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

Relatori e Relatrici

    Nina Hall
    John Hopkins University
    Annett Heft
    Freie Universität Berlin
    Michael Vaughan
    Freie Universität Berlin
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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