New Media Changing Politics

This post is the 15th in a series for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow-up analysis about the various readings we are assigned. This post is a more in-depth look at the topic of democracy in new media, specifically in relation to politics.

Social Media has been heralded as a major contributing factor in deciding the victor of the 2008 Presidential Election. Twitter and Facebook became tools for grassroots organizing and a platform for campaign agendas. The candidates that got it (Barack Obama) could connect to their constituents and won the election, the ones that didn’t (Sarah Palin and John McCain) found their words and messages become muddled and twisted – ultimately leading to losing the election.

With the 2012 election campaigns underway, it is interesting to see what/if the candidates have learned about utilizing social and new media to further their campaign efforts.

It would seem that most are still falling victim to using interactivity-as-product rather than interactivity-as-process. Using interactive tools as a product means presenting information (campaign agenda, materials, promises) in a way that allows for some interaction, either through navigation or different methods of information absorption. However these don’t serve to engage someone in a dialogue or participatory manner. It might be flashy or in vogue to make everything “interactive,” but if the end goal isn’t engagement then it won’t lead to voters. Campaigns need to adopt an attitude of interactivity-as-process, where new media is used within the goal of engagement. They need to invite questions, enable conversations and most importantly respond. It’s not enough to make things interactive, they actually have to create interaction.

When every candidate sets up an identical website, Twitter and Facebook pages – the impact of just using these tools is equalized. It then becomes about the content and who can translate the use of these tools into real-world impact.

The other issue with the use of new media tools in political campaigns, is the tendency to “publish then filter.” Nothing can truly be deleted once it has been published online and candidates are frequently getting in trouble when things that are posted in a tweet are taken out of context or prove to be contradictory later down the campaign trail. The use of social media may be able to win an election, but as seen with Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner, it has more of a chance of ending a political career then making one.

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