Red Edge creators look at technology in politics


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Photo by Daphne Alva |

Bret Jacobson, one of the founders of Red Edge, talks at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.


Bret Jacobson and Ian Spencer found ways to incorporate technology in politics, using apps like Snapchat for public affairs.

Their presentation, entitled “Digital Advocacy Done Right: Politics and Leadership Online,” informed students about the applications of technology in today’s politics at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.

Jacobson and Spencer, founders of Red Edge — a company that develops digital media campaigns — shared their experiences using technology for various high profile companies such as The Heritage Foundation, Republican Governors’ Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Jacobson explained the history of technology in politics. He explained how presidential campaigns that have taken advantage of new technologies have seen the most success.

Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy used new technologies like the printing press and the television to strengthen their campaigns.

“New communication technologies almost always circumvent the previous priests or gatekeepers … whether that be editors, publishers or owners of production,” Jacobson said.

This is similar to the work Jacobson and Spencer do for their media firm, where they have brought politics into the social media sphere. 

The two men created the first applications for advocacy on Facebook and were the first to create a political application for Google Glass.

“People under 35 are relatively hopeful and self-reliant, so we try to use technology to empower those people to become better educated,” Jacobson said.

In its early development, Jacobson considered Google Glass to be a gimmick. Yet Google Glass is fairly new technology, and both men believe it should take off. 

The application for Google Glass, called “Augmented Advocacy,” aims to deliver easily accessible political news directly to its users. 

“You wear the glasses all day, you don’t check by taking your phone out of your pocket,” Spencer said. “You aren’t thinking about politics or advocacy — you’re just doing something day to day.”

Spencer said “Augmented Advocacy” is designed to educate people and spread ideas. Currently, they use social media to remain relevant, or stay in people’s “streams.”

“The new model is the stream,” he said. “You select who is in your stream, and that’s a challenge for people who are trying to be in front of others.”

Because Twitter or Instagram users make use of this new self-selected filter of information, it is harder for people to see information they do not actively choose to see. 

Spencer said people generally follow their friends and create a friend stream, which is the information they consider most valuable. 

The challenge of exposing people to different information inspired the men to use their own method to target audiences toward issues they care about.

The method they use is “target sharing”, a method Spencer said the Obama campaign is known for using successfully.

“Target sharing” is how Spencer and Jacobson work their way into people’s friend streams.

This method is used by apps that encourage users to log in using Facebook and grant the app access to their friends, likes, interests and personal information.

 “We can get people who are activists and in these friend streams to communicate with people who don’t care about politics and activate them,” Spencer said. 

This is the men’s way of exposing people to information they might care about or issues their clients might care about. 

“We need to make bite-size information,” Jacobson said. “Seventeen trillion dollars in debt is a number the human brain cannot comprehend … those numbers aren’t useful, we need to make information like that useful.”

Michael Davidson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, feels the men of Red Edge are using relevant ways to communicate ideas that are not as widespread.

“They use social media, something we use everyday, to spread ideas we don’t see everyday,” Davidson said.


By Erin Walsh

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