Wyclef Jean: twitterized politics.

Posted: 24/08/2010 in ARIN6901 Network Society, ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

From my very limited understanding of Haitian politics (an understanding which is borderline ignorant), the country must be in a social and economical turmoil after the earthquakes that ravaged the island earlier this year. The images of shattered houses, streets and government buildings, of dying men and crying mothers, will linger in my mind for many years to come. In the midst of the aftermath, hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean announced his intention to become a candidate for the presidency, a role that, to this date, has been denied by the Haitian authorities. A resident of New York, Wyclef looks to form a political force that unites both the Haitian community abroad (mainly in the United States), and in Haiti. What stands out, other than him being a different potential candidate in a country ruled by a long standing political establishment that is defined by the survival of the fittest, is the way in which he has communicated his decisions and the whereabouts of his candidacy to the media: through his Twitter account. This practice is an exemplar of the new dynamics between politicians, the citizenry and the media, where press offices play an increasingly diminished role and social media sell the idea of immediacy and proximity to otherwise unreachable online personas.

The New York Times, for example, sources its stories from Jean’s verified account (Twittwe has become, as such, a conveyor of validity for journalistic practices). No more midnight calls and thousands of secretaries. Wyclef’s incipient campaign (or proto-campaign, as his candidacy hasn’t been approved) has established Twitter as its main communication mechanism. Even though he has over 1.5 million followers, we should question the real political impact that his Twitter feed can have, considering that many of those followers are due to his popularity as a rapper. We must consider, moreover, that participation in social media does not necessarily translate in true political involvement. As Davis (2005: 138) expresses when summarizing his position: “Citizens may not be willing to invest time in the [democratic] process. The kind of citizen involvement envisioned by proponents of Internet democracy requires ‘the necessary leisure on the part of the citizen to devote his or her thoughts and time to public questions’.”

Wyclef Jean is one of the first politicians heir to the Obama social media phenomenon: only time will tell the extent of the influence informational systems can hold.

References

Davis, Richard. Politics Online: Blogs, Chatrooms, and Discussion Groups in American Democracy. New York, London: Routledge, 2005.

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

For ARIN6901, Network Society and ARIN6903, Exploring Digital Cultures, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).

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