Twittersphere: The NEW News

No one understands how hesitant I was to title this post what it is. You have to understand, we, as a generation have been conditioned to believe that twitter is for fun, casual, and NEVER reputable. Imagine the world’s disbelief when the greatest political debate platform wasn’t a town hall in a city ripe for tourism and money making, but it was actually none other than twitter. I know what you’re thinking. Are we really in a place in society where our political leaders are engaging in similar social media feuds that our celebrities made famous? Are our political leaders and celebrities becoming the same people? (Of course they are. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

A 2011 Clay Shirky foresaw social media influence in current events. “The idea that media, from the Voice of America to samizdat, play a supporting role in social change by strengthening the public sphere echoes the historical role of the printing press.” (Shirky, The Political Power of Social Media, 6) So if  we as a society have not completely disregarded the legitimacy of our politicians who engage in twitter debates [and instead, we elect them] then why have we not regarded twitter as a reputable research platform where literal history is being made every day?

It’s also Clay Shirky who recognizes, however, that our progression as a society to be more apt towards twitter and other social media platforms as reputable sources is limited by our ability to communicate cross-cultural ideals and have a “single community” social media presence. In his 2002 “Communities, Audiences, and Scales“ “With such software,the obvious question is “Can we get the best of both worlds? Can we have a medium that spreads messages to a large audience, but also allows all the members of that audience to engage with one another like a single community?”(Shirky, Communities, Audiences, and Scales) The answer seems to be”No.”” Shirky talks about the difference between an audience and a community and how we struggle with connections online because we can’t truly connect with each other in the way a community needs to, therefore our messages don’t reach people in an effective way. Since we cannot reach each other in a community aspect, we cannot connect. This limits the depth of social media connectivity and therefore we cannot explore the full potential of social media transforming them from shallow communication portals, to reputable in depth communication channels.

In efforts to take twitter beyond the threshold of just another social media platform, we have to acknowledge its limited audience. Because twitter is a free speech medium of sorts, it’s banned in many countries which allows mainstream news outlets to take the lead in coverage and access. “Overall, mainstream media appears to have more even coverage, with less clustering around major cities” (Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat, Twitter versus mainstream news media.) With Twitter really coming into it’s prime as a social media platform, we have to recognize it’s not prominent on accessibility the way traditional news coverage is which goes back to our inability to reach each other to make twitter more effective.

So what will it take to verify twitter? We have to acknowledge the evolution of news media. If our politicians can utilize the platform to discuss matters of the country, we should be able to take our news from the site. Information falls directly from the mouths, or the hands, of the people we are reporting on. Next we address the communication gap and accessibility for all people across the globe in efforts to take the Twittersphere from an audience, to a community. If we make these changes, we can evolve how twitter is viewed and maybe, how social media is used in future elections. (Social media was a mess due to the this being the first election social media was utilized in this way. Traditions have to start somewhere!)Twitter-South-Africa-Social-Network-Social-Channel-Social-Media

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Open Source Warfare

The ideas behind how Open Source patterns are being applied to areas outside the realms of software, as Clay Shirky discusses, that “…my initial optimism about simple application of Open Source methods to other endeavors turned out to be wildly overoptimistic” (p. 484, 2005). Personally, I find this as an intriguing statement because at that time, a group the world knows as “Anonymous”, a collective of activist and hackers all over the world had existed for at least 2 years using the Open Source pattern to function as an organization. The only problem here was they were not in the public eye by any means as they had yet to really show the level of Open Source operation they would eventually develop. A similar group, formed in 1999 has garnered similar status in its use of this format and currently is effecting citizens around the world is the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Both use the same pattern of operation to great effect and both of them fall into the category of extremist groups, something I am sure Shirky would never have wanted to see as so successful.

Continue reading “Open Source Warfare”

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?