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Opponents of Iran nuclear deal target Heikamp on Snapchat

FARGO -- We're used to seeing attack ads on TV, in newspapers and on websites. But on Snapchat? The popular smartphone app, used mostly to send silly pictures overlaid with bits of text, was recently used by a right-leaning nonprofit to bolster o...

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND.
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FARGO - We're used to seeing attack ads on TV, in newspapers and on websites. But on Snapchat? The popular smartphone app, used mostly to send silly pictures overlaid with bits of text, was recently used by a right-leaning nonprofit to bolster opposition in North Dakota to President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, which on Wednesday received enough support in the U.S. Senate to survive.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND.

One unlucky target of this new form of political advertising was North Dakota U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of a small number of Democratic senators who have not yet announced their position on the deal, which will come to a vote this month. Heitkamp's office would not comment specifically on the Snapchat ad campaign, but said in a statement about the Iran deal that the senator "is still reviewing the agreement and is continuing to speak with national security leaders, non-proliferation experts, and the Administration to ask questions and fully understand the deal before making a decision." Mason Wenzel, president of North Dakota State University College Republicans, took advantage of this new opportunity for a jab at Heitkamp last week, when he used Snapchat to send a picture with this message, in all capital letters: "Show Senator Heitkamp what you want to protect from the bad Iran deal!" Wenzel, 19, said he used the filter for the fun of it. "I think for the majority of what I've seen, it was not really people trying to express political opinion," he said. But he said that "people posting, even for an entertainment purpose, really gets the word out." The word did get out. Wenzel was one of 10,000 people who used the North Dakota-specific filter, which was seen by 130,000 people, said Alix Carlin, a consultant for Secure America Now, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to killing the Iran deal. The so-called geofilter was accessible to Snapchat users in North Dakota only last Thursday and Friday, Carlin said. The filter enabled users to add the anti-Iran-deal message on top of whatever photo they wanted to send. When Robert Lauf, a recent NDSU graduate, received such a snapchat, he was taken aback. "Not really a big supporter of the Iran deal at all, but I was just very surprised," said Lauf, 22. "I've never seen Snapchat really very political. It's very interpersonal, much like sending a text message to somebody." For Snapchat, allowing such ads unlocks a new revenue source. For the political ad-buyer, it's a chance to reach a highly-sought-after demographic - young people. "Snapchat, as I'm sure you know, reaches out to that under-25 population," said Carlin. "This kind of gets a younger group of people talking about the Iran deal." Carlin declined to say how much the Snapchat ads cost or how much the company she works for, Harris Media, was paid by Secure America Now. The latter reported to the IRS more than $100,000 in spending in 2013. North Dakotans have not been the only targets of ads from Secure America Now. During the same two-day period last week, Harris Media placed anti-Iran-deal filters in Maryland and West Virginia, targeting senators there. And for the Republican debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, Snapchat offered a version of the anti-Iran-deal filter to Ohioans. There, users were encouraged to take and share a selfie showing "How I feel about the bad Iran deal." Vincent Harris of Harris Media told the New York Times that 179,000 people used the filter in the 24 hours around the Cleveland debate, saying that "people were creating ads for us." To what degree political Snapchat filters like Secure America Now's influence public opinion remains to be seen. "I'm curious if there's enough detail in a Snapchat filter to actually give somebody an educated opinion," Lauf said. "I don't know what it actually does in the end, opinion-wise, but I know that a lot of young people have started talking about the Iran deal that were never going to do that in the first place." The nuclear deal, reached in July, calls for restrictions on the country's nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions on the country. The deal has the support of 34 Democratic senators, enough to outweigh Republican opposition. Twenty-nine top U.S. scientists endorsed the deal in a letter to Obama last month. What's for sure, Lauf and Wenzel agreed, is that Snapchat ads are the new normal. "We're gonna have to have these conversations about social media and politics," Lauf said.FARGO - We're used to seeing attack ads on TV, in newspapers and on websites. But on Snapchat?The popular smartphone app, used mostly to send silly pictures overlaid with bits of text, was recently used by a right-leaning nonprofit to bolster opposition in North Dakota to President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, which on Wednesday received enough support in the U.S. Senate to survive.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND.

One unlucky target of this new form of political advertising was North Dakota U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of a small number of Democratic senators who have not yet announced their position on the deal, which will come to a vote this month.Heitkamp's office would not comment specifically on the Snapchat ad campaign, but said in a statement about the Iran deal that the senator "is still reviewing the agreement and is continuing to speak with national security leaders, non-proliferation experts, and the Administration to ask questions and fully understand the deal before making a decision."Mason Wenzel, president of North Dakota State University College Republicans, took advantage of this new opportunity for a jab at Heitkamp last week, when he used Snapchat to send a picture with this message, in all capital letters: "Show Senator Heitkamp what you want to protect from the bad Iran deal!"Wenzel, 19, said he used the filter for the fun of it. "I think for the majority of what I've seen, it was not really people trying to express political opinion," he said. But he said that "people posting, even for an entertainment purpose, really gets the word out."The word did get out. Wenzel was one of 10,000 people who used the North Dakota-specific filter, which was seen by 130,000 people, said Alix Carlin, a consultant for Secure America Now, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to killing the Iran deal.The so-called geofilter was accessible to Snapchat users in North Dakota only last Thursday and Friday, Carlin said. The filter enabled users to add the anti-Iran-deal message on top of whatever photo they wanted to send.When Robert Lauf, a recent NDSU graduate, received such a snapchat, he was taken aback."Not really a big supporter of the Iran deal at all, but I was just very surprised," said Lauf, 22. "I've never seen Snapchat really very political. It's very interpersonal, much like sending a text message to somebody."For Snapchat, allowing such ads unlocks a new revenue source. For the political ad-buyer, it's a chance to reach a highly-sought-after demographic - young people."Snapchat, as I'm sure you know, reaches out to that under-25 population," said Carlin. "This kind of gets a younger group of people talking about the Iran deal."Carlin declined to say how much the Snapchat ads cost or how much the company she works for, Harris Media, was paid by Secure America Now. The latter reported to the IRS more than $100,000 in spending in 2013.North Dakotans have not been the only targets of ads from Secure America Now. During the same two-day period last week, Harris Media placed anti-Iran-deal filters in Maryland and West Virginia, targeting senators there.And for the Republican debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, Snapchat offered a version of the anti-Iran-deal filter to Ohioans. There, users were encouraged to take and share a selfie showing "How I feel about the bad Iran deal."Vincent Harris of Harris Media told the New York Times that 179,000 people used the filter in the 24 hours around the Cleveland debate, saying that "people were creating ads for us."To what degree political Snapchat filters like Secure America Now's influence public opinion remains to be seen."I'm curious if there's enough detail in a Snapchat filter to actually give somebody an educated opinion," Lauf said. "I don't know what it actually does in the end, opinion-wise, but I know that a lot of young people have started talking about the Iran deal that were never going to do that in the first place."The nuclear deal, reached in July, calls for restrictions on the country's nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions on the country. The deal has the support of 34 Democratic senators, enough to outweigh Republican opposition. Twenty-nine top U.S. scientists endorsed the deal in a letter to Obama last month.What's for sure, Lauf and Wenzel agreed, is that Snapchat ads are the new normal. "We're gonna have to have these conversations about social media and politics," Lauf said.

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