Week 7 – Barlow, Druckman et al., Bimber & Davis

The advent of online communication not only offered a new tool for one to reach many — in particular, for politicians to impart messages to the public. It also, as the authors of this week’s readings detail, inaugurated a wholly new paradigm of communication. No longer were messages from politicians susceptible to filters in the news media or as tethered to the economics of advertisements as before; now politicians could submit unadulterated political messages to the public, and for a fraction of a cost of what a primetime television advertisement might’ve cost a candidate thirty years ago.

Though more a manifesto for Internet users than an academic study of online communication, Barlow’s “A Declaration of  the Independence of Cyberspace” outlines the advances brought on by the new paradigm. Legal concepts — property, expression, borders, identity — that in physical space are the government’s bailiwick it has no control over in Cyberspace, Barlow argues. Hierarchies once or still fostered by the government — like those based on race, income, power or socioecomic station — are obsolete in cyberspace, he adds. And even if the government here or abroad or any other official entity wanted to govern the Internet, they would not be able to, he concludes. ”

“You have no sovereignty where we gather,” Barlow writes in his 1996 manifesto. “I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”

Still, online communication has afforded politicians and governments some degrees of greater control over the public, real or online, and Bimber and Davis and Druckman et al. relate these in the chapter we read. While online communication still favors the better-financed politicians, websites still offered candidates the opportunity to get their messages across at rates far lower than television stations would charge and fostered the creation of networks of supporters. Druckman’s findings that candidates guard their messages more closely when the race is more contested and are looser when they feel as if they have nothing to lose demonstrate the importance of online communication in campaign strategy and politician-voter relationships.

Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of online communication allowing politicians to directly impart their messages to the public? And are voters are more or less informed because of this?

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3 Responses to Week 7 – Barlow, Druckman et al., Bimber & Davis

  1. Nick E. says:

    I think that there are two ways to approach this question. First of all, it is necessary to point out that journalists and politicians are both probably two of the least trusted professions in our society. I think there are certainly instances when voters are more informed when politicians directly impart their messages to the public. In class we talked about how sound bites/quotations of speeches have diminished greatly in the news. How is it possible for a length speech to be condensed into 8 seconds? It really isn’t. When the politicians can directly talk to the voters, they are able to get their intended message directly to the people who matter the most.

    There are certainly instances when it is NOT beneficial to skip the step involving the media, and have politicians speak directly to the people. The media has the ability to act as a watchdog. It is their responsibility to make sure politicians are serving the public equitably. When the media isn’t there to criticize candidates, they can easily flip flop on issues depending on who they are talking to. I believe a combination of the two is the best for society. When the politicians are able to get their true platforms to the public, only then can a democracy work properly. However, it is certainly necessary to have measures in place (such as the media), to make sure that they are acting in a moral manner.

  2. stephmfarr says:

    There are certainly both advantages and disadvantages to politicians having direct online communication with their constituents. The ability to inform the public of their “true platforms” is an advantage, but the ability to even better manufacture a false image also exist. One interesting, perhaps unexplored aspect of the direct messages politicians can impart is whether the public’s response is significant. For example, what effect does an individual’s comments or participation in a politician’s social networking have on a campaign?

  3. smisarah says:

    Taking a step back, I think voters are generally more informed today than they were in the past, largely because the news media made it their responsibility to serve as the “watchdog” of the public and to interpret events for the everyday people. Have you ever seen really old campaign ads, like the Kennedy or Nixon TV spots in 1960? Some of them are just songs! Without a news media committed to keeping people informed, I can’t see how those types of ads did much to educate voters on the hard-hitting issues. Now, with regard to candidate websites, I think that someone who ONLY viewed the websites would be less informed than someone who engaged with other types of media, as they would only be exposed to the candidate’s take on things and not any “objective” analysis of the election. Since the website only reflects one voice, it’s naturally not complete on its own. But I do think it’s important that these sites exist, that the candidates can reclaim the opportunity to put their message out there without having it edited by the media – it evokes images of a candidate standing on a stump or a platform and telling their story to anyone that will listen. Maybe a website is just today’s tree stump.

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