Welcome to Digital Politics

I feel as though it’s necessary to start this blog off with a disclaimer: I HATE politics. Why I decided to choose politics as the topic of my research project will probably end up haunting me by the time grades are posted, but I felt as though picking something outside my usual comfort zone would a) challenge me (apparently I hate myself) and b) allow me to evaluate the topic with a “fresh” perspective (I have never really followed politics, so don’t have any deeply ingrained ideologies- I also like to consider myself a “moderate” when it comes to the various political issues that always seem to come up in an election year).

With that warning in mind, this blog is dedicated to my college research project on Digital Politics, and more information can be found under the “About” tab. The more stereotypical “bloggy” part of this blog can all be found under this post. This includes my experiences while researching this topic, any roadblocks I hit, and my overall opinions on what I’ve found. The more argument-driven work is all located under the tabs up top, from the “theoretical foundation”  on through the most recent direction my project took me in, “Viewer Statistics and the Voter.”


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The end…?

As my final project comes to a conclusion, I’m not really left with a feeling of closure. While I’ve spent a lot of time immersed in the political aspect of social media, I feel as though I won’t really be able to fully support my arguments until the election.

That being said, I think that I effectively at least argued my points, and feel as though I have a much better understanding of digital politics. As far as my arguments are concerned, I believe, without a doubt, that we are well on our way to a political system driven by participation, and away from the traditional hierarchical system. Importantly, I feel as though this participation includes the citizen, and that networked, digital technology affords us the opportunity to connect with our politicians like never before; we can now discuss the issues with them, rather than throw questions at them.

After researching the various political candidates and their digital campaigns, I feel as though the positive effectiveness of their strategies outweigh the negative consequences and any ineffectiveness. Digital campaigns allow for immediate, efficient information-gathering. Do we still need to watch out for the negative consequences? Of course. The Internet allows for anyone to say anything at anytime, and this makes it necessary for distinguishing between fact and fiction. Lastly, while some digital campaigns are effective at reaching a wide audience, others are too focused on specific groups, effectively alienating potential voters.

This project started off with a basic curiosity about whether or not digital technology influences politics. After spending several weeks exploring this topic, I would have to say that, in short, digital technology does influence politics. Without going into it all here (that’s what the rest of the blog is for), I feel as though I should stress that the overall message I took away from this project is that digital technology has effectively changed politics in a way that now allows the citizen, the average American, to take part in political action and necessarily become the political process. November is still half a year away, so it should be interesting to see what happens between now and then. If the past couple years are of any indication, networked, digital technology will continue to shape the ways in which this nation deals with politics, and in which politics deal with this nation.

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Fact vs. Opinion

My biggest struggle with this project is trying to remain subjective. I think that I just inherently think that with the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, politics doesn’t stand a chance. I think that in my lifetime I will probably see a completely digital election, from campaigning to voting. As a millennial, I was raised just as much on digital technology as I was on anything else, like television for example. Do I watch more television shows than anyone I know? Yes. Do I watch them on the television? Of course not. I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my laptop, so I naturally think that anything worth my time should be accessible from my laptop.

Online games are being used to further HIV research more in ten days than in the last ten years. Social media has led to the overthrow of entire oppressive regimes. Maybe I tend to overestimate the influence of networked, digital technology. For this reason, I started this project with a goal in mind: to show that digital technology influences politics in a positive way. For the most part, I think that many of the sources I found supporting this are sources that I would have found anyway. So, while I let opinion drive my initial research, I think that I was able to uncover some important facts. The downside was, I didn’t actively search for the alternative. I didn’t search for the negative effects of the influence of digital technology on politics. Luckily, feedback on my project quickly corrected this mistake, and I feel as though my project is much more well-rounded as a result.

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Politics is a touchy subject, with a wide spectrum of views and beliefs. For this reason, a major roadblock in my research has been subjectivity. Any published research on the subject, despite a necessary need for unbiased analysis, has the risk of being somewhat opinionated or swayed. When attempting to gauge the effectiveness of various online campaigns, every analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, and I’ve discovered that I have to constantly fact-check many of the articles I’ve read and videos I’ve watched. Unfortunately, twitter has been one of the biggest roadblocks for this project. As a massive social media site, I have spent a long time browsing political twitter users and the responses to their post. Being a personal-use site, however, there is a lot of bias and it is often difficult to sort through the opinion to find the facts. If anything, however, this roadblock will most likely end up becoming a part of the answer to my research question.

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Where is this headed?

This project had two distinct phases. Phase 1 involved picking a topic, immersing myself in that topic, and coming up with some solid arguments based on a theoretical framework and some initial questions my original research tried to answer. In class, we were divided into two groups, for reasons unrelated to this project. Those groups, however, were used for group assignments based on our projects. Essentially, based on our research to that point, we had to come up with some kind of assignment for a group to do, and to use that feedback for the rest of the project.

For me, this part was a no-brainer. My biggest problem with my topic was always that politics is such a touchy subject, and everything I found online was always someone’s opinion. Add to that the fact that I can’t help forming my own opinions about things, and I’m left with a lot of research that I’m too scared to do anything with. To help combat this problem, I asked my group to pick a political candidate that I was already researching (I got lucky here and had exactly five other people in my group), and spend some time browsing their digital campaign (I use these assignments under the tab “The Candidates”).

After presenting phase 1 of my project to the class, there was time set aside for even more feedback (if i’ve learned anything from this project, it’s that you have to utilize the network). The purpose of this feedback was, like the group assignment, to help direct the rest of the project. While researching this topic, I’ll admit that I’ve been probably too focused on positive consequences of the influence of networked, digital technology on politics. While I wasn’t discarding research that didn’t help prove this point, I never questioned that didn’t find much to disprove this point. Luckily, this is where the class came in.  The most common theme in all of the feedback I got had to do with negative consequences of digital technology.

Originally, most of my research for phase 2 of this project was going to be designed to evaluate “viewer responses” to a candidate’s digital campaign. Specifically, after looking at how each candidate formed his digital campaign, look at the reactions of Americans viewing these online campaigns. Although this is something that I still included in my project, I realized that I needed to expand on this a little bit. The majority of my phase 2 research can be found under the tabs “Viewer Statistics and the Voter,” and have been updated to include the feedback I received from the class. Mainly, more negative aspects of the consequences of digital politics, such as a growing informality in campaigns and political “slacktivism.”

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