Week 5

In “Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Social Capital,” Pasek lays out 4 different but related hypothesis.

1) Young people using the Internet for information will exhibit higher levels of civic engagement, political knowledge, and interpersonal trust

2) Civic engagement will be more prevalent among individuals who use social networking websites frequently

3) Facebook and MySpace differences are expected to result from both to user disparity and (4) from our website culture

Overall, he was most interested in the interplay between the Internet / SNS (social networking sites) and individuals, and the outcome of use; such as increased social capital, perceived trust, political knowledge, civic engagement.  He was also interested in the differences between both social networks examined, Facebook and MySpace, and how the user is effected.

His findings suggest that SNS’s only inconsistently relate to social capital, SNS users  are more civically engaged (but less trusting than non-users), social networking effects cannot be examined as a whole due to the large disparities between the 2 networks cited,  and SNS’s may have some ability to increase social capital.

Along the same lines, Karpf was interested in another social tool and it’s effect on politic’s, YouTube.  He begin’s by explaining “Macaca moments,” slip up’s by high-profile political candidates caught on camera and published to YouTube, and pulled 2 real world examples.  He aim’s to explore YouTube’s political implications on the candidates and whether it is as substantial as perceived.

Overall, Karpf’s purpose was to understand the distinct effectiveness of internet-mediated political associations and to gain a better understanding of the quasi-interest groups that use new media applications (YouTube).

His findings suggest that when a political candidate loses a campaign supporters are left pulling at threads trying to find a plausible explanation as to why their fantastic candidate lost, and the gaffe ends up being an easy scape goat.  YouTube, and the Internet more broadly, is a new tactic of sorts utilized by new political organizations.  Karpf eloquently and strongly states, “This article has argued that the most important effects of the candidate gaffes came not from their easy accessibility via YouTube, but from the various ways that a new type of political association used them to influence politics.”

———–

While reading these two articles, I kept coming back to a comment that has been tugging at me, one which I voiced in class.

Both articles explore the presumed link between social networking sites (YouTube included) and the political affects.  No doubt that it is a legitimate discussion, considering millions of people share information daily; however, I believe the Internet is still in its infant stage.

The Internet was not solely developed as a political conversation tool, rather it took shape initially as a public information-sharing tool, and with particular strengths in entertainment escapism.  Although the Internet may not be new, it is still not mature.  Its full capabilities have certainly not yet been understood, much less maximized.  Thus, niche interests like politics and social networking on the Internet, are not fully evolved, which has been proved by the research articles we read this week.  Additionally, speculating about its impact, is just that, speculation (proven by Karpf).

My claim: The Internet was intended to be an information-sharing tool.  More specifically, the intent of SNS’s are for both individuals and large groups to uniquely share personal views and beliefs with a chosen circle of connections.  Though it may in the future, the Internet/SNS’s do not serve as the proverbial soapbox like traditional media, because each person possessing a unique voice fragments the strength of the group, unlike the television for example where TV audience is more concentrated on a few channels representing a more focused message.  However, because the online community is growing in numbers and strength, the tendency is to grant it incredible credibility, justified or not.

Question to class:  Agree, disagree? Why?

Pasek is quick to jump to the conclusion that SNS’s have a robust and profound effect on the public, especially in the political arena.  (I am interested in why he did not categorize YouTube as a SNS, as that is becoming the commonly accepted categorization as more and more people join, upload, share, comment, interact, etc.).  As I said, I believe SNS’s are a powerful rock to which millions of people anchor, but again, they are given credence perhaps intuitively, shown by Pasek.

Interestingly, Karpf’s took a more comical, skeptical stand, denouncing YouTube’s “profound” effects on political outcomes. He explains the critical lens through which we must observe it. He made an interesting point when he noted that a good portion of the YouTube views were presumably from people outside of the voting district, without direct influence on the situation.  In my eyes, he took the stance that YouTube’s primary function is to share information with others, rather than to rally troops and sway votes.

While I am not disputing that SNS’s are powerful, persuasive tools, I believe we are dazzled and blinded a bit by the enormity of this new medium, and we may therefore jump to exaggerated conclusions that have yet to be truly understood, and carefully analyzed.

I believe the marketing industry—and isn’t politics, after all, underpinned by marketing?– has turned to social media as a rock in the storm, convincing their clients of its power.  Social media agencies have become the flavor du jour among marketers, some of which are being sold to digital conglomerates for hundreds of millions of dollars.  As the readings suggest, SNS’s are wonderful sharing tools, but they have yet proven themselves as the powerhouses which they have been perceived.

Question to class:  Based on the readings, do you think social networking is the panacea that is often portrayed as, and if so, how do you justify that view?  Or, on the other hand, is marketing a brand via SNS entirely different than political persuasion via SNS?

 

Layne Steele Paddon

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