Politicians running in the upcoming US election are using psychological tricks and "dark" patterns in their emails to motivate their supporters to donate money, but also to mobilize voters.
In a study published earlier this month, academics at Princeton University said they analyzed more than 100.000 emails sent by U.S. presidential, federal and state races, and political action committees (PACs). ), Super PACs, political parties and other policies Organisations.
The messages were collected as part of a research project that started in December 2019, while they are still being assembled, with the research team planning to publish all data after the election cycle is over. To date, more than 280.000 emails have been collected from more than 3.000 senders.
Earlier this month, the research team also published one document containing the results of a preliminary analysis of the first 100.000 emails it collected - from December 2, 2019 to June 25, 2020.
These days, most campaign emails look like spam, so most email users are already familiar with their content and purpose. Most campaigns try to motivate users to open messages, but also to read them and take action. For example, they are asked to register at rallies, to vote or to donate money.
Princeton academics point out that the purpose of their research was to identify manipulative tactics and obscure patterns used by politicians. campaigns in the past, with the aim of pushing recipients to at least open the messages they send them. Among the tactics and motifs discovered by the researchers are the following:
- Urgent: Email with countdown timers, fake deadlines or fake targets, using subject lines and phrases like "April deadline (via Graham team)" ή "1 huge goal, 1 last chance to achieve it!"
- Hidden names: Email senders hide their identities, making it impossible for the recipient to know who sent the email if they do not open it.
- Ongoing thread: Emails where the sender modifies his name in patterns such as "John, me (2)" to trick users into believing they have already responded to the email and this is an ongoing discussion.
- Abuse of Re: / Fwd: Email where senders abuse the terms “Re” and “Fwd” in subject lines to deceive them users, to believe that the email was a response or a forwarding message.
According to the researchers, at least one of these was used in this campaign tactical in about 43% of the messages sent. Even though campaigns do not use these tactics often, the researchers said 99% use them at least occasionally.
In addition, Princeton academics said they looked at campaign email because manipulating political discourse undermines voter autonomy, creates cynicism and threatens democracy, while distorting political outcomes by favoring those who specialize in developing technological tricks.