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Digital Politics- Phase 1

// Posted by on 04/14/2012 (6:04 PM)

My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics

 

Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt… Read more

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My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics

 

Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt with the influence of American politics and the American political process on the rest of the world with the role of networked, digital technology, I decided to first dissect the tole of networked, digital technology and its influence on American politics and the American political process. Since this is such a broad topic, my research focused mainly on the influence of networked, digital technology on major political elections

Theoretical Foundation

My arguments were formed, for the most part, after reading  the chapter “Citizens, Digital Media, and Globalization” in Mark Poster’s Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines. Mark Poster made a number of points in Information Please that I feel no longer represent the nature of digital politics. My research began, then, by attempting to highlight these points, and then to understand in what ways these points no longer hold true.

Initial Questions

My first question came from the following passage on page 71 of Information Please:

“Critical discourse currently locates an antagonism between globalization and citizenship. The deepening of globalizing processes strips the citizen of power, this position maintains. As economic processes become globalized, the nation-state loses its ability to protect its population. The citizen thereby loses her ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue her interests” (Poster, 71).

My problem with this statement stems from the last sentence. In my opinion, American citizens have gained, rather than lost, the ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue their interests. My argument here is that the internet has afforded the American citizen unprecedented access to potential leaders, coupled with an extraordinary change in this relationship, from one sided (the potential leader speaks to the citizens) to bidirectional (through digital technologies like social media, the citizen now has a fast, easy, and efficient method in which to talk directly to their potential leaders; see: Obama’s Google+ Hangout)

My second question came from the following passage on page 73 on Poster’s Information Please:

“Self-constitution of consumers spills over into politics as citizenship becomes an extension of consumption. What is more, as consumption has become more political, so politics has become a mode of consumption. Candidates in elections campaigns increasingly rely on media t o reach their constituents. Political advertisements are the chief means of conducting campaigns. The primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set, bring politics to individuals in the same way they experience entertainment. The deep consumer culture of the television medium is merged with the electoral process. And celebrities from the domain of entertainment, a major aspect of consumption, become credible candidates for high office with no particular training or experience, as evidenced by the election of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger as governors of California. We are indeed in a postmodern world of the consumer citizen” (Poster, 73).

For the most part, Poster is actually helping me support my argument, in that he points out that politics has become a mode of consumption. My problem with this passage lies with the sentence “the primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set.” While statistics obviously vary depending on the source, I’ve noticed a general trend over the last ten or so years that illustrates a shift from television to internet in terms of where people in our generation get their political information. Furthermore, I would argue that culture of the internet medium is far more merged with the electoral process than the television ever was, given the ability of the citizen to access information whenever they want online, versus whenever an advertisement happens to play on television.

From these general questions, I was able to somewhat narrow the scope of my research question. By looking at the newer, bidirectional relationship between the citizen and it’s potential leaders, and by realizing that the average American between the ages of 18 and 29 has officially moved from relying on the television for information to relying on the internet, I decided to look at how effectively the American political process is using networked, digital technologies, and what the consequences of this relationship might be. Poster begins to answer this question by looking at some existing political formations:

“The objection to the argument for the netizen might be raised that the Internet promotes, even enhances, existing political formations. The Zapatistas and the neo-Nazis alike further their political ambitions by means of Web sites, Listservs, blogs, e-mail, chat rooms, and so forth. In heavily mediatized societies, political candidates of all stripes deploy the Net to their advantage. Reform movements in China and Eastern Europe depended on the Net… to spread their word and foster political change. Countless experiments could be named, such as the City of Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, which use the Net to extend democratic processes. The demonstrations in Seattle early in the year 2000 against the WTO and the World Bank, as well as the general process of globalization, benefited in addition by the ability of the Net to aid the work of organizing political protest. These examples all bespeak the ways in which the Internet can function within existing political structures” (Poster, 79).

Lastly, Poster hints at the fact that the consequences of the relationship between networked, digital technology and the American political process is a break down of American Politics and the creation of newer political structures:

“There is, then, at least one political novelty specific to the Internet that I choose to highlight. The internet holds the prospect of introducing post-national political forms because of its internal architecture, its new register of time and space, its new relation of human to machine, body to mind, its new imaginary, and its new articulation of culture to reality. Despite what may appear in the media of newsprint and television as a celebration of the Internet’s harmony with the institutions of the nation-state and the globalizing economy, new media offer possibilities for the construction of planetary political subjects, netizens who will be multiple, dispersed, and virtual, nodes of a network of collective intelligence. They may resemble neither the autonomous agent of citizenship, beholden to print, nor the identity of post-modernity, beholden to broadcast media. The political formation of the netizen is already well under way, bringing forth, as Heidegger, might say, a humanity adhering not to nature alone but also machines, not to geographic local identity alone but also to digitized packets of its own electronic communications. The import of these speculations is… to call to attention to the possibility for the establishment of global communications, one that is more practically dispersed across the globe than previous systems, one that is inherently bidirectional and ungovernable by existing political structures” (Poster, 84).

This passage aided in the construction of my final research question by bringing up the idea of collective intelligence: networked, digital technology is made up of both the citizens who use the technology and the technology itself, begging the question of not only how this online collective intelligence will influence the American political process, but how American politics influence the network? Embedded within this question are several key points, including the effectiveness of this utilization, the consequences of the relationship, and the future of digital politics.

Roadblocks

Politics is a touchy subject, with a wide spectrum of views and beliefs. For this reason, a major roadblock in my research has been subjectivity. Any published research on the subject, despite a necessary need for unbiased analysis, has the risk of being somewhat opinionated or swayed. When attempting to gauge the effectiveness of various online campaigns, every analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, and I’ve discovered that I have to constantly fact-check many of the articles I’ve read and videos I’ve watched. Unfortunately, twitter has been one of the biggest roadblocks for this project. As a massive social media site, I have spent a long time browsing political twitter users and the responses to their post. Being a personal-use site, however, there is a lot of bias and it is often difficult to sort through the opinion to find the facts. If anything, however, this roadblock will most likely end up becoming a part of the answer to my research question.

Supporting Media

For this project, I have utilized a variety of social media websites, focusing on the networked aspect of digital technology. The sites I spend the most time on are Twitter, YouTube, and various political blogs and websites, such as Politico, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. Of these, one of the most valuable resources has been YouTube’s political section, which organizes videos by candidate and also compares each candidate by the number of videos on their channel and the number of subscriptions to their channel:

Group Assignment

For the group assignment, I wanted to try to eliminate some of my own bias in researching these questions. Because politics is such a polarized subject, I asked my group members to pick a candidate (Obama, Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum), and to do some general browsing of these candidate’s digital presence, such as on twitter, youtube, Facebook, etc. I was interested in how effectively or ineffectively these candidates have been using their online space, and what some of the pros and cons of their use were. I was most interested at this time in Santorum, considering the day I assigned this project was the day he suspended his campaign; I was interested to look at a possible correlation between a failed digital campaign and this suspension.

Cameron chose to look at Ron Paul’s digital campaign. Cameron pointed out that Ron Paul has an extremely active online presence, on websites such as twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Specifically, it seems as though Ron Paul’s supporters are the most active online when compared to other candidate’s supporters. In contrast to Ron Paul, Natalie reported that Newt Gingrich’s online campaign has not been going so well, and has been struggling to utilize the Web in an effective way. Lastly, Renee looked at the online campaign of Mitt Romney, and discussed how his online videos rarely speak to the issues, but rather either attack Obama or promote himself as a “family man.”

From this assignment, I plan on focusing in on specific ways in which the candidates use these websites. Natalie pointed out that many tweets relating to Gingrich were very wordy or linked to other websites, something that is seemingly detrimental to getting his message out there. I would like to compare specific uses such as this between the candidates as a possible way in which a lack of understanding of how people use social media may negatively impact a campaign, versus very tech-literate supporters, such as those that Ron Paul has, positively impact a campaign.

Future Research

I feel as though the phrase “Digital America” takes on an enhanced meaning when speaking about politics. With an increased online presence of candidate campaigns, the election truly has moved online, and America that results from this presidential race will truly be one that, I think, will be decided in a completely digital way. The final phase of this project will require a much more in-depth analysis of the remaining presidential candidates, and how effectively they use networked, digital technology. Furthermore, I want to look at the opposite side of this relationship, and analyze how the networked, digital technologies utilized effects how the candidate’s shape their campaign. Lastly, I want to fully connect the theoretical points Poster made about the relationship between politics and the Internet, by more fully understanding the applications of networked, digital technology for the American political process and American politics; this will require diving into the scholarly research of the effect of the Internet on politics, and using my research of the candidate’s online presence as supporting media.


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