University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Information and political engagement in America: The search for effects of information technology at the individual level
Activism (Coffee Party).
Many onlookers doubt the ability of digital media to revolutionize the political game. The Internet is associated in the new global activism far beyond just reducing the costs of communication, or surpassing the geographical and temporal barriers accompanying with other message media. Innumerable uses of the Internet and digital media expedite the loosely designed networks, the weak character ties, and the patterns of issue and protest organizing that define a new global demonstration politics. Scrutiny of various cases shows how digital network patterns can facilitate: perpetual campaigns of the Coffee Party Movement, the evolution of broad networks despite comparatively weak social identity and ideology ties, alteration of individual member organizations and whole networks, and the capacity to link messages from personal computers to television screens. The same merits that make these communication-based politics resilient, and also make them vulnerable to hitches of control, policymaking and collective identity.
This essay uses the realization and fruition of the Coffee Party, a political association in the US that inaugurated as a Facebook Group, to see the upsurge of a transnational activism that is aimed past states and directly at corporations, trade and development organizations bargains a fruitful area for indulging how communication practices can help in creation of new politics. Documentary filmmaker Annabel Park formed the political party as a forward leaning rejoinder to the Tea Party movement in the US. As a tryout, Park setup a Facebook group called, “Join the Coffee Party Movement,” conjecturing that the way to instigate political participation in the general inhabitants was to create a public spere for civil discourse. The fame and critical mass involvement on Facebook offered a new, and well-suited podium for Park’s experiment (Bimber, 2007).
The public spheres created by the Internet and the Web are more than just parallel information universes that exist independently of the traditional mass media. A growing conventional wisdom among communication scholars is that the Internet is changing the way in which news is made (Boeder, n.d.). New media provide substitute communication spaces in which information can develop and be sociable widely with fewer conventions or editorial filters than in the mainstream media. The gate-keeping capacity of the traditional press is weakened when information appears on the Internet, presenting new material that may prove irresistible to competitors in the sphere of 24/7 cable news channels that now occupy important niches in the press food chain. Moreover, journalists may actively seek story ideas and information from Web sources, thus creating many pathways for information to flow from micro to mass media (Boeder, n.d.).
New forms of virtual political organization are changing public discourse by broadening and altering participation. Issue entrepreneurship, first conceptualized by Jürgen to explain the effects of the Internet’s openness and immensity on political discourse is shown here to be at once prescient and insufficient (An encyclopedia). The anticipation of the issue entrepreneur as a central player in Internet enabled political discourse, before it really existed, is prescient (Edward & Chomsky, n.d.). We see issue entrepreneurs emerge from Coffee Party Leadership, from amongst the members and in a few different types of dissent. Jürgen’s lattice structure, however, fails to anticipate the one-dimensional nature of the political context studied here. Ideology is dominant, and nation, geography and organizational dimensions are nearly absent.
Mass media framing of movements clearly varies from case to case, depending on how activist communication strategies interact with media gatekeeping (Habermas, 2003). A global activist movement that is committed to inclusiveness and diversity over central leadership and issue simplicity should have low expectations of news coverage of demonstrations that display the movement’s leaderless diversity in chaotic settings. Why has a movement that has learned to secure good publicity for particular issue campaigns and organizations not developed more effective media communication strategies for mass demonstrations? I think that the answer here returns us to the opening discussion of the social and personal context in which this activism takes place. Not only are many activists in these broadly distributed protest networks opposed to central leadership and simple collective identity frames, but they may accurately perceive that the interdependence of global politics defies the degree of simplification demanded by most mass media discourse. While issue campaign networks tend to focus on dramatic charges against familiar targets, most of the demonstration organizing networks celebrate the diversity of the movement and resist strategic communication based on core issues or identity frames (Bimber, 2007).
For instance, discourse enabled by social and participatory media reduce physical barriers, but in this case also make traditional boundaries nearly invisible. The theoretical, design and practical implications of this for socio-technical citizenship are immense. The social and economic interests of citizens are more closely related to nation, geography and institutional dimensions; yet, for the Coffee Party, discourse is not focused there. Self-interest is, in some ways, marginalized by the socio-technical system from which Coffee Party discourse emerges. One important dimension of deliberative discourse on the Coffee Party Facebook page is the presence of both official leadership and leadership that emerges from members. Members lead in two ways; by joining in the discussion for a compelling topic (low frequency posters), or by sparking discourse across a range of topics (high frequency posters).One caution about the discourse we analyzed is the disappearance of user 4283’s comments on the Coffee Party Facebook page (Agre, 2008).
Beyond the characterizations of the Coffee Party activists, the predominant news framing of the overall protest movement is also negative, as in “anti-globalization.” This is clearly a news construction that is at odds with how many of the activists think of their common cause. If movement media framing could be put to a vote among activists, “democratic globalization” would win over “anti-globalization” by a wide margin. For example, here is how American labor John Sweeney put it: “It’s clear that globalization is here to stay. We have to admit that and work on having a seat at the bench when the rules are written about how globalization works.” It is apprehensive with the world: omnipresence of corporate decree, the rampages of monetary markets, environmental destruction, maldistribution of power and wealth, international institutions persistently overstepping their mandates and lack of international democracy.” (Habermas, 2003).
The elimination of contributions of dissenters, for whatever reason, would not be commensurate of Dahlberg’s criteria. In a socio-technical space, however, they demonstrate rudimentary gardening of content similar to what occurs on Wikipedia. Future designs of political discourse oriented social and participatory media ought to consider tools and practices for maintaining awareness of editing and what some might view as censorship. Finally, the network structure of this emergent, virtual organization reveals that, although the Coffee Party Administrators are responsible for the parent post content, they avoid participation in discourse regarding controversial ones. Advocates show up as central figures in the discussions that they lead, as do dissenters.
Dissenters, however, draw a more diffuse, less centralized network around them. This phenomenon warrants future study focused on understanding how dissent that limits discourse might be separated from dissent that engages discourse. An interesting contrast to focus on here is between user 4283, who dissented without discourse and user 4080, who dissented with reason and direct references to other discussants. Designers of social and participatory media for political discourse might consider incorporating more sophisticated social cues for identifying and managing both dissent and advocacy. Social and participatory media has the potential to engage citizens.
The Internet is mixed up in the new global activism far beyond plummeting the costs of communication, or outdoing the geographical and temporal barricades found in other communication broadcasting. Different uses of the Internet and other digital media facilitate the loosely structured networks, the puny identity ties, and the question and demonstration campaign unifying that define a new overall politics (Richard & Douglas, n.d). In specific, we have seen how certain configurations of digital networks enable: Cofee Party campaigns, the growth of extensive networks despite (or because of) comparatively weak social identity and ideology ties, the transformation of both discrete member organizations and the growing patterns of whole networks, and the aptitude to communicate messages from desktops to TV screens. The same qualities that make these communication based politics sturdy also make them vulnerable to problems of control, decision-making and collective identity (Ancu & Cozma, 2009).
The Coffee Party is an illustrative example of how this type of technology begins to realize deliberative discourse through technology; and also a study of how this discourse is constrained. Future research should consider both what we learned, and how new social and practice oriented designs can lead to greater citizen engagement. The rise of circulated electronic public domains may ultimately become the model for public facts in many areas of politics, whether launch or oppositional. It is clear that conventional news is disdainful from the attrition of audiences (more in commercial than in public service structures), and from the shattering of remaining audiences as channels increase.
Perhaps the next step is a meticulously personalized information system in which the precincts of different issues and different political tactics become more permeable, enabling ordinary citizens to join campaigns, demonstrations, and virtual communities with few philosophical or partisan divisions. In this apparition, the current organizational weaknesses of Internet conscription may become a core resource for the growth of new global publics.
Richard K. & Douglas MK. n.d. Oppositional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/ Reconstructive Approach. 704-725.
Habermas, J. (2003). The theory of communicative action (1). Boston: Beacon Press.
Agre, P. E. (2008). The Practical Republic: Social Skills and the Progress of Citizenship. In A. Feenberg (Ed.), Community in the Digital Age (pp. 201-224). Rowman and Littlefield.
Ancu, M., & Cozma, R. (2009). MySpace Politics: Uses and Gratifications of Befriending Candidates. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53(4), 567-583.
Bimber, B. (2007). Information and political engagement in America: The search for effects of information technology at the individual level. Political Research Quarterly, 54(1), 53-67
Boeder P., n.d,‘Habermas’ heritage’: The future of the public sphere in the Network society. Volume 10, no. 9 – 5 September 2005. pp. 1-13[28th Nov. 2014].
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