In “Acting in the Public Sphere: the 2008 Obama Campaign’s Strategic Use of New Media To Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race”, Daniel Kreiss documents how the Obama team leveraged ‘netroots’ bloggers (i.e. MoveOn, Daily Kos, MyDD, FireDogLake) to adapt to a shifting media landscape to help deliver and shape their messaging.
New media provided the opportunities for campaign staffers to act anonymously and by stealth to seed content (like through the ‘arms length’ production and distribution of the “Vote Different” video, show above) or to develop more conventional relationships with influential bloggers, providing informational exclusives, providing research, or channeling information up back into the campaign (p. 207).
Kreiss distinguishes between the communications work of primaries for network building (“the creation, cultivation, and maintenance of ties with movement allies…mobilized for informational purposes” [p. 205]) and the approach for general elections (“‘seeding’ new media outlets, strategically providing content to…allies…to influence the general interest press and gain access to a wider electorate” [p. 205]).
While technology allowed campaigns to interact directly with the public, messages coming from influential bloggers were seen as having more legitimacy as the “reputations of their allies…would have more credibility than…the campaign” (p 206). This also allowed the campaign latitude to deliver different sorts of messages—negative campaigning—that they opted to shy away from in official channels (p. 206).
Mainstream media was still seen as the ultimate prize, with netroots activity seen as a means to break a story in traditional media (p 213). Looked through that lens, I am left to wonder what the campaign would make of a 2016 Donald Trump, who seems to have abandoned stealth techniques and has parlayed direct (controversial/provocative) Twitter and Facebook posts into incredible media exposure:
How do you fight millions of dollars of fraudulent commercials pushing for crooked politicians? I will be using Facebook & Twitter. Watch!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2016
In “Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means?” Christensen looks at the phenomenon of Slacktivism and gauges its impact, both of itself (what does it accomplish) and on traditional activism. He defines Slacktivism as “easy” and sincere acts of online activism/micro-activism (thus, not hacking and not pranks/satire).
He presents two main critiques of slacktivism: 1) it is not effective; and 2) it prevents engagement in other activities.
The stronger of the two critiques is efficacy. It is hard to pinpoint a success rate, though it would most assuredly be small. Even when successful, it is uncertain whether the slacktivism had an active role in producing the end result (i.e. the result was independent of the campaign, the campaign was embraced for optics/PR).
Christensen finds less evidence for slacktivism supplanting other forms of real-world activism. Instead “most recent research suggest a positive—albeit weak—link between online activity and engagement in off-line political participation. This suggests being engaged in effortless political activities online does not replace traditional forms of participation, if anything, they reinforce off-line engagement”. Intuitively this conclusion makes sense. Technology often amplifies what is already there.
A Slacktivism Primer. Warning: hipsters.
Slacktivism: online is not distinct from the real world, it is an extension of our world
Confessore, N., & Yourish, K. (2016). Measuring Donald Trump’s Mammoth Advantage in Free Media. Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/upshot/measuring-donald-trumps-mammoth-advantage-in-free-media.html
Christensen, H.S. (2011). “Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means?” First Monday, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767, doi:10.5210/fm.v16i2.3336.
Does social media have the power to change the world? (2014, June 5). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from https://youtu.be/Uppg_2nGo54
Kreiss, D, (2012). “Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign’s Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race,” Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change, http://danielkreiss.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/kreiss_actinginpublic1.pdf
Slacktivists vs. Activists. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from https://youtu.be/0EQFKKJBjwE
Vote Different. (2007, March 5). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from https://youtu.be/6h3G-lMZxjo