Professor Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, has signed a contract with Oxford University Press for a book on his concept of the Fifth Estate. He has been speaking and conducting research over the last decade on the role of the Internet in empowering a Fifth Estate that can hold other ‘estates’ accountable, including the press, as the Fourth Estate.
The book will develop the concept of the Fifth Estate, provide empirical evidence of its rise, and its implications across nearly every sector of society. While a growing tide of criticism is focused on the role of social media and the Internet in fueling everything from populism to fake news, the Fifth Estate provides a powerful response to the critics. Bill’s work shows the many strategies of individuals of the Fifth Estate for enabling greater accountability and communicative power to create a more pluralistic structure of social control not only in politics, but also, in nearly every institutional setting of everyday life.
As a member of their advisory board, I would also like to invite scholarly and original submissions that broadly relate to the 2017 conference theme on “Social Media for Social Good or Evil.” The organizers welcome both quantitative and qualitative work which crosses interdisciplinary boundaries and expands our understanding of the current
and future trends in social media research. See the call for proposals at
Rob Ackland, a professor at the Australian National University, was able to visit the Quello Center in early May. In addition to kicking off a valuable roundtable discussion of digital social science, he also gave a very useful talk on social media and development at a Quello Seminar on 5 May 2016. His talk, which you can view here, was based on a background paper he co-authored (with Kyosuke Tanaka) for the World Bank. The key contribution of the talk by Rob was his offering a number of competing and complementary theoretical perspectives on how social media might link to social and economic development objectives. While there have been many case studies of the Internet and other new media such as mobile phones in development processes, there is a relative absence of theoretical reasoning about the links between social media and development. Rob is an economist, but his theoretical arguments move beyond economics and merit careful examination by researchers on ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development).
Quello Professor Steve Wildman and Dr Jonathan Obar, a Quello Research Associate, organized a workshop on the governance of social media that has yielded an excellent special issue of Telecommunications Policy (Volume 39, Issue 9, October 2015). It features articles by the editors, as well as Philip Napoli, Laura DeNardis, Milton Mueller, and Katherine Montegomery, among others. It is a brilliant signpost of how the Quello Center is moving fully into the digital age of policy and regulation issues. You may find the special issue at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03085961/39/9
Using the Media, Internet and Debates to Inform Voters: A Series of Blogs
Bill Dutton of the Quello Center, and Tracy Westen, founder of The Democracy Network and founder and CEO of The Center for Governmental Studies, have posted a series of blogs that take a critical look at the way in which the GOP primary debates have been handled by Fox News and Facebook. Reflecting on the challenges of televised and Internet orchestrated debates, they come up with suggestions combining the media to improve the ways in which voters can obtain information about the issue positions, personalities, and endorsements of candidates.
In the run up to the GOP primary debate broadcast by Fox News and Facebook, Bill Dutton posted a critical blog, entitled ‘Stop the Televised Debates and Shift to the Internet’. See: http://billdutton.me/2015/07/23/stop-the-televised-debates-and-shift-to-the-internet/
In response to Bill’s blog, Tracy Westen provided an alternative vision of a more voter-centric debate scheme. His blog is entitled ‘Envision Voters Staging Their Own Candidate Debates: a Comment from Tracy Westen on the Televised Debates for the Republican Party’. http://billdutton.me/2015/07/25/envision-voters-staging-their-own-candidate-debates-a-comment-from-tracy-westen-on-the-televised-debates-for-the-republican-party/
After critiquing the first Fox News-Facebook debate, Tracy and Bill focused on the reasons why debates have failed to use the Internet more effectively. Their post, ‘A Dirty Dozen: 12 Reasons Candidates and Networks Fail to Move Presidential Debates Online’, addresses key problems, and argues that some of these reasons will make progress quite difficult unless a new scheme can be developed. See: http://billdutton.me/2015/07/31/a-dirty-dozen-12-reasons-candidates-and-networks-fail-to-move-presidential-debates-online-by-tracy-westen-and-bill-dutton/
Tracy Westen’s post followed with ‘More Challenges to Informing Voters Online: Lessons Learned’ http://billdutton.me/2015/08/01/more-challenges-to-informing-voters-online-lessons-learned-by-tracy-westen/
These were followed by a blog entitled ‘Grading the Fox News-Facebook GOP Presidential Debate Spectacle’, which provided criteria for grading the debates, which lead Bill and Tracy to give a D+ to the Fox News-Facebook debate. http://billdutton.me/2015/08/09/grading-the-fox-news-facebook-gop-debate-spectacle-by-bill-dutton-and-tracy-westen/
The final post looked a ways to move ahead and improve on the way in which the media can used the Internet and social media to provide a better platform for informing voters. Entitled ‘A New Approach to Presidential Debates’, Tracy and Bill outlined the steps involved in creating a wider range of information about all the candidates and key issues in elections. See: http://billdutton.me/2015/08/12/multimedia-convergence-a-new-approach-to-presidential-debates-by-tracy-westen-and-bill-dutton/
The Quello Roundtable on Powerful (Social) Media Effects generated an odd juxtaposition of positions in the discussion: on the one hand the premise for the roundtable was rooted in the old (irrelevant?) theoretical conceptions of the traditional media and its influence on private and public life alike, while on the other hand the discussants – at least most of them – are deeply involved, personally as well as professionally, in the technology of the new media in general and social media in particular. Therefore, at least intuitively, most of them feel and understand that this is a new world which its understanding demands revision in concepts and practices.
It seems that (almost) everyone in the room (the Quello Center’s Meeting Room) can tell something about sporadic cases in which social media effects can be identified. Either these are public issues such as the Hillary Clinton Campaign for the presidency, the killing of a young black man by a white policeman, the Boston Marathon, the Arab Spring, etc., or more personal instances such as sexist email, forming new relationships, etc.
However, beyond these sporadic and often anecdotal cases, the big picture of the actual social media effects is still unclear.
So what I found most interesting in the discussion were the questions that arose: should we address social media as a unified phenomenon or should we categorize social media in order to investigate each part or type of it separately? Are social media substitutes for face-to-face interactions between human beings or only a complementary medium? How do social media effect the flow of information, the meaning of information and the transformation of knowledge? Do social media have different effects locally, nationally, and globally? Are these linear effects or non-linear? Should we – as media scholars – use the traditional tools of research such as interviews and surveys or should we turn to new research opportunities, such as around big data that the new technology provides?
Looking forward to the Webcast of the discussion, which should be coming soon.
This video presents a talk by Garlin Gilchrist, the Deputy Technology Director for Civic Engagement in Detroit, with Kat Hartman, and Professor Marc Kruman responding. The presentation is about 20 minutes, followed the responses and about 15 minutes of discussion.
Garlin focused on the launch of Detroit’s Open Data initiative, and the work of his office on the role of the Internet and related information and communication technologies in supporting civic and community engagement. He discusses initiatives the City of Detroit has been fostering, as well as other ongoing special projects emerging from groups and institutions working on the revitalization of Detroit. Finally, he underscored areas that could benefit from further research by universities, and other academic institutions.
Prior to his appointment in Detroit, Garlin most recently served as the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org, where he focused on mobilizing MoveOn’s seven million members on issues of civil rights, education, and technology policy advocacy through community organizing and online action. Gilchrist also founded Detroit Diaspora, a network for native Detroiters living elsewhere to connect with one another as well as people doing positive work in the City of Detroit. He was also the former Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change, where he build a base of online supporters to advocate for public policies in the interests of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, and reflect strong community values in ways that ensure that their authentic voices are heard, amplified, and respected. More information about Garlin Gilchrist is available at: garlin.org/about-garlin-gilchrist-ii.html
Our first respondent, Kat Hartman, is a Detroit-based freelance writer, data analyst, and information designer with data visualization firm, NiJeL. She received her MFA from the Stamps School of Art + Design at the University of Michigan and enjoys finding the intersections between design and research. She has worked as a data analyst at multiple non-profit organizations including Data Driven Detroit, a National Neighborhood Indicators Partner (NNIP) with the Urban Institute. She has also designed illustrated health materials for UNICEF in Botswana and German Agro Action in Ethiopia. She is also a former fellow at the Civic Data Design Lab at the MIT School of Architecture & Planning. Her online portfolio can be found here: kathartman.com. Follow her @kat_a_hartman.
Our second respondent, is Wayne State University Professor Marc W. Kruman, who chairs the Department of History, and is the founding Director of the Center for the Study of Citizenship. Professor Kruman is widely published. His current research focuses on the development of the interdisciplinary field of citizenship studies and the history of citizenship. He has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities at Harvard University and a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. In 1999 he was a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Rome. At Wayne State University, he has received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award (twice) and a Board of Governors Distinguished Faculty Fellowship.
I recently read an article by Hamza Shaban with the provocative title “How Social Media Can Weaken a Revolution.” The primary focus of the piece was a Journal of International Affairs paper with a more scholarly title, “Social Movements and Governments in the Digital Age: Evaluating a Complex Landscape.” The article also contained comments from the paper’s author, Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina, and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
As its title suggests, Tufekci’s paper examines the evolving dynamic between digitally-empowered social movements and the governments they are attempting to influence (or, in some cases, overthrow). Regarding the former, the paper’s key insight appears to be that:
Social media both empowers new digitally-fueled movements and contributes to their apparent weaknesses… The ability to scale-up quickly using digital infrastructure has empowered movements to embrace their horizontalist and leaderless aspirations, which in turn have engendered new weaknesses after the initial phase of street actions ebbs. Movements without organizational depth are often unable to weather such transitions.
As to government’s response to these movements, Tufekci observes that:
While digital media create more possibilities to evade censorship, many governments have responded by demonizing and attacking social media, thus contributing to polarized environments in which dissidents have access to a very different set of information compared to those more loyal to the regime. This makes it hard to create truly national campaigns of dissent.
Contrasting recent developments in Turkey and Egypt, as well as the U.S.-centric Occupy movement with earlier civil rights and Vietnam War protest movements, Tufekci says:
Digital infrastructure helps undertake functions that would have otherwise required more formal and long-term organizing which, almost as a side effect, help build organizational capacity to respond to long-term movement requirements. Working together to take care of the logistics of a movement, however tedious, also builds trust and an ability to collaborate effectively. Consequently, many recent movements enter into the most contentious phase, the potential confrontation with authorities, without any prior history of working together or managing pivotal moments under stress.
Though noting critiques of the Internet’s role in society as leading to “slacktivism—the tendency to click on links or like posts rather than taking concrete actions or steps,” Tufekci takes a more nuanced approach. Referring to Charles Tilly’s four characteristics of successful social movements—worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment—she suggests that digital social media readily support the first three, but that the fourth characteristic, commitment, is more challenging. At the same time, she notes that “street actions are also not magic wands for social movements.” They “can and do falter,” she observes, “often because they lose the fight for worthiness in the public eye.”
Citing her own research, Tufekci notes that: