Just published by EFF, is this simple and clear “bill of rights” for social network users:
#1: The Right to Informed Decision-Making
Users should have the right to a clear user interface that allows them to make informed choices about who sees their data and how it is used.
Users should be able to see readily who is entitled to access any particular piece of information about them, including other people, government officials, websites, applications, advertisers and advertising networks and services.
Whenever possible, a social network service should give users notice when the government or a private party uses legal or administrative processes to seek information about them, so that users have a meaningful opportunity to respond.
#2: The Right to Control
Social network services must ensure that users retain control over the use and disclosure of their data. A social network service should take only a limited license to use data for the purpose for which it was originally given to the provider. When the service wants to make a secondary use of the data, it must obtain explicit opt-in permission from the user. The right to control includes users’ right to decide whether their friends may authorize the service to disclose their personal information to third-party websites and applications.
Social network services must ask their users’ permission before making any change that could share new data about users, share users’ data with new categories of people, or use that data in a new way. Changes like this should be “opt-in” by default, not “opt-out,” meaning that users’ data is not shared unless a user makes an informed decision to share it. If a social network service is adding some functionality that its users really want, then it should not have to resort to unclear or misleading interfaces to get people to use it.
#3: The Right to Leave
Users giveth, and users should have the right to taketh away.
One of the most basic ways that users can protect their privacy is by leaving a social network service that does not sufficiently protect it. Therefore, a user should have the right to delete data or her entire account from a social network service. And we mean really delete. It is not enough for a service to disable access to data while continuing to store or use it. It should be permanently eliminated from the service’s servers.
Furthermore, if users decide to leave a social network service, they should be able to easily, efficiently and freely take their uploaded information away from that service and move it to a different one in a usable format. This concept, known as “data portability” or “data liberation,” is fundamental to promote competition and ensure that users truly maintains control over their information, even if they sever their relationship with a particular service.
Within Henry Farrell’s review of two new books about the netroots, there is some excellent analysis:
The netroots are neither genteel nor interested in nuance. They want to aggressively confront a right that they see as dangerous and an establishment that they see as at best semi-corrupt. Their combativeness can be a problem. The fights over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy were so bitter because members of the netroots used debating tactics against each other that they had previously reserved for external enemies. But they also potentially provide a model for a politics that can actually engage citizens. As political scientists such as Theda Skocpol and Nancy Rosenblum have argued, vigorous political contention mobilizes people and gets them involved in civil society.
The netroots may help to create a more participatory American politics. If they do succeed, however, it will be the result of their long-term effects in building political movements, not their short-term effects in an election like that of 2008, when they were not especially consequential.
The important overall point I think he makes is there is no absolute answer to whether or not the netroots “matter” in politics. It’s not a “good” or “bad” thing, and it’s likely still too early to really tell how significant the last few years of the active blogosphere have been. Political change is a very slow thing…
The whole piece is well worth reading.
Oh this is rich.
I never understood why Dowd even has the job she has. She hasn’t been relevant for many years. Mostly, from what I can tell, she writes a gossip column.
Lately, there has been a lot of consternation about the demise of the newspaper industry. And some really, really stupid ideas to save it.
Newspaper journalists, you really need to get over yourselves. Not that we don’t need newspapers, but it seems like people in the newspaper have a very difficult time with the whole self-reflection thing.
[Outline for my talk in Jae Kang’s Media and American Modernity 2.0:
The Internet and Political Culture, at the New School]
Obama and Bloggers During the Campaign
My post, A Brief History of Obama and the Political Blogosphere, will be used as a way to introduce the topic, and frame out “the politics of blogging.”
In it, I describe how the 2008 Presidential campaign saw a split in the liberal blogosphere, between Obama and Clinton supporters. The image of the net savvy candidate the news media liked to portray in Obama was, in truth, something much more complex:
The political blogosphere, though, has never been uncritical of Obama; indeed, the history of the Obama and the blogosphere reveals a contentious relationship, one that demonstrates how bloggers today are continuing to do what they do best — put political pressure on elected officials.
This pressure continues today, as bloggers have organized to protest Obama’s intention to approve the latest FISA legislation. The protest, in fact, marks a significant turning point — while the 2008 campaign saw an unprecedented use of social media, it turns out, social media can work in reverse. Just as the Obama campaign provided the tools to allow supporters to organize and help him win the primary, his supporters have turned the tables and are using my.barackobama.com to attempt to push and shape his political positions.
Today, the netroots largely support Obama, yet have also continued to push back on his positions on issues such as illegal wiretapping and torture. As bloggers exist within networked publics, they form and un-form groups easily, and as needed. There is no monolithic “blogosphere,” and it is likely the politics of blogging will continue to be in flux, perhaps shaping around issue-based activism, rather than party-based.
The Case For and Against
The liberal blogosphere’s political stand with respect to Obama was described in two excellent posts by Chris Bowers, at Open Left:
Because President Obama flip-flopped on FISA: Finally, I don’t trust President Obama himself because he flip-flopped on FISA due to right-wing pressure in the campaign. During the primaries, he vowed to fight telecom immunity tooth and nail, but once the primaries were over, he just flat-out flipped his position. This was a straightforward case where President Obama changed a position as a result of shifting political pressure. The conclusion I drew from that event is that it is possible to change Obama’s public positions if there was enough political pressure for him to change, and that such pressure was necessary because he was willing to cave into right-wing demands if they applied enough pressure.
In short, FISA was the “distrust and pressure” object lesson for me.
There are some very progressive aspects to President Obama’s background. Two that always stick out in my mind are that he spent time after college as a community organizer and found religion through a church that preached liberation theology. Experiences such as these can only come from a person who is open to left-wing ideas. Obama simply must view progressivism as something to take seriously, rather than as the caricatured fashion it is often portrayed in our national political discourse…Further, while President Obama often uses anti-partisan and anti-ideological language that many center-right pundits and Democrats have often used to mean “let’s capitulate to Republicans and conservatives on everything,” his background as a person of mixed-ethnicity suggests a very different possibility. President Obama has long been required to navigate between apparently dichotomous worlds, and the fact that he was able to become the first African-American President of the United States indicates that he is very good at this navigation.
Liberal bloggers and the press
While Drezner and Farrell’s “The power and politics of blogs” does an excellent job of describing the blogosphere, I think it does not stress enough the antagonistic relationship bloggers have with the press — in some ways, it makes this relationship seem too cozy. This, in fact, is one of the main reasons the blogosphere formed, as a counter-balance to what liberals saw as failing in corporate-owned news media.
Markos Moulitsas, “kos” of Daily Kos, recently began a blog post with: “Newspapers don’t respect and value their readers.” He went on to describe a conversation he had with an editor at a newspaper, asking how they could become more acclimated to the web — they had tried comments, but the editor described a reporter a calling it “graffiti.” Kos concludes:
I wonder what happened to that “star columnist”, whose arrogance back in 2003 prevented his newspaper from taking its first tentative steps toward a more collaborative and inclusive product. Those publications that survive and eventually thrive once again will be those who harness the creativity of their audiences and encourage not just their passive consumption, but also their active participation in the news gathering, analyzing, and dissemination. On this front, the track record of the newspaper industry has, thus far, been dismal.
Bloggers don’t want the press to go away; they just want the press to do a better job. Yet it’s impossible not to hear at least some contempt in that post.
The Politics of Twitter
Finally, there is Twitter. While in the early days of blogs and the news media, each party wrote about each other (that is, bloggers commenting on the failings of reporters, news sites adding blogs and stories about blogs), today on Twitter, bloggers and journalists can interact directly. Where the contentious relationship between bloggers and journalists used to play out across a variety of media spaces, today they take place within Twitter.
Journalists, pundits, politicians, celebrities, and the everyday Joe are chattering away. Suddenly, the Joe Scarborough’s of the world are interacting with the public in a way they never have before…..directly and without a filter. Whether responding to questions about Morning Joe segments or his favorite soccer teams, Joe is tweeting like mad. And he’s not alone. @GStephanopoulos, @jaketapper, @Shuster1600, @tamronhall, and so on. The list of twittering pundits is growing by the minute. But, what is the appeal for them? Why have they gone so utterly crazy for Twitter? Reading through their tweets, I was struck by how engaged they are with their “followers.” Twitter allows them to interact like they might in the comments section of a blog. In short, Twitter has allowed them to become bloggers…albeit in a micro-form.
(Note a significant backlash to Twitter from many of the kossacks in the comments on the above post, as well as here.)
And journalists, so often behind in terms of their understanding of new media, are struggling to adapt:
Everything you need to know about the DC journo establishment, from ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper’s Twitter feed:
Breaking- PrezObama on Leno jokes about being a bad bowler- says it’s “like the Special Olympics or something” http://tinyurl.com/bholeno about 12 hours ago from TwitterBerry
Am trying to imagine the reaction if President Bush joked that his bowling skills recalled the Special Olympics. 3 am- we just landed in dc about 6 hours ago from TwitterBerry
Preparing for day of hypocrisy: conservs who would normally defend the SpecOlymp joke acting offended, liberals saying lighten up. Sigh about 3 hours ago from TwitterBerry
Late Update: Tapper gets his revenge: He has “blocked” me from following him on Twitter.
– And how does Twitter help or hurt the business of blogging?
Markos Moulitsas tweeted his vasectomy today, which makes me think that Andrew Keen was right.
One of the latest developments happening in both the political blogosphere and journalism today is the newfound attraction to the microblogging service Twitter.
Twitter is simply a service that allows people to send 140-character “tweets” to their followers, and exactly because it is just that simple, users have been able to make Twitter their own, and turn it into many different things. So, for some, like Zappos, it’s a marketing and business tool. For Twitter’s investors, it’s a business plan waiting-to-happen. For celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Lily Allen, it’s a way to reach out to fans. For technologist Dave Winer, it’s a launching point for starting “a billion Twitters,” just as in the beginning, few blogs started a billion more. Similarly, Trebor Scholz wonders if, like the early days of link blogs, Twitter is a “revival of mutual pointing from more than a decade ago“?
Because Twitter is so simple, it can be all of those things, and more. And because on Twitter, you “tune” the list of people you follow, you carve out your own little world there. So whether there are 100, or, as reported recently by Nielsen, 7 million users, it doesn’t matter — Twitter can feel as intimate or as breathlessly overcrowded as you want it.
Most interesting to me, though, is the way in which journalists and bloggers have taken to the form. On a recent post on Daily Kos, blogger Scout Finch outlined why the kos community should be joining Twitter:
What I discovered is a fascinating social experiment. Journalists, pundits, politicians, celebrities, and the everyday Joe are chattering away. Suddenly, the Joe Scarborough’s of the world are interacting with the public in a way they never have before…..directly and without a filter. Whether responding to questions about Morning Joe segments or his favorite soccer teams, Joe is tweeting like mad. And he’s not alone. @GStephanopoulos, @jaketapper, @Shuster1600, @tamronhall, and so on. The list of twittering pundits is growing by the minute. But, what is the appeal for them? Why have they gone so utterly crazy for Twitter? Reading through their tweets, I was struck by how engaged they are with their “followers.” Twitter allows them to interact like they might in the comments section of a blog. In short, Twitter has allowed them to become bloggers…albeit in a micro-form…
…I may still be a n00b in Twitterville, but I’ve seen enough to know that Twitter is crashing the old communication gates. The most surprising thing about that is how relieved the pundits, celebs, and politicians seem to be about the old barriers coming down. Turns out they weren’t being protected by those old barriers as much as they were being constrained by them. So, it is easy to see why the pundits are developing into a Twittering class of their own.
Surprisingly to me, many of the bloggers on Daily Kos either didn’t get, or didn’t want to get, the explanation. So you find comments in the post like, “Twitter is bullshit” and the reply, “I agree it is total bullshit. The best I have seen it described is it seems to be an unusually ‘high noise to signal ratio.’ All updates, no substance.”
Now, perhaps this is a case of the old guard (although calling bloggers at Daily Kos that seems odd…) being wary of the new. Perhaps there is a threat to what bloggers do, and in this respect, their reaction can be seen as similar to the defensive posture we saw journalists take in the early days of blogging.
But the political blogosphere has been largely built through maintaining an antithetical position to the field of journalism — rather than blogs being a parasitic medium (which is often how they are portrayed), bloggers have really come into whatever political clout and power they have today because they’ve taken on the media. Bloggers aren’t repackaging the news; they’re taking it apart and asking why it works the way it does.
Which is why avoiding Twitter seems like the last thing political bloggers would want to do, because Twitter brings with it an amazing level of transparency — it’s groundbreaking, really. As Scout Finch remarks, journalists and TV pundits are interacting both with their audience, and with many politicians. Where in the past, the why and how of journalism were always hidden, today, on Twitter, it’s increasingly out in the open.
And for journalists, that’s also becoming the downside.
Take ABC’s Jake Tapper. As pointed out on TPM earlier today, Tapper began pushing a story on Twitter about Obama (cracking a Special Olympics joke on Leno, which was, obviously, a dumb thing to do…), and then later “sighing” at the “hypocrisy” of people talking about this story.
As David Kurtz at TPM notes, this is the “disease” of the bubble in which journalists live. This is exactly how they operate, pushing a non-story story that will likely get ratings and website hits, rather than doing investigative journalism. And that model is exactly what bloggers have used as a rallying cry for the last 8 years.
Talk about hypocrisy — here is a journalist whose profession is made possible by the First Amendment, keeping people from reading his public statements on Twitter. It would be stunning, if it wasn’t part of the same critique bloggers have offered about the news media for years.
Scout Finch is right — there is a huge social experiment going on right on Twitter. Fascinating to watch.
Even more fun to take part in.
Update Two: From TPM blogger David Kurtz: Tapper, in what I guess is a Twitter equivalent of a peace offering, started following my Twitter feed this afternoon, and I am now able to follow his again. He twittered: “tpm is unblocked. My bad”
Brave new world…
Ezra Klein today makes a good observation about Congress’s newfound love for Twitter:
…this is the problem with the public sphere’s quick embrace of Twitter. It’s intimacy without communication. McCaskill doesn’t actually say anything in 140 characters or less. The illusion of transparency comes because in everyday life, we only hear about the dinner plans of people we actually have a relationship with. What’s useful about intimacy, however, isn’t the exchange of trivia but the access to different perspectives. And I’d really like to hear her perspective! It would be rather nice if senators and congressmen routinely wrote posts explaining their thinking on major issues. A public service, even. Instead, they’ve all embraced Twitter.
This is a fairly nuanced point, and in certain respects it’s true. Twitter affords a level of intimacy rarely found, historically speaking, in public media spaces. The rise of networked publics and social media, though, has ushered in a ratcheting-up of public intimacy, turning upside down our previously held notions of public and private. In fact, even before Web 2.0 became a buzzword, theorist Pierre Levy, in his 1998 text Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age, spoke of a “moebius effect,” the “transition from interior to exterior and from exterior to interior” when our world is virtualized through the mediation of computer technology.
Social media certainly has this effect, and Twitter may be the moebius effect par excellence. There is something about the medium that is very personal; it does feel transparent, and McCaskill’s deft use of twitter — mixing her professional life as a Senator with her personal life as a Mom and college basketball fan — seems like the “right” way to use Twitter.
But it’s not as simple as Klein makes it, because he seems to be generalizing something about the practice of using Twitter and a de facto incompatibility with “communication” — I don’t think that’s true.
What is true is that Twitter can be as communicative a medium as you want it to be. In other words, McCaskill’s tweets don’t say anything because she’s not saying anything in them.
Furthermore, the 140 character limitation Klein points to — the idea that just because a tweet has 140 characters you cannot saying anything with it — is a sort-of red herring, for two reasons. First, there is no rule that says you cannot use more than one tweet to say something — I’ve had plenty of good discussions on twitter, but they required multiple tweets. In this case, Twitter becomes more like a public chat room, than a series of people answering the question, “What are you doing?” Second, and related, is a point that’s been made elsewhere: what’s said on twitter is often just a part of a larger conversation, with users linking to, and commenting on, blog posts and newspaper articles, or “live-tweeting” events as they happen. (And to be sure, McCaskill, along with many other public/celebrity types on Twitter, does not use it in these ways…)
There is no doubt that Twitter creates a feeling of intimacy between users, but there is no reason why that must preclude a medium where communication — the exchange and debate of viewpoints and ideas — cannot happen.
The latest piece from Paul Starr in The New Republic is well worth the read. Titled “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption),” Starr examines the “death of newspapers,” as the economic realities of both digital publishing (i.e., online journalism efforts such as HuffPost and TPM) and the reliance on a shrinking advertising revenue stream are putting newspapers out of business all over the country.
There’s one point made, though, that I think is worth examining a bit. Starr states that while markets generally “under-produce public goods because private incentives are insufficient” to fully pay for the benefit to everyone, because newspapers play the role of an intermediary, they “have been able to produce this particular public good–newsworthy information, necessary to hold government accountable–on a commercial basis.”
Today, this model has been uprooted completely, as blogs and wikis and other Web 2.0 platforms allow cheap publishing of information. Here, Starr discusses Benkler’s “The Wealth of Networks“:
The non-market collaborative networks on the Web celebrated by Benkler represent an alternative way of producing information as a public good. Before Wikipedia was created, hardly anyone supposed it would work as well as it has. But it has severe limitations as a source of knowledge. Its entries, including news items, are re-written from other sources, and it does not purport to offer original research or original reporting. The blogosphere and the news aggregators are also largely parasitic: they feed off the conventional news media. Citizen journalists contribute reports from the scene of far-flung events, but the reports may just be the propaganda of self-interested parties.
So this is what needs to be unpacked, because the above statement completely ignores the extent to which all media are parasitic. This is a point I’ve made before:
If bloggers are parasitic, then so are the opinion pundits, talk radio hosts, and television broadcasters. The latter, in fact, is quite common, or at least seems so. For example, recently The New York Times front-paged an article that took on Obama’s charge that McCain would be a Bush third term. Later that day, on CNN, here’s Wolf Blitzer:
Democrats say, if you vote for John McCain, you will really be voting for a third Bush term. So, how true is that? Mary Snow is looking at the similarities between the candidate and the president.
Any attribution to the NYT?
And newspapers aren’t exempt from this charge. Today, the Washington Post published a story about Obama’s not-SOTU last night — a story created by simply reproducing tweets from “media figures.”
No reporting. Just looking stuff up in Twitter and publishing it.
The Washington Post isn’t alone. When New York’s Governor Elliot Spitzer fell from grace, The New York Times wrote a piece solely comprised of comments from various blogs. The story is filled with attributions such as “the anonymous poster wrote…”
While it’s certainly true that much of the blogosphere is about linking, and commenting on previously-published articles from newspapers and other news media, there is original reporting that gets done. Jay Rosen’s 2007 L.A. Times op-ed has a decent list.
The point of all this is not to “prove” one form or medium or model is better than than the other. A free press is important to a democracy — the central point of Starr’s article — and when the State doesn’t have a check and balance in place, corruption ensues. Quite frankly, we need all the media we can get, and while there is certainly a tension that exists between new media and old, the users of these sources of information — the citizenry — are better off. (That said, people certainly need new literacy skills to take advantage of all this new media.)
But this point about the blogosphere being parasitic really sticks at me, and is an unfair charge.
Putting newspapers in a privileged position of “original” while blogs and wikipedia are “parasitic” can only be done by ignoring the realities of the news business today.
[Note: I may come back and revisit this post…it’s a bit scattered, maybe not as clear as I’d like it to be. Hope it’s not too bad, and I welcome any comments and critique that might help me focus this a bit more. :-)]
Many critiques of “the Internet,” or “the blogosphere,” or Wikipedia, involve the question of anonymity. The argument usually goes something like this: “The Internet would be so much better if only people were forced to speak under their real names. This way, they would be accountable for what they say and do.”
Leaving aside the huge question of how we might ever “prove” who is who online, the binary opposition between anonymous and “real” generally misses a third identity space, an incredibly crucial one — that of pseudonymity.
In a previous online life, I spent several years participating within a lively blog community. I blogged under a pseudonym, and got to experience firsthand both the best (genuine deliberation and debate, building of community) and the worst (troll-fighting, in-fighting) of online forums. I used a pseudonym at the time I started blogging because, well, that’s what most people seemed to do. Looking back, though, it’s apparent why this practice is not only important, it’s actually crucial to the health of the “public sphere” (more on that term in a bit).
I think most people who choose to participate in this manner do so for several reasons, especially within the political blogosphere (which is where my experience is…). None of these reasons are based on anything empirical; they are just my anecdotal observations based on discussing this with other bloggers in the past.
The most obvious is that people may not want their political views connected to their names. Given that what goes online stays online, that the things we do and say and post persist in databases for a very long time, people may have jobs, or relatives, or friends in real life that they may keep separate from their political beliefs. That said, given the traceability and surveillance that’s built within the very infrastructure of the net, this separation between your “real” identity and what you say online is tenuous, at best. While the separation can be maintained for most users, someone who wants to find out who you are probably can, because of the traces one leaves around the net. Still, this idea of pseudonymity is probably “good enough” to make users feel comfortable enough to speak their minds online.
People may also feel safer. Given the politically charged and polarized atmosphere of the last eight years, you never know when battles with trolls on a blog might seep over into real life. Those who tend to be vocal in online communities, by down-rating inappropriate comments and calling out troublemakers in the community, tend to make enemies — it just kind of goes with the territory. Who knows how far people might take things? Even outside of the blogosphere, the transparency of data in a Web 2.0 may have unforseen consequences — for example, the home addresses of California’s Prop 8 donors are now published on a google map.
A final reason for creating a pseudonym, for many, is way to shorthand one’s identity, a way to give a first impression, to share part of their identity right up front. (“FreedomFighter” or “LegalEagle,” for example…)
So why is a pseudonym different from being anonymous? In both cases, you’re still not using your real name. The answer lies in the notion of reputation.
The point was explained well by the blogger Marcy Wheeler, known online as emptywheel:
You know what? Someone who mistakes pseudonymity for anonymity is missing just a few critical things about blogging that go right to the core of its importance. Pseudonymity is the maintenance of a consistent identity, one to which credibility–or lack thereof–attaches just like it does to the name Bob Cox or Marcy Wheeler. Anonymity is something different, one that doesn’t exist in any fully formed blog.
A blogger’s reputation rest solely on the persistence of his or her identity. Bloggers “get to know” each other within a blog’s community, the same users come back, day in and day out, to argue and debate and share the news of the day. Within this type of virtual community, it hardly matters if I’m called “Carlo” or “cscan” — what’s important is the consistency of my online identity. Anonymity, on the other hand, is fleeting. A member of a blog community cannot be anonymous, by definition — if no one “knows” the blogger, then he or she is not part of the community.
The difference may be a bit nuanced, and I hope I’m explaining it sufficiently.
A new paper in First Monday helps draw out this point a bit further, in the context of Wikipedia. Wikipedians, as they are called, share the same qualities of pseudonymity as bloggers, and in the end, it is what they bring to the wiki in terms of contributions that not only defines who they are, but builds their reputation within the community. In short, the Wikipedia community works because the wikipedians can work together:
The Wikipedia community makes the project work, not its collection of individual contributors, and not its technology — though it helps. Whereas the wiki technology allows for mass archiving of activity, it is the people who value infinite transparency and utilize the archives accordingly. Whereas the technology allows anybody to easily edit, it is the community that has produced a comprehensive set of processes through which quality articles can be formed. Whereas the Wikimedia Foundation allows individuals to access its content for free, it is the community that embraces the cause and labors towards shared goal.
…There is a small element of credit that comes with good contributions, though. Each editor has a “user page,” with which she can basically do as she pleases as long as it’s loosely related to Wikipedia. Accompanying the user page is a “talk page,” as is the case with every article on Wikipedia. Whereas article talk pages serve as a place to deliberate about the content (what needs to be done, what should be removed, what should be moved, structure, organization, and so on), one of the most common uses for a user talk page is a forum in which members of the community reward hard work via words of praise and awards (usually in the form of a “barnstar” image). According to one editor, “[i]n some ways you get recognized, you get some respect, recognition from your [peers] … here’s somebody who knows his stuff, who writes good articles and so on and so forth, and you feel happy when one of them puts a posting on your talk page.” (Forte and Bruckman, 2005)
In a world where original research is disallowed in the name of neutral point of view, people are recognized not for ideas, but for diligence, organization, and hard work performed to further a common goal.
Wikipedia would not work without the reputational factors that allow users to “size up” others (e.g., review their Talk page); there is a healthy respect not for “who you are” but for “what you have done.” If users on Wikipedia were “anonymous,” there would be no history of past efforts to which one could refer.
The deliberation and discussion and reputation-building that goes on within Wikipedia is in many ways analogous to what happens on a comunity-based blog, and in both cases, they raise a point about the viability of free speech on the net — if people feel intimidated, for whatever reason, they will not speak out, they will not post. Returning to this issue with respect to the blogosphere, Marcy Wheeler, in the previously cited blog post, goes on to say:
…pseudonymity is one of the most important aspects to retaining the vitality of the blogosphere. Pseudonymity guarantees that citizens whose jobs or other life circumstances would not permit them to speak politically, to do so, using a consistent identity, but one that does not endanger their livelihood. This country was built on the importance of citizen speech–built by a bunch of guys writing as Publius. In this day and age, that critical aspect of our democracy is getting harder and harder to sustain. Blogging has brought it back, to a degree. And I, for one, don’t want to belong to any organization that discards such an important tool of democratic speech without even understanding the difference between pseudonymity and anonymity.
Pseudonymity helps engender this type of free speech, and helps push these spaces of dialog and debate (which take many forms, including blogs and Wikipedia, but would also include sites like Twitter) towards the idea of a “public sphere.” Without getting into the media theory behind it — if interested, Howard Rheingold has an excellent video primer here, and this First Monday article is excellent — the basic premise is that, for democracy to flourish, there needs to be public discussion and debate. Habermas, who wrote about this idea in his text, “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,” argues the public sphere has been diminished, through the commodification and consumerization of the news media (you know, the group that had that whole First Amendment thing written for them…).
It’s an easy connection, then, between this idea of the public sphere, and the blogosphere — a space for individuals to come together to debate the issues, and share knowledge. While the political blogosphere is certainly not a perfect implementation of the “public sphere,” it is clear that without pseudonymity, if people were inhibited to speak their minds because of fear of retribution, blogs would not be making their mark on politics, as they are today.
When people ask about Twitter, I always say that it’s like the comments section of an open thread in a blog, just without the blog.
But today, I realized that, in some ways, it’s actually better than that. Because with Twitter, to borrow a phrase from Howard Rheingold, you can “tune your followers.” Which means, unlike a comments thread on a blog, where anyone and everyone — including trolls — can post, on Twitter *you* chose who you want to listen to, and everyone else, you can ignore. And while this might set off some concerns about Twitter encouraging an “echo chamber,” I suspect many people actually follow people with contrary opinions (a point noted in this post from Dave Parry…). I certainly do.
Anyway, today was the RNC’s chairperson race, and all afternoon, enthusiastic Republicans tweeted away, following the vote-by-vote action. Posts were marked with a hash tag (#rncchair), and, using Twitter’s search site, you could follow along in real time.
Or, you know, not.
One of Twitter’s strengths is you can choose whether or not to dip in to this, or any other, data stream. Twitter is broad enough to enable Republicans to carve out their own space, without bothering me. Unless I wanted to take a look, which, of course, I did.
It’s a kind of visibility and connectedness that’s very hard to achieve within a blog community, as so much time there is spent dealing with trolls, and meta-discussions around what is and is not acceptable behavior. On Twitter, it’s much easier to tune into whomever you think is interesting, and ignore (or just listen to once in a while) everyone else.
I’m not suggesting, of course, this is “better” than what happens on a blog; just different. Both forms of media have strengths and weaknesses, and appeal to different sorts of people. But this is one thing I do like about Twitter.