Posts Tagged ‘social media’


The Internet doesn’t do anything

By now everyone has seen the data: Young voters (18-29) made up 12% of the electorate in this year’s midterm elections, the same as 2010, and the same as 2006. If that proportion had been closer to what it was in 2012 (19%), assuming patterns of support among young voters didn’t change, lots of Democratic politicians would still have jobs.

2006, 2010, 2014. A bit of Facebook, lots of Facebook and decent Twitter, ubiquitous Facebook and significant Twitter and a ton of other things. Social network sites and content sharing platforms dominate the media diets of young adults, and have been home in recent years to a variety of high-profile progressive awareness campaigns, such as Kony 2012 and #YesAllWomen. Numerous studies have extolled the virtues of social media for “contribut[ing] to new models of citizenship now emerging in younger generations” (see also Bennett, Wells, & Freelon, 2011; Gil de Zúñiga, Bachmann, Hsu, & Brundidge, 2013). Unfortunately, this research skirts around a lot of practical participatory outcomes, most notably voting.

What does this tell us? Well, among other things, it tells us the Internet doesn’t do things on its own. The cultural political movements that have been enabled by the connectiveness of online communities have been terrific in many ways — certainly where American attitudes stand today regarding gender equality has been affected positively by discussion primarily occurring online — but they have also been sometimes counter to the interests of the largely progressive young generation (e.g., Gamergate, the Tea Party). Regardless, the young citizens who support access to birth control mostly did not vote. The young citizens who support establishing a living wage mostly did not vote. Relaxation or elimination of marijuana prohibition. Militarization of police. Non-dischargeability of student loan debt. Voter ID laws that specifically target students for disenfranchisement. No presidential race on the ballot? Not interested.

This is an observation of a problem I see with the framework of our thinking about the Internet and political participation, and I don’t have an answer to it at this point. I think parts of the answer lie in at least two places. First, Facebook’s experiments in social pressure about voting (and numerous other studies) point to one avenue that can’t be overlooked: awareness that elections are actually taking place, established long enough ahead of time to get registered and integrate “voter” into one’s self-concept. Many places have been inundated with ads for the last few months, but that’s not true everywhere, and it is true that many of these potential voters see relatively few TV ads anyway. One important data point could be the amount of news coverage devoted to midterm elections compared with presidential ones, but again, that doesn’t implicate much of this demographic.

The second part of the process may be a fundamental revisiting of what voting is for. This is an area in which the American left has long lagged behind the right. The conservative movement has long understood that it is both a social movement and an electoral one, and that the Republican Party is its primary electoral tool. Progressive and social justice organizations, on the other hand, from traditionally held skeptical views toward both the Democratic Party and electoral politics in general. This attitude seems like it may be resilient among young non-voters (or at least their enablers in the press), who believe that their votes won’t change anything. This reflects an upside-down view of what voting it is for. It is not to make change; it is to consolidate change make socially. If you make change in society to support equality and freedom, and then fail to vote for it every other election, you’ve failed to make the change happen.

Filed: We R in Control || 17:21, November 6 || No Comments »


Power of communication tools resides in how we communicate with them

This piece was written for Gateway Journalism Review and is cross-posted from the GJR site.

“You think you could tell a rapist to stop doing what he’s doing? Do you, really? And he’s going to listen to an ad campaign to stop?” At the end of a heated exchange over guns and personal safety for women on his Fox News program, Sean Hannity asked that of guest Zerlina Maxwell. During the segment, Maxwell suggested that the best way to stop rape was to teach young men not to rape, rather than to arm all women.

Hannity’s statement reveals a telling blind spot. He inhabits a world in which there is no rape culture, only rapists, who are criminals. Criminals cannot be reasoned with or taught not to commit crimes; thus, the only way to stop them is by force, during their commission of their crimes. The response to the segment belies Hannity’s view, however. For her trouble, Maxwell was the target of numerous racially and sexually abusive messages on Twitter, many of which centered on her being raped.

The inability of the media and political figures to see or understand rape that isn’t what Whoopi Goldberg infamously called “rape rape” – that is, a violent, forcible sexual assault by a stranger in a dark alley – is nothing new. On March 17, it reached perhaps a new low, as CNN aired a segment lamenting the “promising lives” of two Steubenville, OH, teens convicted in juvenile court of raping an unconscious girl at a party. Anchor Candy Crowley and two correspondents, Poppy Harlow and Paul Callan, spoke at length about the terrible effects of the guilty verdicts for the two rapists, whose “lives are destroyed,” according to Callan. The report focused on their football accomplishments and good academic standing before their trial; conspicuously absent was any discussion of their victim, or any suggestion that the best way to avoid your life being destroyed by a rape conviction is not to rape anybody.

One reason why CNN so badly interpreted this case may be that, like so many real rape cases, it didn’t fit the narrow definition of the hypothetical rape rape scenario. These two young men were not the rapists that exist in Sean Hannity’s mind, prowling the streets for unprotected victims to abduct and assault. Rather, they were two young men who had no concept of consent because no one had ever taught it to them. As David Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote: “Throughout this trial, the two defendants and a parade of friends who wound up mostly testifying against the defendants, expressed little understanding of rape – let alone common decency or respect for women. Despite the conviction, the defendants likely don’t view themselves as rapists, at least not the classic sense of a man hiding in the shadows.” They grew up in a rape culture that privileges “good” men – successful athletes, good students – and denigrates “bad” women – those who express their sexuality, or drink. In rape culture, a rape conviction and a ruined life is not the just outcome of your own criminal behavior, it is a tragedy that happens to you against your will.

It is particularly disturbing that CNN would produce this kind of reporting. The role of Fox News and its personalities in our political and social discourse is no secret – Hannity’s segment is of a piece with past Fox material on guns and crime. But according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Fox was the second-least believable national news organization. CNN was the most believable cable news channel, suggesting that the reliance on opinion programming by Fox and MSNBC – confirmed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2013 State of the News Media report – has left CNN as the cable news viewer’s go-to source for straight news. For CNN to suggest that the conviction, rather than the commission, is tragic is a stunning reversal of this story, and does a tremendous injustice to rape victims everywhere.

Not surprisingly, the rape culture that underlies concern for the rapists also prompted additional abuse for their victim. On the day the verdicts were announced, two teenage girls were arrested for posting death threats against the victim on Facebook and Twitter. Social media also played a role in the original crime, as pictures and video taken by onlooking partygoers were posted online. Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all aired the name of the victim on March 18, potentially enabling a new wave of abuse. But if there is a silver lining to this episode, it is in the quick and sustained response to CNN and everyone else sustaining the rape culture’s infrastructure. Just two days after CNN’s initial report, a petition demanding an apology on Change.org has more than 189,000 signatories. Critical responses to CNN could be found from everyday Twitter users to The Huffington Post to the Poynter Institute. Social media provided a platform both to quickly expose CNN’s coverage, and to allow a broad coalition of reform-minded voices to come together and be heard, perhaps across interpersonal relationships that may never have supported an anti-rape discourse without this context. It is another reminder that the power of our communication tools lies primarily in how we communicate with them.

Filed: Watching the Detectives || 8:55, March 22 || 1 Comment »


Who controls the Tea Party narrative?

There’s a question going around the blogosphere today of whether John Boehner’s quick-hit Affordable Care Act repeal bill — a largely symbolic measure that will go nowhere in the Senate — will be enough to appease the Tea Party activists who made rabid ACA opposition one of their litmus tests in 2010. The bill is scheduled for a vote two weeks before the State of the Union address, with no debate or CBO scoring, so it will likely not become an ongoing news story, but will be checked off the GOP’s list of campaign promises and will continue to be used as a fundraising and turnout tool in 2012.

While Jonathan Bernstein takes this move as evidence that Boehner sees the Tea Party as “a fairly easy bunch to manage,” Matthew Yglesias points to conservative messengers’ power in this process:

Suppose there’s some sellout that John Boehner wants to implement. Boehner recognizes that he needs to pair this with a symbolic but meaningless gesture. Now suppose he sits down in a room with Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Donohue, and David Koch and persuades all three of those people that this is the right way to proceed. Then the next day, Boehner unleashes his symbolic gesture and his compromise, and the coverage of it on Fox News, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and the fox-affiliated radio shows is all positive. That alone gets you the three most popular talk radio shows, the television network, The Weekly Standard, a dose of influence at every single conservative think tank in America, and the important organizing efforts of Americans For Prosperity.

I think this misses a couple layers of complexity. First, any discussion of the Tea Party needs to keep in mind that there really isn’t a Tea Party, per se, whether or not you buy the formulation of the movement as largely elite-created. You may recall that the whole thing seemed to kick off when CNBC barker Rick Santelli delivered a rant against foreclosed homeowners who didn’t deserve the same consideration as the banks who’d lent to them. Then it turned into a traveling health care town hall freak show. Then it became about the UN’s plot to make us all ride bikes and Michelle Obama’s War on Dessert. This is why it’s so easy to find large numbers of people claiming Tea Party membership — every angry conservative in the country can find something within the “movement” to latch on to.

Given that, it’s easy to see major conservative media as the organizing loci of the Tea Party, because that’s where these ideas can all come together and be passed around. But suggesting, as Yglesias does, that nobody will be willing to cross Rush on these matters, and thus potentially split the ideaspace, doesn’t quite make sense to me. First, while the dominance of institutional media in the Tea Party is certainly one of the key factors in its growth, we shouldn’t ignore the role played by social media. For every birther flirtation by a respectable conservative pundit on Fox, there are a dozen images of Obama as a Kenyan tribal chief being distributed through social networks online. The woman who interrupted today’s partial reading of the Constitution in the House may have gotten the birtherism idea from some recognizable source, but I’m sure wasn’t Limbaugh and Hannity supporting her at her blog or her Facebook page. Social media makes it much easier to tell that when someone’s pissing on your head, it’s not actually raining.

The other factor here is the likely make-up of the 2012 GOP field. Some candidates will be in no position to be too aggressive with Rush (i.e., Mitt Romney) and will have to show their fealty at every opportunity. But some — Palin, Huckabee — are conservative media figures in their own right. Given that there will probably be several candidates vying for the hardcore Tea Party vote, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone like Palin to pick a fight with the established bigwigs, both to try to differentiate herself as a candidate and, more importantly, to try to leapfrog Limbaugh as the biggest of big names in conservative media going forward.

Filed: We R in Control || 12:40, January 6 || No Comments »