Copycats: How do Right-Wing Actors Emulate Left-Wing Digital Advocacy Organizations?

Lunch seminar, in presence and online
NINA HALL, John Hopkins University
ANNETT HEFT, Freie Universität Berlin (online)
MICHAEL VAUGHAN, Freie Universität Berlin (online)
Copycats: How do Right-Wing Actors Emulate Left-Wing Digital Advocacy Organizations?



In 1998 MoveOn pioneered a new and powerful form of digitally enabled, multi-issue, member-driven, rapid response, advocacy organization. This model quickly spread around the world as progressive activists emulated it in twenty other countries including: Australia (GetUp!) and Germany (Campact). These digital advocacy organizations share common progressive values, and have been influential actors in national elections, and in public debate on a range of issues from the Iraq War to free trade agreements. The spread of a distinctive new organizational form amongst progressive groups is not surprising – after all they share similar ideologies and identities; and have closer personal networks. What is surprising is that right-wing actors have also explicitly replicated this new organization model, despite its claimed affinity with left-wing “grassroots” participation; moreover, these replication attempts appear unrelated both to one another and to the events surrounding the establishment of their left-wing counterparts. We conceptualize this process as ‘cross-partisan organizational emulation’ and examine four such right-wing ‘copycat’ organizations in detail – Grassfire (United States), Advance Australia (Australia), Patriot Petition (Germany), and CitizenGo (transnational). We find that all four organizations are rapid-response, multi-issue, on-line campaigning organizations, however none appear to be fully-member driven in their funding or decision-making. Rather right-wing digital advocacy organizations seem to favor hierarchical top-down decision-making. We conclude that imbalanced partisan conflict is the most important explanation for the timing and form of cross-partisan organizational emulation in these cases. This paper enriches our understanding of how learning, emulation and innovation occurs across ideological divides; it also describes mechanisms for how partisan conflicts can produce balancing effects in the future supply of advocacy organizations - albeit in non-determinative, context-specific and asymmetrical ways.


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