I’m Jesse Baldwin-Philippi, a visiting assistant professor of civic media at Emerson College and researcher in the Engagement Game Lab. My research interests lie at the intersection of political communication, digital media, and science and technology studies, and rhetoric. My work is fundamentally concerned with how engagement with new technologies can restructure forms of political participation and ideas about citizenship–to read more about it, click here. I use this space to catalogue some off-the-cuff musings on tech and politics and think through potential future research questions–feel free to chime in or ask questions!
A complete cycle of blog post, chapter, article in Journal of Information Technology and Politics for the concept of skeptical citizenship–exciting day!
And, really completing the circle of life aspect of academia: now for an official sharing of a major new research agenda. My colleague Eric Gordon and I have written a document to describe our ongoing collaborative work with the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics—affectionately known as the Design Action Research in Government project. Broadly, our goals are:
- Develop tools that both increase participation and (more importantly) move civic engagement from a merely transactional process with government to one that is interactive.
- Engage in design-based iterative research that informs the creation of new civic tools, studies their outcome in nuanced ways that can get at deeper engagement, and use those findings to iterate and improve the tools themselves.
- Develop collaborative relationships between government and stakeholders that provide locally-productive solutions and open the civic process to new and different groups. Continue reading
By now pretty much everyone (especially anyone who might stumble across this blog) has read about the White House’s official and hilarious answer to the We The People petition to build a Death Star, but it really is more than a hilarious gag. Amusing or entertaining forms of engagement can do more than draw eyeballs or clicks. Rather than simply being an instance of “White House Staffers: They’re just like us!” wherein we learn that pols are Real Humans who understand humor, they should also be seen as a productive part of democratic culture. They have the potential to engage people more deeply, and in ways that matter, but are less immediate (or immediately measurable than campaigns or governments often like. Fun can be productive for civic life.
As campaigns have been rapidly hopping on board with a wealth of new digital tools, the FEC has struggled to figure out how to best ensure credibility and validity of campaigns’ messages. While they’ve decided web ads need text disclaimers, and microsites need the same paid-for language as direct mail. Facebook’s proven to be more difficult to regulate, with skirmishes over how much ads have to say (and where) and where to place the language on pages. Facebook Timelines seem ripe for a similar disagreement.
The asserted purpose of FB timeline is to give a “history” to brands or people. The Obama campaign has largely done just this–from making birth certificate jokes to highlighting his move to community organizing. Moreover, he combined it with a web video that doesn’t specifically name Timeline, but clicks through “The Story of Us” (covering the past five years) in a similar scrolling pattern, and exemplifies the use of the genre of the timeline in general to pitch a campaign narrative. Narratives have always been built on history, and anyone can write their version, but Timeline gives people a platform to push this narrative and a form through which to systematically prove its validity. The FEC, in turn, ensures that readers know who’s authoring these histories.
The Sun-Times is closing up shop for candidate endorsements. And in doing so, they’re making some pretty dramatic changes to campaigns.
Endorsements are a Very. Big. Deal. to campaigns. I remember a rather frantic process of running downtown and waiting outside the Sun-Times office to give a backup tape recorder to a communications director. I remember the monotonous and soul-crushing work of transcribing the endorsement interview. I remember running to the grocery store next to the campaign office to get the paper version of the Sun-Times when the endorsements ran, cataloguing and analyzing the minute differences. And those were the pretty inconsequential parts.
The endorsement process not only reports on information, like the Sun-Times asserts; it creates information. And that’s exactly what this op-ed overlooks.
The movers and shakers in so-called revolutionary uses of digital media are campaigns—Jesse Ventura’s email lists, the 2000/2004 GOP fundraising and database technologies, Dean’s use of Meetup, Obama’s MyBO platform. Campaigns, so the story goes, are pushed to innovate in order to get a leg up on the competition. But this recent Politico article takes a different perspective—rather than talking to campaigns about how they’re using the tools at their disposal, Kim Hart’s talking to execs at Twitter, Google, Youtube, etc. (Skypeoogletubeapedia is clearly the best catchall for that) about how they want to get a piece of the action. Although the article doesn’t actually speak to a whole lot of legitimately new tactics or strategies (it cites microtargeting on Facebook, the new Youtube feature “trueview” which is not campaign-specific but could be helpful to all advertising, and routine ad buy strategy), the idea that major digital media tools would be trying to pull campaigns to use their products is a pretty new one. Sure it was perhaps bound to happen once campaigns started to devote more money to digital strategy (especially when there are so many un- and under-used tools out there).
So what does it mean? Continue reading
I had a moment of deja vu when I saw the White House’s announcement of their (impending) platform, We The People, to directly petition the government. Hadn’t I seen this before? Turns out I had. Rewind to Netroots Nation this past June, where MoveOn.org’s Adam Quinn showed off SignOn.org–their new platform for, you guessed it, citizens to create and circulate petitions about any issue of their choosing.
Immediately, I had two questions: 1) How similar are these two platforms, and what do their differences mean (in terms true grassroots-ness, in terms of efficacy, in terms of who’s being petitioned and how, etc.)? 2)What does the fact that multiple groups (that have pretty different priorities) are seeing citizen-produced petitions as the answer mean for participation and ideas about how politics should work?
Following a chapter detailing the theoretical and methodological approaches to this research (Ch 2), I provide analyses of four digitally-driven phenomena. Chapter 3 investigates the creation of “the skeptical citizen,” an expansion and advancement on Schudson’s (1998) oft-cited monitorial citizen that is exemplified by changing norms of campaign content that are taking place within campaign microsites, political blogs, and websites and webpages devoted to fact checks. Chapter 4 looks at the changing practices of information sharing and the circulation of political content taking place via social media, and argues that these changes imply very different views of how citizens are organized in relation to one another and to campaigns. Chapter 5 investigates the content of campaign-produced social media, and discusses what the wealth of behind-the-scenes and retail-politics-goes-online material that exists there means for visions of citizens and the information they should receive. Finally, Chapter 6 examines the ways that the tension of needing to maintain control of a message and wanting to foster discussion is currently playing out in a digitally-mediated environment, how these tensions are navigated by campaigns, and how those practices imply new versions of the “managed” citizens discussed by Howard (2006) and Kriess (2009).
It looks so nice and tidy (not to mention easy, though that’s surely an optical illusion) laid out like this!