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OUSU candidates in website controversy

The OUSU presidential election had a turbulent first week with all three main contenders involved in website controversy.

After Reclaim OUSU came under fire for an unfortunate website gaffe last week, with Nathan Akehurst’s page telling viewers that “Nathan sucks really bad”, Jane4Change has been accused of “stealing” from the website of design company Mixd. The Jane4Change website has since been taken down.

The remarkable similarity of the two sites prompted Mike Danford, the creative director of Mixd, to claim that Jane4Change had “stolen” from their website and that Will Neaverson, who designed the website, “shouldn’t have done it”. He also commented that some of the Jane4Change website was still drawing on the hosting resources of the original design, consuming some of their bandwidth.

Danford stressed that the code had been carefully adapted in a process that obviously required some skill.

Jane Cahill was quick to distance herself from the process of the website design, commenting to Cherwell, “Our team were not aware of the technicalities of website, we didn’t have a huge number of resources to put together a sophisticated software for this election. The website editor has apologised to the company involved which is right and we have taken down the design.”

Rival president candidate Alex Bartram, however, felt it cast doubts on the efficacy of Cahill as a potential president commenting, “Jane4Change haven’t been able to put a website up for their campaign on a budget of over £200 without using somebody else’s. How they’ll manage to run a Student Union and get a whole new building with an uncosted plan is entirely unclear.”

Nathan Akehurst was equally dismissive, saying, “It’s surprising that such a carefully planned political machine is capable of such a basic mistake. I would just sincerely like to express my hope their policies are more original than their website and their team name.”

Alex Bartram has also been criticised this week for his use of ‘NationBuilder’, an advanced tool for political campaigns utilised by major political parties for national elections. The tool allows users to accumulate large amounts of data in order to conduct more targeted campaigning, for example by sending specific policies to specific groups of people.

Bartram said that he was excited by using the tool for the campaign, commenting, “We think its capacity for information storage is incredibly useful even for a (relatively) small-scale campaign like the OUSU elections.

What it means is we can match up a huge amount of different people with the specific policies, areas, or interests that we’re addressing, and really target our campaign on the basis of that.”

The other, candidates, however, expressed bewilderment at using such a sophisticated piece of software for a student election.

Jane Cahill of Jane4Change commented, “We find it amusing that a candidate who claims he is not a typical student politician is using an invasive technology which the Labour party uses to stuff people’s inboxes with targeted mailings and to manipulate Facebook newsfeeds.

Firstly, it’s weird to use that in a student union election, and secondly I don’t want to see elections decided by the quality of software over the quality ideas and experience. More broadly, we wouldn’t be comfortably holding as much information on students as it required to, say, target an email on a sports policy, or an academic policy.”

Nathan Akehurst of Reclaim OUSU was also sceptical about the use of the website, commenting “I don’t think using advanced software in a student union election is necessary, and if what I’ve heard about privacy issues is correct then it is worrying. At the end of the day, nothing beats a face to face conversation about what we want out of our union, and that’s what I hope these elections will be won on.”

Bartram, however, was keen to stress that NationBuilder would not allow Team Alex to access any private information from Facebook profiles.

One Wadham student commented on the election that they were “shocked” and “confused” about how “the dark games of politics had transcended into OUSU”.

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