Initial Thoughts On Liberal Blogosphere’s Split

It’s fascinating what the primary campaign has done to the liberal blogosphere. Granted, we’re still in the middle of it, and, personally, my guess is this split isn’t going to be long-lasting, once the Democrats settle on a nominee. But it’s astounding how the campaign has exposed fractures among bloggers (although it’s possible and maybe even likely the fractures were always there…).

For those who haven’t followed, here’s a quick summary from Open Left:

This tendency of “birds of a feather” to “flock together” is called homophily. In this case it’s “value homophily,” blog readers and contributors have gravitated toward the blogs that support their values, in this case the blog or blogs where writers say nice things about their preferred candidate. For example, for much of 2007 the Big Orange Satan was an Edwards blog and slowly morphed into an Obama blog in January. MyDD has become the home of Clinton supporters. This “flocking” was seen most dramatically when DKos contributors went on “strike” and took their efforts to more Clinton-friendly environs.

The “strike” marked the point where the split became public, covered by the news media, including the Times. The complaint, sentiment that is echoed elsewhere in the blogosphere, was:

…the administrators have allowed this hostile environment to develop in our online community for anyone who isn’t planted firmly in the Obama camp. They’ve routinely ignored personal attacks and allowed disruptive, spam-like posts to go unchecked whenever anyone expresses support for Hillary or challenges something their candidate has said or done…As a result, our community has become little more than an echo chamber with an attitude that harkens back to the early days of Dubbya’s administration – yer either with us or yer a’gin us, heh!

A commenter in a post at TalkLeft, another “pro-Clinton” site, believes “[TPM’s Josh] Marshall, Kos and their like hate Clinton so much that they would destroy the Democratic party to ensure that Obama wins the nomination.” While this is something of a cherry-pick, the intention is simply to illustrate the extremes to which bloggers are reaching when talking about others who, in the big picture of things, are on the same side.

Of course, Obama supporters have their own complaints, perhaps the most significant being the characterization of them as vapid and “cultists.”

Is this just politics? Is this a natural result of the primary practice, but made more overt and public through the medium of the blog? Is this just what happens when more people are given a space to participate?

I have previously posted about what I call “the orality of blogging,” using Walter Ong’s work to help situate the blog in terms of our media past, and perhaps reformulate his concept of “secondary orality” in terms of social media. Ong identifies “agonistically toned” as one of the characteristics of an oral culture, noting how “orality situates knowledge within a context of struggle.” There is a certain parallel here — the political blogosphere, at its most basic level, has always been about struggle and contestation. It seems appropriate that the 2008 primary campaign, played out at the same time bloggers find themselves entrenched in “mainstream” politics more than ever before, became the center of this struggle.

The question now, of course, is whether or not the movement to separate “flocks” is permanent, or whether, once a nominee is selected, the focus turns to a common foe, and the sense of community, which for the world of orality was a necessity, returns in the “secondary orality” of the blogosphere.

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