The Role of Civic Media in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election
published: Oct. 10, 2011, recorded: October 2008, views: 3434
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In World of Warcraft, online ‘clans’ form whose members, while dispersed geographically, exhibit fierce loyalty toward each other -- reminiscent, says Henry Jenkins of neighborhood bowling leagues. He wonders whether new media platforms that encourage bonding over long distances might help move Americans back toward more personal and immediate civic engagement.
Forty years after Alvin Toffler noted that American society was fragmenting due to increased social mobility, digital technology permits us “to build strong friendships and carry them with us wherever we move,” says Jenkins. Social ties can exist without regard to geography, but how do new kinds of social organization play into our politics, especially at the local level? And as local newspapers fold, and media outlets morph into print/online/broadcast hybrids, where will people turn for information about their communities? Jenkins and MIT’s Knight Center for Future Civic Media hope to explore and test new technologies that might help invigorate public discourse and democracy within communities.
Jenkins discusses with an MIT Museum audience the proliferation of media platforms deployed in the recent presidential campaign. He likes the notion of “moving democracy from special event to a lifestyle,” and wonders if the on- and off-line networks built up around the Obama campaign, for instance, will survive the election and continue in other forms. “Is there a plebiscite version, a collective intelligence, where he (Obama) collects the insights of the public to go forward?” Jenkins would like new technologies to provide “a common space” to discuss civic good and community leadership. But he worries about excluding some groups. Most young people have online access, “but still face a participation gap to do with skills, knowledge, experience, a sense of entitlement or empowerment.”
The real trick will be connecting “the real and virtual world together so the consequences of one permeate the other.” Jenkins offers some interesting examples: Global Kids, a New York group linking teen leaders online worldwide, so they work on issues face to face in their own communities, from garbage pickups to volunteer projects. They also develop awareness of larger issues such as Darfur and child prostitution. There’s a new trend of “place blogging,” where individuals report on events on a hyper local level. And some Facebook users found a way of shaming unregistered voter acquaintances – a tactic with which Jenkins isn’t entirely comfortable.
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