Politics as usual?

Posted on October 23, 2010

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I officially have mixed feelings about the potential impact of new media on political movements and campaigns.

In response to this week’s readings (Chapter 7 “Explaining the Adoption of Web Campaigning Practices” from Web Campaigning, Chapter 6 “Decision 2004: The War for the White House”  from Douglas Kellner’s Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy and Dennis Anderson’s “How has Web 2.0 reshaped the presidential campaign in the United States?“) and thinking about how technology has and is being adopted in campaigns, I am left in a less-than optimistic camp. “Technological pessimist” would be too strong, but I have yet to find evidence that the transformations taking place will result in a better, more involved democratic state and that campaigns will be run with more honesty, integrity and transparency.

The evolution of a political campaign genre online and the pressures to conform to certain “genre markers” has laid the path for little innovation in online campaigning and me feeling like maybe nothing ever will change (Web Campaigning). We’ve examined pre-internet campaigning and taken note of similar approaches through traditional media that are now mostly just being replicated and amplified online. I’m not sure if the 2008 election and Obama’s online presence has significantly changed the course of online politics, and I can see the merit in arguments about “traditional forms of power” influencing the way internet politics are being run (Web Campaigning). Especially when examining how in recent years, traditional mass media and online journalist sources have been easily influenced and even silenced by presidential administrations, according to Kellner.

Yet on the other hand, I see all the potential new media offers. With the Dean Campaign, he made incredible use of social networking to build a community of young and passionate supporters. And in 2008, Obama succeeded on that same front too. And although Kellner sees the state of media and politics as a fairly corrupt system (in 2004), we’ve seen digital media gain attention for valuable stories and help them reach larger audiences and even pick  up traditional mass media coverage (for example, the Trent Lott comment.) We have awesome tools to connect and inform, and although the authors of Web Campaigning didn’t see much evidence for it in 2006, to also involve and mobilize. I can’t help but let the idealist in me out when I hear about powerful stories resulting from new media and renewed community-building.

But then the realist returns. Many of the examples I can come up with either have accompanying failures or a compelling counter-example. With the Dean campaign, he may have had an incredibly successful run in social media, but he was dealt a devastating blow with the prevalence of the “Dean Scream” and by how easily new and traditional media spread his overly joyful moment. With the Lott comment, the interplay between blogging and mass media helped garner this story more attention, but now the same attention can be easily gotten for false messaging and spread incredibly quickly with little to no fact-checking.

Perhaps with the upcoming election and the 2012 Presidential campaigns we will begin to see the true potential of these new technologies, but until then, here I sit, a technological realidealist.

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Posted in: COM 597