The power of narrative in political campaigns

Most in the general public consume political campaign messages ad nauseam as we get closer to an election cycle, but have they stopped to think campaign messages are geared a certain way? The answer is simple: Voters want someone they personally identify and connect with.

According to an article published by The Economist in 2012, the author explains a narrative for a political candidate “…is the emergent product of an informal consensus among journalists and commentators. If each journalist is disposed to tell the story a different way, no consensus will emerge and there will be no one dominant narrative.” Conversely, if they both look at the candidate through the same prism as they are trying to be portrayed, there is a dominant narrative.

During the 2012 United States presidential campaign, Mitt Romney and his campaign staff made sure they avoided the national press corps, who would follow him around wherever he went because they are trying to get some insight behind Romney. They did not want to play into the dominant narrative of Romney being stiff, unrelatable and having the propensity to give the wrong kind of soundbite. According to Loiaconi (2015), a well-crafted television advertisement can move public opinion, but not shift the narrative too much. In today’s world, we let a candidate’s narrative play out social media. Twitter is an effective social tool because of its brief 140-character messages, the public’s propensity to react to every soundbite and the power and influence of hashtags to spark discussions, debates and online communities, according to Shirky (2008).

Hamby (2013) illustrated that as the national press corps’ collective frustrations grew with each avoidance by Romney and his campaign staff, journalists turned to cynicism, thereby mocking the Romney campaign, producing their own hashtags and becoming a part of the narrative the national media was trying to portray about Romney. While countless journalists, including those who were on the campaign trail with Romney in 2012, admitted the might have went too far by essentially inserting themselves into the narrative, it marks a changing of the guard for how campaign narratives are constructed and managed. Loiaconi (2015) explains “[c]ampaign narratives are to some extent driven by the complicated relationship between journalists, their audiences, and the candidates they cover.”

As we look to the 2016 election cycle, every viable candidate and campaign staff are turning to social media to construct and bolster their dominant campaign narrative or narratives. To exemplify this, one only needs to look at presidential candidate Donald Trump. Billed as a political outsider and the vigor to “Make America Great Again”, Trump has been lauded by the left to become a viable candidate in the crowded Republican primary race. No matter what thinks about the legitimacy of his candidacy, campaign or tactics, he has used Twitter quite effectively to get his campaign narrative and platform out there for the world to see. Tobe Berkovitz, an advertising professor and former consultant in politics credits this to an oversimplification of political communication. Berkovitz explains “Trump tweets something and all of a sudden that’s the scroll bar on cable news for an hour…How pathetic is that? 140 characters and that’s your lead.” Twitter, by its nature, is geared towards producing soundbites in the soundbite culture we live in, as explained by Hamby (2013). It is also true because of the way people want to consume short blurbs of information online, rather than long paragraphs. Short blurbs of concise information are seen as valuable because they are informative and convenient.

Once a candidate’s projected narrative is out there, it is not up them how it is received or whether it takes hold as the dominant narrative. In this way, a candidate’s narrative is akin to a brand’s identity, where it is co-created by the company and the consumer because it is just as much a part of their lives than it is to the company. Nowadays, this is usually negated and mediated through consumer engagement with the brand on the website and on social media. In Trump’s case, this is where his campaign has fallen a bit short. Whether it was Trump’s Twitter fight with a Modern Family writer, Fox News Channel contributor Michelle Malkin or media mogul Arianna Huffington, the feuds and potshots, both directed at him and ones that he fires back, detracts from his campaign’s messages and trivializes his campaign narrative.

How important do you think dominant narratives are to the 2016 presidential candidates?

Prisoner’s dilemma in the doctor’s office

Shirky (2008) described a story where two robbers stole, crashed it a half mile down the road and were subsequently arrested by the police. At the police station, both robbers are sticking to the same story, so when the police officer interviews them individually, he offers each robber a first-come, first-serve deal. The first robber to cooperate with police will get a significant reduced sentence or none at all, while the robber gets charged, but if both robbers stick to their stories, they will be held overnight and release because the police do not have an evidence of who committed the crime. Shirky (2008) detailed the simplified payoff matrix to the situation with the four possible outcomes as follows:

1. We each stick to our stories, they’ve got no evidence, and they keep us both overnight. 2. I stick to the bystander story and you turn me in. You get a reward, while I get charged. 3. I turn you in while you stick to the story. I get a reward, while you get charged. 4. We turn each the other in. We both get charged (p. 189).

This is an example of the Prisoner’s dilemma, a thought experiment first conceived by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950, where the prisoners may not make the most rational decision of both sticking to their stories and getting released the next morning because they cannot communicate with each other and coordinate their strategy.

The Prisoner’s dilemma is considered a social dilemma. According to Hittleman (2012) on the WordPress blog Tech for Social Change, “Social dilemmas occur when individuals put their interests ahead of group interests or make decisions that can be detrimental to the group as a whole.” Hittleman (2012) continued by saying “…Individuals often make choices that negatively affect group members because they do not see how everyone can benefit or they do not want to put in the effort of contribution.”

One place one would not typically associate with having any of them would be the doctor’s office. According to Johnson (2015), the doctor-patient relationship has mirrored the Prisoner’s dilemma in recent years. Johnson (2015) explains the following situation:

A patient seeking opioids for pain may have real pain or may be faking. If he has real pain, the rational choice for the doctor is to treat him. If he has fake pain, it is still in the doctor’s best interest to treat the patient. Otherwise, the patient will give him a low satisfaction score — resulting in loss of reputation and reduced income.

This leads to the doctor prescribing the antibiotics anyway, which is in this case are opioids, against their medical advice because they either know the patient will become so insistent on prescribing the antibiotics that they will go seek another medical opinion until they get the treatment they desire or the doctor does not want to argue with the patient any longer because they have other patients wanting to see them.

The quick  solution to a social dilemma leads to bigger societal complications.

This especially comes into play today in the modern view of the health system in the United States. Previously, the patient’s symptoms were assessed and they were provided with the best available treatment, but in today’s marketplace, the health system is trying to cut costs from rigorous medical testing of treatments, while still trying to improve health (Johnson, 2015). The patients want antibiotics cheaper of what they think will be the treatment, but doctors want more thorough testing done to prove it is safe before antibiotics hit the market, which creates The Prisoner’s dilemma.

To compound this issue, the over prescribing of antibiotics is causing the evolution of “superbugs,” which include “E. coli, salmonella, MRSA, supergonorrhea” (Newsday Editorial Board, 2015). Superbugs are antibiotic-resistant because bacteria has to find ways to repel the proliferation of antibiotics, which creates stronger, more complex bacteria.

Shirky (2008) argues we can gear for and reduce social dilemmas, but we can never solve them completely. Social tools make it easier for society to prepare for the various social dilemmas created because it is easier to amplify the message for collective action. Much like Shirky’s (2008) discussion of the power of hashtags to inspire calls for collective action, the same can be done to curb our addiction to antibiotics.

Will the power and the amplification of social tools be enough to curb this trend of superbugs or will superbugs, which are increasingly growing in this technological age take hold?

Recognizing Revolution

The revolution in the ways in which we socialize, share information, and organize that Shirky (2010) discusses in Here Comes Everybody is upon us. In past posts on this blog and through continuing discussions, the rate of change has been a thread that has driven the conversation about how society is able to process and embrace the technological changes and impacts around us. Considering the emergence of Twitter as Shirky’s book was first published brings to light the questions of longevity, especially in a year where Twitter’s stock has dropped and its future long-term appeal remains questionable.

Our ability to connect online—to open source information, code, and ideas has already revolutionized the workforce and the way in which we pursue and distribute our ideas. Consider the underwater robot that David Lang and Eric Stackpole built in an effort to explore an underwater cave to search for gold. Clay Shirky presents the story of Linux and the way in which open sourcing and collaboration has guaranteed its success and initial promise. In similar, but much smaller scale, Lang and Stackpole put their idea out to the larger community online for feedback and help in building a robot that would help them explore an underwater cave.

The results of their pursuit provide evidence of the revolution that is happening around us. Unsure of what design would work best, Lang and Stackpole put two designs online. The result, their final product, was an underwater robot that could be built cheaply with parts easily available to the general public. It is important to note again that their efforts were born out of a personal interest to explore; they went into their endeavor without any pre-conceived expectations or predictions about the larger results their quest might produce.

The result of their quest produced a much larger outcome than simply finding the best design for them to build for their personal exploration. Due to the open source nature, they did receive a lot of input and help in the design of their remote control vehicle (ROV). Throughout it all they shared their design, code, and successes with everyone. The larger result was that their viewers and contributors wanted one too. An effort to explore a cave turned into a business proposition. Using Kickstarter, a network that Shirky (2010) was too early to discuss, they were able to fund their business start-up, distributing ROVs far beyond the geographical area of their small cave where they wanted to search for gold. Another unexpected outcome was the network of affordable underwater robots that are now connected and capable of collecting data across the globe.

Any person with an idea has an opportunity to find an audience and seek out expert advice through the connectedness that the Internet provides. Shirky (2010) identified the ways in which this was empowering in 2010. The small example of David Lang and Eric Stackpole captures even more of the ways in which the Internet has empowered the “everyman”. One small personal pursuit grew into a valuable environmental collection tool.

The revolution is happening now and it is around us. While Twitter and other social media tools may lose some of their shine, real change has arrived in the ways in which we learn, socialize, and organize. The opportunity to grow an idea and make a difference is one that is now accessible to the “everyman”. The question is not whether or not a revolution will happen, it is here. In what other ways have society’s behaviors already changed? What implications will open sourcing have in regards to the workplace and economy?

Shirky, Clay. (2010). Here Comes Everybody. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

The Power of Online Groups

social media toolsThe cost of sharing and coordinating has dropped substantially in the last decade, allowing unorganized groups to work together quickly and effectively through shared awareness. New social tools and methods of communication help ordinary people organize groups and events with little effort or planning. Shirky (2008) argues that the documentation of information is directly connected with the rate of group organizing. He explains that social tools (like blogs) allow people to produce permanent, public documentation by publishing information online at relatively no cost. Shirky elaborates on this point, explaining that to “speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press, and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly” (p. 171).

In addition to promoting social awareness, public documentation also creates new possibilities for action and change: “Whenever you improve a group’s ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of” (Shirky, 2011, p. 171). As a result, groups can have both a positive and negative social effect. Shirky explains that the distinction between real and online life is becoming increasingly blurred, changing how we exchange information and interact with one another. The internet provides a space for people to meet other like-minded individuals and form groups without the need for social approval. On the other hand, this freedom also extends to criminal and terrorist groups, making it cc2d64f5-f050-408a-8e8a-d19daaf485c9-620x372easier for them communicate and organize. Shirky explains that social tools only amplify our existing capabilities and the receptiveness of a social tool depends on its value in comparison to existing practices.

This week’s reading made me think of a current news story involving the cancellation of two public discussions scheduled to take place at the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in March 2016, in Austin, Texas. According to the Washington Post, the SXSW festival is one of the largest technological conferences in the country. The cancellation of two panel discussions- one on gaming journalism integrity and the other on harassment in gaming- resulted from “numerous threats of on-site violence”. This occurred after the forums were linked to Gamergate, an online community known for harassing  women (game developers, users, critics)  involved in the gaming industry, using the hashtag Gamergate as a digital signature. Gamergate users have been accused of various acts of harassment including: posting misogynistic comments, publishing personal information (private phone numbers and addresses), as well as rape and death threats. The Washington Post describes the Gamergate controversy as “the undying culture war around diversity and inclusion in video games”. In a statement, SXSW event planners explained that to ensure the safety of attendees they felt they needed to cancel  the discussions. The cancellation has created a lot of public backlash, especially because one of the forums was based on digital harassment.

cyber stalkingOne of the panel’s speakers, Caroline Sinders, gave copies of her communications with SXSW organizers to the Washington Post which highlight the neglect of the event organizers. Sinders claims that the Gamergate community is well-known for online harassment and that event planners ignored her request for security provisions prior to the event’s cancellation. She believes the events could have gone on as scheduled if planners acknowledged the social impact of digital harassment and the need for organizers to take these matters seriously. Rather than confront the very issues leading to the panel discussion, SXSW decided to avoid the conflict by cancelling the forums altogether.

I think this article illustrates how online groups can use social tools for destructive purposes. Do you think the SXSW planners were justified in cancelling the panel discussions? Is it possible to manage online harassment without sacrificing anonymity or user freedom?


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Books.

Man Seeking Diagnosis. All Symptoms Welcome.


Self-diagnosing has always been pretty popular with people in this day and age. Instead of going to the doctor, it’s much easier to either decide what your ailment is yourself, or to ask a friend who is clearly an expert. When the Internet started booming, it made it even easier for a person to look up any symptoms they might be having. Self-diagnosis has never been so easy.

The rapid growth of social media has made it even easier. On a regular basis, people are posting Facebook statuses about a cough they have, or tweeting about whether or not it’s a good idea to have a dental procedure on a tooth that has been giving them a lot of trouble.

Self-diagnosis is something that we are frequently told is a bad thing to do. By diagnosing ourselves, or listening to someone who isn’t considered an expert, we’re exposing ourselves to a lot more issues and problems in the long run because we really don’t know if our diagnosis is correct. Even I’m guilty of this. I’m a frequenter of Googling what’s wrong with me instead of taking the time to make an appointment to see my doctor.

I thought about this a lot when I was reading Shirky’s chapter on Solving Social Dilemmas. Part of the chapter is about a class that he taught at NYU, and one of the students in the class.

The student in his class worked for the magazine YM. The magazine had a set of bulletin boards online where people could go on and connect with each other. It was a great way for teenagers to talk about issues they were having or things that they liked. However, Shirky was shocked when his student told him they were shutting the bulletin board for health and beauty, something that would be an important subject for teenage girls. According to Shirky (2008) “… she said, ’Most of the girls were fine, but we couldn’t figure out how to stop this one group of girls from swapping tips on remaining anorexic’” (pp. 203-204).

According to Shirky (2008) “The problem for YM wasn’t that the bulletin board had failed to get the interest of their readers. The problem was that it had succeeded in a way for which YM was unprepared” (p. 204). When you’re creating a bulletin board to help people, no one really expects that it will take a turn like this. However, the people using this board don’t see what they’re doing as wrong or unhealthy. They think they’re helping themselves. It’s the same with people who seek out help from the Internet when they’re suffering an ailment. They don’t see it as being an invalid resource for medical help. It’s the right thing for them to do to help themselves.

According to Shirky (2008) “The shock turns out to be misplaced: the Pro-Ana movement is in fact a self-help movement, because the content of a self-help movement is determined by its members The logic of self-help is affirmation— a small group bands together to defend its values against internal and external challenges” (p. 208). These girls were trying to seek help from others that they trusted. Even if they didn’t know them, they felt a connection from sharing the same disorder. It’s the same with self-diagnosis. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen people enlisting the help of faceless strangers, asking on a message board about their depression or what their cold symptoms could mean. It seems strange, but it really isn’t. People see the Internet as a resource and they believe that it’s a valid resource even if professionals say that it isn’t.

So, here’s my question for you: Do you think it’s bad for people to seek out the help of others on the Internet instead of seeking the help of a professional? Or do you think diagnosis should be left to the professionals?


Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (pp. 203-204, 208). New York: Penguin Press.

Social Death

Clay Shirky refers to human beings as “social creatures” all the time. So what happens when you take the social out of the creature? With 2.2 million people in incarceration in the United States, their social has been taken. In 2005, a study conducted shows that 25,000 prisoners were held in solitary confinement, a hard stat to judge because solitary confinement from state- state varies by name. Only 44 States refer to it as solitary confinement, others refer to it as special management  units or isolation cells. The 25,000 prisoners is a lot higher than what is reported and collected as data. When the census was done in 2000 the results showed that 81,622 inmates were in some type of solitary confinement, this number does not include juveniles in solitary confinement in the United States.

 “One of the most severe punishments that can be meted out to a prisoner is solitary confinement; even in a social environment as harsh and attenuated as prison, complete removal from human contact is harsher still.”(15)

What are the effects of prisoners in solitary confinement? According to an article published in The New York Times. Research shows that solitary confinement worsens mental illness and symptoms started with prisoners with no history of illness. Research for this article was done at Pelican Bay State Prison in California one of the country’s toughest penal institutions. The study was done to show the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners. It started in 1993 and again 20 years later. The researchers were astonished to see the sum of the same prisoners were still in solitary confinement 20 years later. As the study concluded, it was determined that severe isolated men produce a “social death”. Prisoners involves spoke about being human experiments, struggling to remain sane, withdrawn, shining human conversation, and extremely disoriented.  After being released from solitary confinement the research shows that the prisoner still experienced the psychological effects of the isolation. They would avoid crowds, they felt overwhelmed. Not able to relate, a feeling of dizziness, developed obsessive compulsive disorders, they didn’t enjoy physically being touched. Some show signs of having a difficulty thinking, decreased impulse control, panic attacks and worse some committed suicide.

According to Dr. Terry Kuper, “Human beings require to very basic things social interaction and meaningful activity. By doing things we learn who we are and we learn our worth as a person. The two things solitary confinement does not make people solitary and idol.”

Is this rehabilit
ation? Does solitary confinement make prisoners more dangerous? Is it possible for inmates to adjust to the confinement? Do we as a society want a person who’s been in solitary confinement  entering back into society? Is there an alternative to solitary confinement so inmates could have more social interaction?



Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York. Penguin Books.

Goode, Erica. “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” The New York Times. Aug 2015. Print

Gossip 2.0


Clay Shirky describes in his book “Here comes everybody” how internet and social media influence group dynamics and organizations. “Groups of people are complex, in ways that make those groups hard to form and hard to sustain; much of the shape of traditional institutions is a response to those difficulties. New social tools relieve some of those burdens, allowing for new kinds of group-forming, like using simple sharing to anchor the creation of new groups” (p. 25). Since people don’t have to publish on newspapers and therefore aren’t restricted by gatekeepers or limited space anymore, everyone can publish his opinion Platforms for this may be blogs like wordpress.

However this reminds me a lot on what gossip provided to larger groups in the early centuries. For most people gossip is connected with something negatively and should have stopped. But in fact gossip enables us to act effective in large groups. Gossip can be defined as the exchange of information with evaluative content about absent third parties (Foster, 2004). Dunbar explains in his theory how with the growth of the group size of monkeys also the amounts of grooms are rising and it is a time intense activity for the group. This is the reason that humans living in large groups developed language to be more effective. Because humans are only able to have an average group size of about 150 people, they need to speak about third parties. Therefore through talking about persons with other persons they can enlarge their network size, are able to be more effective and able to do it while performing other tasks. Persons use gossip with the purpose of enlarging their networks and to gather information in a fast way. Additionally people can only observe a certain amount of networks or people.

Reading Shirky’s book I had to wonder if the internet is in fact a Gossip 2.0. At this point of our society, we are having more knowledge than we can handle effectively and due to the global village the society is also growing closer together. It allows us to publish and process data without limits and more effective. Is it a new form of language?

And indeed Clay Shirky seems to consider this and talks about the challenges of groups complexity.(p. 29) or about gossip itself. In the video below Shirky addresses, how gossip matters. What do you think, is the Internet indeed kind of an extended new version of gossiping?


Dunbar, R. I. M. (2004). Gossip in an evolutionary perspective. Review of General Psychology, 8, 100–110.

Rosnow, R. & Foster, E.K. (2004). Rumor and Gossip Research. American Psychological Association.

Shirky, Clay (2008). Here comes everybody. New York, NY: Penguin Books.