So my last post may have sounded a little harsh about how people use social networking, YouTube, etc. I thought in this post I would give people a little bit of credit.
A recent article on News Blaze reviews, well, promotes a book called Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World by authors Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta. It is unclear who wrote the article, which shamelessly plugs Fraser and Dutta's work, but does make some good points. Though I have not read it, Throwing Sheep apparently lays out in some detail just how Barack Obama leveraged Web 2.0 capabilities to win the election. They aptly claim that he was not the only one using the technology - he was just the only one to master it.
The key to Obama and other politicians' future success, claim Fraser and Dutta, is that this new technology engages everyday people that otherwise would not have been able to have their voice heard, or at least feel that their position was being taken into account. Even if they were one in 2 million followers on facebook, the feeling that they were part of a campaign was enough to turn many of these supporters into evangelists for the Obama message, which in turn created a new angle to the 2008 race which we have never seen before. Fair enough.
Among a lot of good points that the article makes about civic engagement and reinvigorating voters, all well put and valid arguments as far as I could tell, one of the most interesting, if not subtle points the article makes is about traditional media and the new media. It speaks to the cooperation between facebook and ABC News, and between YouTube and CNN. This might be an illustration of the greatest power this new technology holds: transforming other media that now have to compete with web 2.0
So much of politics is the amount, quality and substance of mass media coverage of a campaign. These decisions are of course left in a "few" hands at the major networks to decide. One point I do contend with is when the article claims that all candidates got their fair share of criticism...I am not sure I agree (I voted for Obama, so no hate messaging). However, the fact that they now have to compete not only with each other, but in many cases people sitting at their computers as I do now, is pretty intriguing.
This of course has its dark side as well since hate groups and the like can say what they would like, too. It wouldn't be the first time masses were swayed by a psychotic few, but I am not quite willing to buy into this paranoia just yet. I do have some faith in the rational nature of human beings, and would hope that the power being in everyone hands could act as its own check. Of course, not everyone owns a computer, but that is another topic for another day. My point is that one of the most significant parts of the change we are seeing take place may in fact be that mass media is being forced to be a bit more honest in its coverage so they are not scooped by Columbia students writing for a class, for example. This would truly be a win for Democracy that I can whole-heartedly endorse.