A Roundtable on Technology and Democracy at Columbia, Nov 24


November 24th, 2009, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., room 601A, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University.

Hosted by the Communications Colloquium, organized by the Columbia Communications Program and supported by ISERP.

Moderated by Gabriella Coleman (NYU), http://gabriellacoleman.org/blog/

The MoveOn Effect: Disruptive Innovation in the Advocacy Group System

David Karpf (Brown University), http://www.davidkarpf.com/

The internet has given rise to a new generation of political associations.  While the interest group system of the past 40 years has been typified by highly centralized, single-issue organizations, “internet-mediated issue-generalists” such as MoveOn.org have quickly achieved towering size and influence.  I will present research on how information technology has enabled new membership and fundraising regimes that have allowed these new groups to displace their predecessors. I will also discuss changes in the scope of collective action, and explain why the rise of internet fundraising is hastening the fall of several longstanding political associations.

From Objectivity to Hospitality: Understanding the Democratic Potential of the Internet for Journalism in a Global World

Lokman Tsui (University of Pennsylvania/Harvard University), http://www.lokman.org/

How is the internet allowing for transformative changes in journalism and what are its normative implications? Drawing on Global Voices, a global citizen media organization, I suggest the internet allows for a shift in the production logic of news and that this has normative implications: I argue that we can and need to move beyond objectivity towards “hospitality” in thinking about journalistic excellence. Roger Silverstone defines hospitality as the “ethical obligation to listen.” Indeed, in a world where the internet makes it so much easier for everybody to speak, Global Voices asks us on their website: “The world is talking. Are you listening?” In our attempts to understand the emancipatory potential of the internet for journalism, we would do ourselves a disservice by limiting our imagination to the ideal type of journalism from a previous era, to merely understand the new through the old. Without expanding our imagination, we cannot hope to understand how the internet might alter the constraints of the public sphere for the better. This project is an initial attempt to fill this gap.

Giving the People What They Want: Reflections on WikiCandidate, a Crowdsourced Campaign for the President

Josh Braun (Cornell University), http://wideaperture.net/

Scholars of politics and media have long sought to delineate how and why some political issues and framings become prominent, while others remain obscure.  Most agree that the political press tacitly employs some set of selection principles in determining its coverage, and that politicians and other figures who want their issues covered become familiar with these filters. What’s less clear is whether these filters that discern what’s interesting, important, or appropriate in political discussion are unique to the mass media and the political machines that play to it, or whether the same process of filtering and claim-adaptation turns up in self-organizing new media spaces, where users ostensibly control the content and terms of discussion.  In short when are the agenda-setting tendencies of mass media, which are often imagined to no longer apply in online contexts, nevertheless reintroduced by the participants themselves. In this talk, I explore these questions in relation to the behavior of participants in a research project called WikiCandidate, which consisted of a publicly available Website for a fictional presidential candidate running in the 2008 election, on which all of the issues, press releases, and other content were openly editable by users.

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