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Academics begin by dismissing the democratic potential of social media and end there?

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Social media, so what? Assessing the impact of blogs and social media


Stefan Niggemeier, BILDblog

Evgeny Morozov, Georgetown University

Matthew Hindman, Arizona State University

Richard Allan, Facebook

Chair: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon, Oxford University

Theorists such as Yochai Benkler have suggested that the accessibility and inherently social nature of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, social networking and wikis mean that we might expect them to enhance our democratic freedoms through the opening of new channels for debate and collaboration. Academic research suggests that such new opportunities have not been equally taken up, and that in many areas, new social media are simply being used by old ‘elites’. At the same time, blogs and social media are having significant effect in enhancing accountability and transparency, particularly in repressive regimes like Burma and China. This session will ask whether we should be so quick to dismiss the socially egalitarian and politically democratic potential of social media or whether there might equally be more mundane but significant social impacts which have so far been ignored.

Missed beginning with internet problems.  People kicking the benches.  Photographers blinding us with flashes.  No work getting done here.

Evgeny Morozov:  From Belarus – some countries getting more democratic.  Some activists and NCG’s becoming more effective.

Impact of internet – what about people who are not activists.  All political forces are using it.  Can find connections of dissidents online.  Access doesn’t make people aspire for democracy.  [Why should it?  Technological determinism?]  Says refrain from technological determinism?  [Straw man?]

Richard Allan:  Potential vs reality.  Political practitioner.  Audience had left the building.  Political class optimistic.  Cyberutopia just that.

Apps that allow ppl to have ongoing deeper relationships beyond challenge-response of a blog.   Afffordancies from a political view.

Early social media : pubs (bars) online.  Bars develop a specific character. Talking to the same people.  People could come in but don’t.

Now: Festival.  Arrive with like-minded people but reach out and meet new people and discover new ideas.  At a Festival, we spend time in the music tents not the side shows.  But side shows can arrive and develop novel connections.  Entertainment also still trumps politics.  Can we use social media to expand our networks in novel ways.

Matthew Hindman: Access, openess, public sphere – most people say there are low barriers to entry.  Monopolies -high fixed costs, low variable costs.  Economics on internet are far less forgiving.   What has Google spent on intrastrucutre on R&D.  By end of 2010, Google will have cost more than the Manhattan project. Web has many new niches but saturate quickly.    What is cost of Amazon?  In any established niche, fixed cost are very high.    Choke points.

Who uses the technologies – may onto existing . . .

Democratization – messy business – no technology can make all the values better at once. American public sphere currently very exclusionary – gatekeepers different but disproportionately male, white, highly educated.    Internet does not reach people who take their lunch pail to work.

Marketplace of ideas is more ferocious than ever – imperfect ways of addressing.

Deliberation vs coordination.

View of BO campaign -networks ran centrally rather than distributed.  Disintermediating politicians.

BO won Ohio with much more effective statistical targetting & political history – won in Republican areas of state.  Done by elites.


Unintended consequences.  Most important unintended consequences.

Stefan Niggemeier:  Use tools to own end.  Use for spam or evil things.   Don’t think in UiC.  To start internet company can be difficult, but so much easier to be heard.    Know it doesn’t happen all the time.

Matthew Hindman:  Traditional media you will be heard.  Publish on internet you may not be heard.  You do not have to ask permission -you need to catch the attention of a big blogger.    Many possible patrons but still need one.   Some groups are not on line – trade unions and conservative religious not on  line.

Production more open but filtering is not more open.  [push pull issues here??]

Evgeny Morozov. Social media helps repressive media – selective about response.

[Some give and take by panel as I am distracted by media problems again]

Matthew Hindman.  Example.


??  Take focus away from minority -technologies exacerbate divide.  96% of Africa no way of expressing themselves.

MT: Mobile phones in Africa.  Half of Africa can be reached by cell phone.

Richard Allen.  Less interesting in library and more in conversation.  Advantages of being part of conversation (yes or no)?

BBC: Blogs, crimes and national security.

Evgeny Morozov.  Sharing information on cyberattacks.   Need discussion of cyberviolence.   Govt is going pursuing national security agenda – most done by individuals for non-criminal reasons.


?? Synthesis – social mediators –  what I can do on line?  Seeing emergence of new intermediation.  What do people do with what we do online?


??  Unintended consequences.   What do panel think about real time public scrutiny has affected public debate?

Answers: ? Citizen expectations that we would move toward direct representation – Richard Allan prefers representational politics.  EM – healthcare debate – 70% discuss myths and then media comes in.   [ confused – Palin talked about death panels to win not to be accurate].

MH clearest result of real time scrutiny has bee higher polarization.  Opinion transformation has been transformed.

Would you improve debate by seeing Twitter stream?  Stefan yes.


??  Politics is tired in UK.  Polis on line has been  failure.  Is discussing social media a smoke-screen?  Is overestimating social media undermining social media?

MH.  Cable news – most people started consuming less news, some more news, distribution changed.  Lower voter participation [cause and EM: effect?].  Inequality about what people know about politics.  Politics is small part what we do online .25% [demographic s?]

EM: Slacktavism.

Richard Allan.  Is what you are saying on line immediate and significant when they engage?  Electorate are smart.  Voters ignore politics when it is not relevant.  Not tools and issue.

Closing . . .

Very ragged.  Restless meeting struggling with intermittent internet.

Published in Business & Communities


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