negative campaigning?

Max Mehl max.mehl at
Sun Jul 30 18:18:23 UTC 2017

Thanks Johannes and Alessandro for a good explanation what negative
campaigning actually is and how it can backfire to the sender. Some
nitpicking comments from my perspective:

# Alessandro Rubini [2017-07-30 11:26 +0200]:
> Negative campaigning doesn't work.  You may be self-confident you are
> on the right side and you see (and shout) the evils of the world, but
> at the same time you run fast into irrelevance.

Depends. For some organisations such strategy may work because they use
the created emotions to mobilize their audience for short-term
(counter-)activities. For example, demonstrations against something
often work this way and sometimes have large success while positive
demonstrations often fail (Pulse of Europe for example, IMHO).

But the FSFE has different goals and runs campaigns over a much longer
time frame. Also, our supporter base is different in parts. So I largely
agree to what you said, Alessandro.

>> + it puts the opponent into a defensive position
> No. The opponent ignores us, just like everyone. Have we *ever* got a
> reply from our direct attack to misbehaving companies? Worse, most
> "negative" messages repeat (and thus reinforce) commercial names.
> Make a cell phone that may, very rarely, explode, and you get free
> advertisement of your brand in every airport for a few months.
> And even if you are at a conference on the stage with your "opponent",
> by attacking you usually shows you have no arguments.  It's what our
> most unsuccessful politicians do all the time.

Well, sometimes the FSFE has also used "negative tones" to reach a
short-term goal, for example with the LiMux scandal in Munich earlier
this year.  Within one week we had to provoke some attention within the
(Munich) population, the local politicians, and the media. So we had to
start our public message with something negative ("look what the f**k is
happening over there!") and mix that with something positive ("keep
following your Free Software strategy and you'll be better"). But these
are rare cases and are more of a short-term communication strategy than
long-term campaigning.

A word or two about "negative facts": positive campaigning doesn't
exclude naming negative facts about proprietary solutions or the current
state.  Quite the contrary: we often need the comparison with what's not
good to explain why and how Free Software would be better. But
"positive" campaigning doesn't start its message with something
attacking, and it always shows realistic solutions. In the Facebook case
outlined in this thread, this could be:

  "Free Software social networks are awesome, use them!" 
  -> "Why? Because Facebook is the worst you can use, see ABC." 
  -> "Diaspora, GNU Social, Friendica are much better because XYZ, we
     show you how they work."

In my opinion, just screaming "Facebook is evil!" is yet another
scandal, and one that isn't the most interesting of the dozens of those
we see and hear each day unfortunately.


Max Mehl - Free Software Foundation Europe - Program Manager
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