Week 8

In his article, Hindman considers how a campaign like Dean’s which started out so well could have ended so badly. He suggests that a lot of pre-internet political logic applies in explaining his initial, ostensible success. For example, in the same way that politicians who win early primaries come away more favorably and with more media attention, Dean’s victory in an “online primary” won him a lot of media coverage and lent his campaign more credibility. Also consistent with traditional forms of political activity is Hindman’s claim that no matter how much Dean used the internet, his public appearances, speeches, etc. still had the power to make or break him. The internet is still just a tool.

While Hindman and Shirky agree that Dean’s campaign’s biggest problem was its eventual run-in with reality, Shirky disagrees with the kind of argument like Hindman’s which suggests that particular minorities of the population (liberals, young people) use the internet the most and aren’t adequately representative of the masses. Hindman says that disparate online usage patterns mean that the web shouldn’t be considered as a direct extension of other media. Online content is consumed in different ways by different people, so the effect of its employment in political campaigns isn’t easily predicted or entirely similar to anything previously seen. Hindman explains this by saying that the internet falls along different “fault lines” than older media. One of the practical consequences of this idea is that internet campaigns don’t necessarily reach the masses but can be used instead to organize people who are likely to engage in constructive action. In other words, the internet might be best used as a tool of mobilization, not conversion.

Another consideration of Hindman’s is the effort it takes to contribute money. The ease with which contributions can be made online might have helped create an illusion of success for Dean by counting relatively inactive groups of people among his staunch supporters. Shirky picks up this thread by citing an article in which people publicly supported Dean because he listened to them and they felt engaged in some kind of conversation with his message. The problem with a candidacy built on this premise, Shirky says, is that that appreciation of and fervor toward a candidate as a person does not translate into votes. Both Shirky and Hindman might say that Dean’s problem was mistaking the internet for an end-goal strategy when in contemporary reality it is a helpful tool and set of tactics.

How have campaigns today learned from Dean’s failure? And what might they still be getting wrong/how could they improve?


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1 Response to Week 8

  1. stephmfarr says:

    This post brings up a lot of good points about the readings. I would definitely agree that the Dean campaign made a mistake when they included “relatively inactive groups of people among his staunch supporters”. I would hope that campaigns of today have adjusted their numbers to realize that online support does not translate into votes the way traditional support has in the past. As we discussed in class, 1,000 supporters at a rally before the Internet meant 10,000 votes. Today, 1,000 supporters at a rally might only mean 1,000 votes. This difference must be accounted for if campaigns are to accurately gauge the strength of their support.

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