I’m extremely interested in watching the impact of social media on the current presidential election cycle, and I’m wondering if we really are at the point where, as the author of this post suggests:
Facebook and MySpace are as important as New Hampshire and Iowa.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the Obama campaign has gotten that message sooner than the rest. Their very savvy use of social tools on their Website has been an incredible boon to their fund raising and, in turn, their ability to capture delegates. Some of the deconstructions of the impact have already begun, as in this great piece in Rolling Stone. This quote sums up what’s happening:
“They’ve married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We’ve never seen anything like this before in American political history.” In the process, the Obama campaign has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s.
But the impact of blogger/observers is turning out to be pretty huge as well. According to the Technorati article, almost 30,000 blogs are parsing every word the candidates utter, every policy, every interaction (which is a good thing, right?) If 51% of Internet users are not turning to blogs to “gather information and communicate about politics,” and every indication is that the number will continue to grow, it’s pretty obvious that realities of being an engaged, informed voter are becoming more and more complex, and that our students are going to be stepping into that reality without a great deal of navigational skills unless we begin to bring these shifts into our curriculum.
So how are we doing that?
Alex Reid says
Certainly agree with your point about our educational responsibility here. Two thoughts and a tangential question.
1. The Rolling Stone article you mention carries with it the conventional “crossfire” accusations. Post seem to be either echo chambers or ad hominem attacks. Part of what we need to teach is how to have a conversation with people we don’t agree with.
2. The other link mentions this histogram of mentions of US presidential candidates. One of the undiscovered countries here is how data mining the web might provide us with useful political pictures along the lines of what phone surveys have done in the past. Also another educational task, more mathematical this time: learning how to read and evaluate such data.
Tangential question: I’m curious about your take of Doctorow’s Little Brother (if you’ve had a chance to read it yet). It deals very directly with questions of political action and networks. It strikes me as a great way to introduce these issues with students, including my own college students. Do you think it’s a book teachers might take to?
Tom Hoffman says
Flip side: http://www.eschatonblog.com/2008_05_18_archive.html#4192286569849918696
Tom Hoffman says
Also, Obama’s relationship to bloggers is complex: http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=5806
The idea that this is somehow a non-hierarchical campaign is a crock.
I had this exact discussion with our history department here at school last week. I was trying to get them to see that we have a huge opportunity with this election to teach some lessons about finding information and determining the valuable from the invaluable; the credible source from the the non-credible. We should be having discussions about how the political landscape has been affected by blogging and social media. One of the teachers actually responded by saying that he didn’t see the value in blogs and he would rather they read articles from mainstream media outlets. He missed the point completely. Frustrating!
Carolyn Foote says
One way we got our district to open up blogs via the filter for student reading was to point out the importance of political blogs for our government and history students.
I do think this is a kind of info literacy that we aren’t conveying very well to students. And it’s not just blogs–what about erroneous political emails that go flying about, and falsified videos and even rumors that circulate by word of mouth/or Facebook? We should be teaching them good sources for verifying information, working through lessons where they evaluate candidate websites, blogs, chase down rumors, and the like.
I do think this does happen in government classes but it should happen in more than one venue for it to really “stick” for kids, I think?
You are absolutely right. I just recently posted about a greater need for media literacy in today’s schools. Students now are bombarded with more media now than ever before (on an infinite number of topics), and need to develop skills on how to manage that information. One could make the case that as time goes by, this is one of the top two or three skills that a student should leave high school with.
Gilbert Halcrow says
It is intriguing that after close on 40 years of TV everyone is starting to get caught up with â€˜media literacyâ€™. I would suggest that it be referred to as â€˜communication literacyâ€™, not â€˜mediaâ€™ as I believe it creates a false distinction ad reinforces an unjustified hierarchy of texts.
The concept of media as being something distinct from literature lies in the concept of â€˜a cannonâ€™ of superior texts in a â€˜contentâ€™ driven curriculum. If we are assume that all texts are created for an identifiable audience to send a particular message in a specific medium then all texts are united. Within that frame effectiveness can be valued. Questions of critical, artistic and commercial success can be debated after that.
The recent interest in communication literacy by educators in general is the concern that students lack discernment when responding to the huge diversity of messages now being created and broadcast by the prosumer community.
As a practitioner and teacher of Media for 20 years I find the depth of concern intriguing, as it evidences greater fears over diversity and access to distribution than the fears we held over the monolithic and closed media structures of old.
My cynicism aside, I do agree that it is time to act and this was the content of my last post on my blog.
I do not think it is really that complicated if you just come back to the triumvirate of medium, message and audience. The underlying message in Obama campaign is the same not matter what the medium or audience â€“ â€˜vote for meâ€™.
Designing political media campaigns represent one of the most difficult challenges to media experts, as the audience is often broad and difficult to target (what do the swing voters want to hear, what will keep my current supports happy, etc.) and it is always a trade off with costs.
The use of online communities provides while not a defined audience by beliefs (as such) certainly defined by their use of technology and therefore some leverage can be gained with this knowledge.
Levi-Strauss anthropological work suggests that â€˜media textâ€™ become part of our transactions with others and define our values. As we shifted from broadcast to volkscast (my own derivation) the discussion â€˜around the water coolerâ€™ or in the playground sudden became media texts in themselves. The dialogue is captured and can be distributed, consumed, responded to and most importantly built upon with more dialogue.
The really interesting thing is that Obama is so willing to engage in this â€˜dialogueâ€™ form â€“ but the asynchronous nature of it gives politician a huge advantage. It is like a â€˜town hall meetingâ€™ where not only does the speaker control the microphone (choice and focus of debate) Obama (and his ghost writers) are not expected to respond immediately and have time to think. They do all this while gathering huge amount of profiling information for free.
Still if your school authorities are still shutting these technologies down then you are not even going to get to this level of deconstruction. I noted in another comment, we do not give drivers licences without proper training and a scaffold programme of development. Yet we all posses the means to broadcast and distribute what ever messages we want. To those who say thatâ€™s why we should ban it in school, I say well lets ban cars as well they kill far more people.
When I hear Westerners complaining about Chinese control of their internet, I remind them that Chinese students have far greater access to information from within their schools then the vast majority of their contemporaries in the US.
Are you sure that the Obama Campaign is purely top-down?
I know of a site where the common delegates organized themselves in a very “Web 2.0” manner to get the opportunity to represent their candidate in Denver. It started here in Washington State and has spread to other caucus states.
If even his base is using their own, unofficial, community-generated tools to create change…. perhaps there is something to the idea of “people power.”
I agree with your points to. My 8th grade class this year are all into Obama, in part because of facebook and the fact that he is young.
The discussion about the latest primary and what the numbers mean was good but it was hard to get them to understand what information came from good sources and what information is more opinion. Some were just so enamored with Obama that they didn’t care.
Next school year we will be working more on how to determine good and bad places for information along with doing some blogging.
Jim S says
As a high school art teacher in an atmosphere that promotes constructive conversations, I have learned that most students are a fan of Obama. I think this is mostly because of his popularity on the internet. Im not sure that they really know the issues or the problems the country faces but kids are being fed Obama as the answer on sites like facebook. This election will absolutly be dominated by internet and will determin the outcome of the election.