New Media, Old Politics?

moderator: David Thorburn, Literature at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Henry Jenkins, Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Garret LoPorto, QuantumLight
author: Joseph Trippi
published: March 8, 2013,   recorded: October 2004,   views: 2699
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In the common judgment of this panel, the World Wide Web will strongly shape the future of politics in this country, for good or ill. Henry Jenkins describes how media savvy candidates, from Pat Buchanan to Jesse Ventura, have grasped the strength of the internet. They speak directly to disenfranchised citizens surfing the Web, painting themselves as plain-speaking, opinionated outsiders. Jenkins sees the 2004 campaign as “caught in the crossfire between the internet and TV.” He worries that the phenomenon of instant Web commentary on televised events—such as the response to Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech—gets the public involved in a game of negative campaigning, and ultimately decreases voter turnout.

Garret LoPorto believes that the internet may enable a new kind of politics to emerge—by motivating individuals with shared belief systems. The customary approach is to mass market --“indoctrinate,” says LoPorto-- via broadcast media, employing demographics. LoPorto embraces the new “viral marketing,” which emphasizes “psychographics.” The internet encourages individuals to reveal themselves and express what they care about, says LoPorto. The trick is to find and transmit on the Web “ideas that enhance people’s identities,” and then to build networks around common concerns. The Web organizations MoveOn and True Majority quickly built large memberships using these methods.

Joe Trippi is the panel’s optimist. He acknowledges that internet-based groups can bludgeon political opponents, but believes the internet will ultimately prove a balm for Americans’ increasing, TV-generated isolation. Internet collaboration can inspire people to social and political activism. Driven by thousands of Web-based meet-up groups and contributions, “the Dean campaign was the bottom rising up in power against a political system that was failing the country.”

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