Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Politics and Web 2.0

While the headline of the article was “leaders court bloggers” the article actually had very little to do with blogging, but was more about things like Facebook and YouTube are impacting the political process in Canada.

That said, it was still an interesting read, and I think pollster Nik Nanos has it essentially correct:

"Social-marketing campaigns are kind of like nuclear weapons: other folks have them, so you have to have them," says Nik Nanos, a political strategist with Toronto-based Nanos Research.

"You need bloggers, you need people posting video, you need people participating in comments, you need people mobilizing on Facebook. Because if you don't, you're basically ceding the online political dialogue to your enemies."


While a federal election won't be won or lost on the Internet, Nanos predicts it will be the primary battleground for campaigners' "black ops" missions.

While it is an evolving situation, at the moment I think the ability for social marketing and Web 2.0 to influence political debate is limited, although it is growing.

There is strong fundraising potential on the Web, for example, with the ability to raise money in small amounts with targeted, quick-response, issue-based campaigns. This is more evolved in the U.S., but could be potentially more important in Canada given our strict donation limits.

And then there’s what Nanos calls the black ops missions, the dirt. Bloggers aren’t journalists, and while they must be careful not to run afoul of libel laws, they aren’t bound by the same journalistic standards as the mainstream media and they’re less likely to fact check. Therefore, for the party war room it’s easier to get a blogger to bite on a potentially borderline negative story the media wasn’t interested in.

Here again, though, I’d point out that blogdom needs the MSM to be relevant. If the negative piece remains in blogland its impact remains small, when it gets picked up by the MSM its mission accomplished. If the operatives can create enough noise in blogland then the MSM may not be able to ignore it. By breaking it in the blogs first too, it can also give the MSM cover, allowing them to cover the news rather than breaking it.

Where blogs do have more potential to make an impact on their own is when someone screws-up, such as the Mike Klander incident in the last campaign. I think Warren Kinsella is off track here though:
… in the coming campaign, the Liberals and/or the NDP will likely make use of the offensive "Blogging Tory"/Conservative bloggers statements in their advertising - Shaidle calling Muslim children "parasites," McMillan's anti-native and anti-black garbage, and so on…

I naturally see other bloggers obviously reminding us of such incidents, and perhaps parties trying to push such lines in their earned media but I can’t see parties trying to tie blogger comments to politicians in paid advertising. There would need to be a strong connection, more than just a photo. The Klander thing took off because he held a somewhat senior party position. If it’s just a blogger in their basement that self-identifies as a supporter of party X I don’t see it working.

Off topic for a moment, but I laughed when I read this about Harper’s Facebook profile:
Harper's page has disabled the wall option altogether, leaving few options for people who want to provide feedback.

Speaks volumes to the interest Stephen Harper et al. place in what people think.

Anyway, there is a lot happening in Web land. In Ontario the Liberals were very active on the video front, and the Conservatives were active too. In Alberta, the Liberals there have been showing a lot of creativity with things like Edspedia.ca. What impact will such initiatives have, though? They may mobilize the base perhaps. There’s greater potential for social media to influence younger voters I’d think; and getting them out to vote has always been a challenge, so if young voters are mobilized it's definitely worth it.

Back to the headline of the article though, Leaders court bloggers. I don’t think they are, which is perhaps why the article didn’t really go there. At least not so much on the progressive side, on the Conservative side I think it’s another story. But since I’ve just spent 600+ words largely arguing against the relevancy of bloggers, do I think they should be courted?

I do. Because while blogland’s influence is minimal today it is growing, and the potential is there. Because younger voters are harder to get, and they’re more tuned-in to blogging and social networking. And because in an increasingly fragmented communications marketplace, you need to utilize every avenue you can to get your message out.

Blogdom’s potential will only be realized though if the blogsphere matures somewhat; examples like those Warren gave above only hurt the credibility of blogdom as something that should be courted. If such vitrol is the norm, and is accepted, why would anyone take bloggers seriously?

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7 comments:

warren said...

You're right. What do I know about campaigns? What was I thinking?

A BCer in Toronto said...

It's ok big guy. Pobody's nerfect.

Jason Hickman said...

Jeff, you make some good points there.

There is potential for the blogs to have an impact, pro or con. The trick is in realising that the "big breaks" - the Klander story you mentioned; the Rather debunking in the US - are still very much the exception, not the rule. And at least for now, such stories that do start off in blogs usually only gets big once the "MSM" takes notice of it.

But as for Harper's FB page not having a wall, the very article you linked to pointed out that:

It took nearly two days for the administrators of Layton's Facebook page to remove a wall posting bearing a Nazi swastika this week. On Dion's wall, so-called "supporters" have attacked everything from the politician's policies to his grasp of English.

If that's the sort of "feedback" Harper's FB page could expect - and you know as well as I do that some folks out there would break their necks doing exactly that - then Harper's FB page is better off without it.

Jason Hickman said...

... and as for your point/counter-point with WK, something truly bad on a "Blogging Tory" blog could hurt the CPC - depending on what was said, the nature of the blog, etc.

But that's a dangerous game. I could, if I had the time/inclination, scour the Liblogs group and find all sorts of "attack lines" that Dion et al wouldn't use in their wildest moments, because they're just too nasty and/or amateurish. And you may remember the Robert McClelland/Blogging Dippers incident of a few months ago.

You may see some self-policing by the administrators of the various party blogrolls, however - whether or not the inspiration from it comes from the Parties themselves - just to avoid the sort of problem WK writes about.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Jason,

such stories that do start off in blogs usually only gets big once the "MSM" takes notice of it.

That's the point I've been making for some time; blogs are really only influential at his point if/when they can influence the MSM.

On the FB thing, the swastika aside all the insults thrown at Dion aren't any worse then what he gets from the Cons all the time in QP, and even in TV ads. Social networking isn't a one-way medium. Police for libel and what not, sure, but the conversation needs to be two-way, and criticism needs to be taken.

And on the point/counterpoint, it does depend, yes. Like I said, the Klander thing stuck because he had party connection outside the blogphere,IIRC he held an elected executive position with LPCO.

My only point of disagreement with Warren is that I don't see a party running a paid advertisement linking something stupid a blogger said to one a politicians. KKKate said this, she supports Stephen Harper, Harper bad, or what have you. I could see Warren or Tim Powers using such a line on Mike Duffy Live (if I watched such shows), but I think it'd be a stretch for a TV spot or newspaper ad unless the circumstanced were exceptional. But I'm perfectly ready to be proven wrong.

And I agree with the need for some blogsphere self-policing, and was alluding to that at the end of my post. The crazies don't help their own cause, and they prevent blogging as a whole from being taken seriously.

Demosthenes said...

I thoroughly disagree the idea that blogs only matter if they influence the MSM. NO. That's not the case at all. To the extent that the build communities that exist around and beyond the MSM, they can be influential without a single mention. Look at Kos: most of the mentions of the site are hostile attacks on, say, O'Reilly, but it's ridiculously influential. Why? Because of the community.

The problem, BCer, is that while there are Liberal bloggers out there, they haven't done much to build any kind of community. Partially that's because of people like Warren who can't--or won't--understand how vital mutual free commentary is in building these communities, but also because too many bloggers think exactly what you just said: that they're a kind of journalist that should stand apart from parties, movements and communities. That's simply not the case.

You need a focal point, though, and one of the biggest problems with Canadian Liberal blogs is that there's no Atrios or Kos to serve as that focal point. Blogger blogs can do so, as Atrios' Eschaton shows, but something like Daily Kos or the Huffington Post would probably work better.

The only person that really springs to mind as a potential standard-bearer, LibLogs founder Jason Cherniak, has still got a few too many issues to comfortably play that role, has a personal blog too infested with trolls, and Liblogs needs to be built into far more of a community than the glorified RSS reader that currently sits on that page.

(Of course, it would also help if standard-bearers like Warren weren't so hostile to the idea of pseudonyms. Depriving Canadian Liberals of someone like, say, Digby is a tragic and terrible thing. But that's another story.)

Demosthenes said...

Oh, and if you're looking for progressive Canadians to focus on as blogging success stories, where the hell is Michael Geist? He just won the EFF's "Pioneer" award for his work fighting the Conservatives' demented copyright policies, including some truly inspired blogging, and yet there's been little mention of him on liberal blogs that I can see.

I mean, I can understand why Kinsella wouldn't breath a word of it--the EFF's advocacy of online freedom of speech probably repels him like silver does a werewolf--but you'd think that other notable Canadian Liberal bloggers would be jumping all over something that attracted the attention of both arch-blogger (and Canadian) Cory Doctorow and Slashdot.

(Or even, well, having Geist on their blogrolls in the first place.)