Pushing and pulling to the polls

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

Same same but different?

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?

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In a nutshell…

Shameless self-promotion:

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!

Inverse mobilization and training skeptical citizens

This just came through my inbox, courtesy of Jim Messina/Obama For America:

Subject: There’s a Republican Debate tonight.


You probably weren’t planning to watch Fox News tonight. But at 8:00 p.m. Central Time, the Republicans will be holding their first Iowa debate. I’m planning to tune in — and you should, too.

The goals are made pretty clear in the next paragraphs–get people to learn/realize that “this whole group is way out of the mainstream” see if they hold the same positions they always have, or if they engage in always evil flipflop (“Will they backtrack? Will they double down? Will they hope we forget?”…and the action item/link is tied to this goal). Still, sending people to go watch a whole debate in which the emailer will likely be maligned 100% of the time is some interesting business (I’d be interested to see how this email was targeted–did this go out to Independants?? Because that’d be even more interesting). Candidates are often reluctant to utter opponents’ names for fear of upping their name recognition, let alone send an engaged audience to listen to their talking points. Moreover, it was with directions to pay attention–not to take a drink every time Tim Pawlenty is boring, or to protest all of their positions and throw things at the TV.  It gives us instructions to listen, interpret, understand, and render judgement. It tells us we can and should be skeptical citizens.

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Purposeful sharing?

I feel pretty guilty for still being meh on Google+. I was super psyched when I got my invite, but have since found myself unable to figure out what to do with it. The thing is, I’m still trying to figure out its purpose for a lot of different people (especially myself). Its release framed it as sharing done right—making sharing easier, and making the way we share more specific and purposive. I’ve always been interested in how people are circulating (political) information in a digital environment (and in the very fact that they are told to share info, and what that means for how information flows through a public), so this is really interesting to me. In promoting the concept of sharing to such a degree, G+ seems to be saying that proper online engagement fundamentally involves this process of sharing and passing along information–good online citizenship isn’t just consuming information, but sharing it / forwarding it on to others as well.

While this seems really cool, it may have problems.

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So, I was going to write about Obama’s Twitter Town Hall…but it was, by most accounts, pretty boring. So, lets talk about why it was a bust. There seem to be two easy (and likely partially/largely spot-on) answers:

1. Obama wasn’t tweeting (and the answers were therefore just Obama’s usual talking points).

We know the president gives long answers in which the logic/argument progresses, is well-explained, and attempts a nuance that is likely not amenable to Twitter. So, why are people surprised he didn’t tweet, or that he was verbose? I think a much more interesting question than “why’d this flop” actually concerns these expectations: Can “interaction” really work across different media platforms? Phrased differently, can we ask questions on Twitter and be happy with a response that’s made for face to face (or straight-to-camera)? Continue reading

Debates a-Twitter

The Republican field has decided to take it’s next debate to Twitter–this could be interesting. Beyond the novelty appeal of never-been-done gimmick, the concept of engaging in a debate only using Twitter and the 140Townhall platform is likely to result in a variety of interesting observations about how campaigns and messages might be changing across various new media. The types of questions that the tweeting audience asks candidates may differ from those asked in a traditional debate, or even in an online debate (like the Youtube ones have done before). The way candidates answer questions will obviously change, and it could be the case that certain ideas, types of information, or arguments are put forth on Twitter than other forms of debate. But even before the debate begins, it seems like the form—especially the presence of numerous Twitter-based measures of analytics alongside the debate itself, are important to think about, even before focusing on what people do or say.

Debate analytics have always been important to campaigns’ messaging strategies, and recently, they’ve become part of the debate experience for the viewing public. We’ve watched debates that track “public opinion” in real time using little lines that gauge how much people enjoy or are excited by or approve of what candidates say, watched newscasters interview focus groups immediately after a debate, and reports on who won the debate (or which topics) are almost always the lead story the next day. This debate is different. The analytics provided by the 140Townhall platform—those of number of Twitter followers, retweets, and mentions—involve many more variables than the good/bad indicators of a dial test. Continue reading

RT Reverb

In starting this blog, I’m going to just really mess it up straight from the top…by starting with a news story that’s a few days old. Don’t click off the page yet though! I feel like so valuable points were left out of the NRSC RT (National Republican Senatorial Committee retweeting, for non-nerds) hubbub.  So, it seems that faking a RT causes quite a stir. The general discussion taking place over this controversy is organized around one of two poles (or blogs recapping both): accusations of violating Twitters bylaws and the Rules of Engagement more generally, and reminders of the importance (and innocence) of the parodic tradition that dominates both Twitter. Basically, either it’s amusing, or it’s abusive.

But that debate isn’t specific to online media. It happens around speech for god’s sake! By framing the feelings of unease this event created as a disagreement over when/if certain “rules” of messaging can be broken, some other, more online-specific, anxieties get glossed over. While the funny/bad conversation is what occupied most of the public arena, I think this really speaks to larger anxieties over authenticity and authorship, and how those things can be muddied and sometimes all together hidden thanks to the interwebs. Continue reading

The blog (finally).

Since a friend was kind enough to recently say I should really “blog more” instead of publicly calling out my luddite self and saying I should really “blog, period,” I’m finally going to start posting my musings on all things tech/politics here.  And I won’t get lazy and abandon it–since I’m publishing that statement on the internet, it must be true.  See the latest posts by clicking here!

I’m Jesse Baldwin-Philippi, an Assistant Professor of New Media at Fordham University and Graduate Director of our Public Media MA program. My research interests lie at the intersection of political communication, civic media, science and technology studies, and rhetoric, and I recently authored the book Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of CitizenshipMy work is fundamentally concerned with how engagement with new technologies can restructure forms of political participation and ideas about citizenship, and I’ve previously worked with the Engagement Lab at Emerson College and the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office and New Urban Mechanics.