This would have to be organized in a central location and be simple to quickly read and understand in plain english with lots of examples.

    This is not to say that gun owners are not capable of getting to this point. By and large I think gun owners are much more politically and legally in tune out of necessity, but turning every gun owner into a spokes(wo)man you’d want talking to the press is going to take some work. One stupid comment or one person saying something they should not (re: Zumbo) can undo the work of lots of other people.

    With that said, I’ve long considered a similar project and already have some ideas for it.

  5. Daniel,

    i don’t really want a unified message either. Just a way that news reported in, say, the message boards gets to the blogs and vice versa.

  6. I guess it depends on the goals. I assumed by influential you meant influential in protecting or changing public policy, in which a non-unified voice is very detrimental.

    If the goal is simply the organized aggregation and dissemination of information pertinent to firearm owners that would be easier. It would mostly just be a lot of time and a lot of programming.

  7. My opinion is that much of the support for gun control is based on false information. The 1994 AWB, and the confusion between assault weapons, assault rifles, and machine guns is a prime example. A goal could be quick and easy references to debunk bad info. There are some vids on YouTube that explain the AWB. That’s one way to do it.

  8. Bitter

    Sorry, what I was trying to say was a goal of a unified website could be to move that information out to a larger audience. YouTube maybe one option for that.

    I have also wondered what would happen if a gun board mass emailed Glenn Beck’s Real Story on Second Amendment Issues.

    As it is now, the majority of anti-gun news stories that I have seen online are answered very quickly, if comments are made available. So that is a good sign.

  9. Jack,

    So then what kind “organization” (whether it’s formal or informal) are you proposing? If you want YouTube videos, how does that tie into uniting lots of sections of the online pr0-gun movement? Or are you suggesting something completely different and someone try to reach a mass audience.

    I guess from your statements, the vision (getting more pro-gun responses of some form out to more people) is relatively clear, but I’m still not understanding what your suggestion for strategy/implementation is.

  10. We could ask Sailorcurt, for helpful ideas, as an example. They seem to have alot going on as a group in Virginia, Showing up in force when issues arise and such. Just a thought…..

  11. Re-reading above, I have another question, but for Daniel.

    If the goal is simply the organized aggregation and dissemination of information pertinent to firearm owners that would be easier. It would mostly just be a lot of time and a lot of programming.

    Obviously, you know the tech side, but I’m wondering how this would work. I mean I can’t imagine you’d want every thread to be crossposted to a page, along with every blog post, or LJ entry.

    Could distinctions be made any other way than a human processing it? I guess kind of like Fark editors. And I would imagine that some sort of more professional type summary would need to be written about some of these issues before being listed out there as news. And I imagine that would have to be from a person who can look at the heart of the post/thread/whatever and sum it up in one or two sentences.

    I guess based on my limited tech knowledge, I still see too much role for a human operator dedicating a ton of time, much like what Gun Law News used to try, only without the coding (just an RSS feed, I believe). Maybe a Fark-style platform could work.

    Of course then if one person doesn’t get their headline about the falling spy satellite being targeted to hit a gun club during its meeting as part of a massive conspiracy by the government to shut us down through creative means approved, then they’ll go complain and get others to not be a part of it or at least go bitch about it every time someone references it as a source. :)

  12. I agree with Daniel Pehrson, and the unifying site should take advantage of all the APIs out there for LinkedIn/Facebook, YouTube, etc. and aggregate them into an easy to use site for techies and non-tech alike.

    I am willing to dedicate some programming time to this. Any other volunteers?

  13. Bitter has a point, though. You need more than just aggregation. That’s way too much information for a neophyte to the issue to make sense out of.

  14. Bitter,

    If I were to design such a system it would just be a highly relational database system that would act as a synnergy of multiple services like technorati, digg, wikipedia, etc.

    The simplified concept would be: Data is fed into the system via feeds or user submissions, submissions are reviewed by the community and/or moderators and properly grouped/categorized. Persistent data would be moved into a wiki-style system (but probably a little less open)

    The system I have programmed for PAFOA’s main website is pretty much a very small version of these ideas. As I develop more there will be more data flowing in and out of the system including the ability for other trusted organizations to leverage our database and processing to submit and syndicate data without any technical knowledge.

    A system like this done on the large scale, national level would be massively effective if it leveraged the public in an appropriate way.

    The requirements to do it properly though are not minor. It would take serious programmers working serious hours to get it done right.

    With that said if the NRA is reading this and would like to hire me to start working on such a system immediately, get my email from Sebastian!

  15. I believe that the ultimate solution is to effect public opinion. The simple “take people to the range” concept is effective. A few bloggers picking up a meme or getting some new fact to republish is underappreciated. The way to take gun control off of the table of national politics is to change individual perceptions.

    Digg is an excellent model, but it casts too wide of a net, and that net catches enough anti-gun power users to bury niche content (like anything smelling of conservative politics or issues.)

    I don’t belive that traditional moderation is feasible for something like this. There are enough walled gardens containing individual chiors already reciving sermons.

    A system for bridging across smaller communities would be a great first step. There is some fantastic content posted to forums that should recieve a wider audience, but because of the format you have to actively search it out — joining the chior to recieve the sermon.

  16. Yesterday I was Jack. I put this up at SayUncle’s new page, but I’ll cross post it here.
    I have more questions than answers.

    On the tech side I am very weak, so Qs about Blogrolls.
    Can a Blogroll be coded with headlines (first topic on the blog), or rolling headlines (top 3 topics)?
    Can a Blogroll be coded so that it can be sorted? By category, by geography, by traffic, by date started, etc. Can they have Tags (like on YouTube).

    General Questions
    Which blogs and forums have the most traffic?
    Which blogs and forums have the most cross posting (traffic in common), and which are the outliers?
    Has anyone done a post mortem on the Jim Zumbo event? Which blogs/ forums had it first? Which had the most traffic? Is that the model for action?

    I am envisioning a master Blogroll with headlines that people can glance at, also with a place they can post action alerts. I also like McZombie idea about a “News Alert Widget.”

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