Archive for March, 2010

The official visit US president Barack Obama was about to make to Asia and Australia has been delayed (June has been mentioned as a possible date), as pressing matters in Washington hang like a dark, turbulent cloud over the former senator’s agenda. In the next 24 hours, the long struggle for Health Care Reform (one that has developed over decades and involved such influential figures as Ted Kennedy) could probably be finalized, as Congress will embark in a final voting session. This issue has divided the US, once more, into blue and red states, and has incited incendiary comments from both sides. “Socialist”, “Commie” and the such are terms with which Republicans have long associated Obama with, even since the 2008 campaign trail. In return, Republicans have been depicted as money-mongers who care less about people than about the interests of big insurance companies. In the past few weeks, the Internet has been flooded with dozens of videos, pictures and comments that evidence little deep knowledge of the reforms and a big propagandist inclination.

The Internet has yet to be regulated in many fronts. Diverse moral, legal and political intricacies have yet to be addressed (or not) by those who will set the rules (or not) of this many-headed beast. Barack Obama has used social media extensively during this battle for the HCR and, indirectly, ahead of the 2010 and 2012 elections (health care reform, many pundits agree, could certainly define the outcome of both). One example, Flickr, pictures citizens showing their reasons for supporting the bill. This gallery follows the pattern established by Obama even since his pre-senatorial days: everyday men and women and their relationship with “big politics” –main street vs. Wall Street–. But, as spending costs of campaigns are being increasingly regulated in many democracies, there will be a point where social media actions employed by current presidents who will potentially contend –for the same or another political post– will be scrutinized.

How to designate a cost to web “airtime”?

Internet regulation should not be discussed in terms of black and white. Web communications touch many sensitive points in “the real world”. In developing countries,where big political machines crush smaller parties, how will the limits for online spending be regulated?  Ahead of elections, how much “digital airtime” should governments employ?

This video, distributed via Obama’s Facebook account, is part of the same campaign:

Interesting reports on how media is doing in the US. Newspapers and magazines are not dying as predicted. Online media, of course, is on the rise.

Quotable quote 1

Posted: 16/03/2010 in Uncategorized

“A citizenry which surrenders its fate to the whims of the World Wide Web risks a tyranny of the transient majorities”.

– Patrick Bishop and Glyn Davis, “Developing consent: consultation, participation and governance” in Are You Being Served? State, Citizens and Governance.

Hindman, Matthew. The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press, c2009

Sometimes history remembers those who first succeeded, not those who took the first chance, the first risks. Barack Obama’s now legendary political come-from-behind story will be remembered as the first successful attempt at utilizing social media to engage with voters, but in reality there is a noteworthy precedent. Howard Dean‘s 2004 Democratic primary run was truly revolutionary: not only did he burst into the American national scene and challenged favorite candidates like John Kerry, but used the Internet to support his fund-raising efforts and set the foundations to what would later become Obama’s online apparatus, in particular, and the Democratic Party’s, in general. His campaign also serves as a case study to scientifically foresee the limitations and potential of online politics.

In the recent The Myth of Digital Democracy (2009) a captivating read that challenges optimistic voices that celebrate the web as a pinnacle of democracy, Matthew Hindman recalls Dean’s effort, and gives him his due recognition. When analysing Howard Dean’s primary campaign in 2004, a precursor to Obama’s in method and form, Hindman notes that “surveys suggests that liberals visit political Web sites much more than do moderates or conservatives”. And he adds: “Obama’s ability to replicate and ultimately surpass Dean’s fund-raising makes the task of understanding the Dean phenomenon even more urgent”. (p.37) That is: the online effervescence of the 2008 presidential elections should not be taken as proof of the participatory democratization of the medium, but rather as a victorious attempt to engage with those who were already prone to consume, analyze and produce political content. Hindman recalls: “Most of those who visit campaign Web sites are partisans (Bimber and Davis 2003; Howard 2005; Foot and Schneider 2006). The most successful campaign sites have acknowledged this fact, using their online presence to solicit funds and volunteers, not to sway undecided voters”.

In par, he also reflects upon the existence of a hierarchical system in online politics which contravenes the notion of the web as a free, horizontal medium. In his study, Hindman found “powerful hierarchies shaping a medium that continues to be celebrated for its openness” (p.17) and that “the link topology of the Web suggests that the online public sphere is less open than many have hoped or feared” (p.41). The use of the Internet in political campaigns is a relatively fresh field of study: to approach it too naively and think, a priori, that the network of networks is per se a channel in which all voices are heard, would be a blatant mistake. Hidman’s text is a useful reality check for technocrats, twiterrati and policy makers alike.

Poll 1

Posted: 15/03/2010 in Uncategorized

Google has stated its intention to build a fiber-optic, high-speed Internet in a US small city. Many localities are vying to be the first “Googleville“. Would you like to live in one?